Saturday, May 19, 2012

The protein-rich pecan nut

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
The pecan, is a large tree indigenous to the southern states of America and Mexico. 

The Spaniards brought the tree to Europe in the 16th century. It was later planted in parts of Africa and Asia. This tree is best known for its fruit which is referred to as a pecan nut. In Malta the tree has been planted in a number of places including Buskett Gardens. Several large specimens can be seen along the path leading to the valley known as Wied il-Luq as well as in Wied il-Luq itself.

The pecan tree is a deciduous tree. The flowers, which are wind pollinated, appear in spring. Fertilised flowers produce an elongated fruit consisting of a green husk surrounding a structure known as a nut. As the fruit matures the husk becomes dark brown. In October and November the fruit drop onto the ground.

Although this species is not well known in Malta, some people know exactly when to visit Buskett gardens to collect pecan nuts. Pecan trees can produce large quantities of fruit and some manage to fill up whole baskets with this edible fruit.

In Maltese the pecan tree is known as siġra tal-pekan and the fruit is called ġewż tal-pekan.

The nuts can be eaten fresh. In other parts of the world they are used as an ingredient for several desserts the best known being the pecan pie.

The trees that grow at Buskett Gardens are very large. Although they must have been planted several decades ago they are likely to be around for many more as in good conditions pecan trees can live for more than 300 years.

Pecan nuts, like walnuts (to which they are related) are protein-rich and a good source of unsaturated fats. Eating pecans reduces the levels of LDL cholesterol and in women the risk of gallstones. 

This article was published in The Times on 31.08.11

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