Pecans are the only tree nut native to North America, the pecan tree is the state tree of Texas and the nuts are heart-healthy. Pecan Pie Day is on July 12, but National Pecan Month is in April.
Before the Europeans settled in America, Native Americans ate and traded pecans. The word "pecan" is an Algonquian word used to describe nuts that need a stone to crack their shells. Many of the 500 to 1,000 pecan varieties have Native American tribal names.
Pecans are not true nuts; they are drupes, or fruits with a pit inside of a husk. Pecan trees can live for 200 to 300 years. The United States produces 80 percent of the world's pecans -- more than 400 million pounds as of 2007, with Georgia as the state leading production since the 1800s.
The American Heart Association has certified the pecan as a heart-healthy food. Pecans contain healthy unsaturated fats with no cholesterol or trans fats. Other nutrients are protein, fiber, and 19 vitamins and minerals. These include antioxidants, thiamine, manganese and zinc.
New Orleans French people invented the pecan pie, which contains about 78 pecans. Other ways to use pecans in food include adding them to sweet breads, pancakes and cereals; using them in a crust on baked fish and as an ingredient in turkey stuffing; in butter pecan ice cream and in pecan cookies.