Could pecans be the next big ‘better for you’ ingredient in snacking?

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Could pecans become a popular 'better for you' ingredient?
Could pecans become a popular 'better for you' ingredient?

Related tags Snack food

Pecans could become a mainstay ingredient across the bakery and snacks industry as consumers look for more versatility in their products, says the Center for Pecan Innovation.

Margaret Lisi, program manager of the Center for Pecan Innovation in Atlanta, told BakeryandSnacks that domestic consumption of pecans had jumped 10% over the last two years. She believes consumption will grow even higher and hopes the bakery, snacking and confectionery industries can all play a part in that growth.

“I expect a great deal of change in the pecan industry over the next two or three years,” ​she said. “They are available and they’re really versatile. They come in a lot of different forms and I don’t think a lot of people know. A lot of people have not thought about pecans as an ingredient. That’s my job.”

‘An old fashioned perception’

While almonds are exceedingly more popular with the general public than pecans, Lisi believes that could change with awareness of pecans' price point and their flavor.

As of 2014, the price of pecans per pound was $1.91, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This was much cheaper than the $3.50 per pound price tag for almonds. In addition to the economic benefit of pecans, Lisi said they are also sustainable and have an advantage in the taste department.

“Pecans can hold [their] own as far as flavor goes​,” Lisi said, adding that she grew up them eating in Louisiana with nearly every meal. “It is also the highest nut in antioxidants. It’s also really high in fiber.  I think pecans are very much thought of as a southern nut.

“Not a lot of people have eaten them outside of the south. We let people taste them at trade shows and they say ‘Wow this is amazing’ or say they haven’t had it since grandma’s house. It has an old fashioned perception.”

There are approximately 200 varieties of pecan, she said, making them an extremely versatile nut. Lisi said even if there was a drought, they’d likely be in full abundance, as they’re a US-native nut that grows across hundreds of thousands of trees in the south.

Have manufacturers shown interest?

Lisi has been attending industry trade shows to promote the nut among manufacturers and R&D professionals. She says manufacturers are normally only switched off if there are no allergens allowed at their facility.

She said there are a few big-name snack companies producing foods heavily featuring pecans, adding that varieties aside from the nut, including butter, oil and even gluten-free pecan flour, have been picking up in popularity.

One possible reason pecans growth is the trend toward “better for you” snacking. A Mintel report from earlier this year​ found that a third of consumers said they want healthier snack options compared with last year. The research firm said this means there will be an increasing need for better-for-you snacks in the US.

In the health department, the Center for Pecan Innovation said pecans are a good source of vitamin A and E, folic acid, potassium, calcium, zin, and feature 60% monounsaturated fats and 30% polyunsaturated, making them a heart-healthy snack.

“I’m not saying pecans are going to save your life but they are part of healthy lifestyle​,” Lisi said. “As far as being in better-for-you snacks, a lot depends on what else is in there with it …Everyone is going to do something different when they get it to the lab.”

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