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The Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is a species of hickory native to southeastern North America, from southern Iowa and Indiana south to Texas and Mississippi. It is a deciduous treeand can be grown approximately from USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9, provided summers are also hot and humid. Pecan trees may live and bear nuts for more than three hundred years, and are one of the largest species of hickory. The Pecan harvest for growers is traditionally around mid October and they grow wild in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and other southeastern states of the U.S. as well as northeast Mexico.

Cultivation and uses

The nuts of the Pecan are edible, with a rich, buttery flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking, particularly in sweet desserts but also in some savory dishes. One of the most common desserts with the pecan as a central ingredient is the pecan pie, a traditional southern U.S. recipe. Pecans are also a major ingredient in praline candy, most often associated with New Orleans.

In addition to the pecan nut, the wood of the pecan tree is also used in making furniture, in hardwood flooring, as well as flavoring fuel for smoking meats.

Pecans were one of the most recently domesticated major crops. Although wild pecans were well known among the colonial Americans as a delicacy, the commercial growing of pecans in the United States did not begin until the 1880s. Today, the U.S. produces between 80% and 95% of the world's pecans, with an annual crop between 300-400 million pounds. Historically, however, the leading Pecan-producing state in the U.S. has been Georgia, followed by Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, they are also grown in Arizona. Outside the United States, pecans are grown in Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Peru and South Africa.

Pecans are a good source of protein and also unsaturated fats. Studies have shown that a diet rich in nuts can lower the risk of gallstones in women. The Antioxidants and plant sterols found in pecans have been shown to reduce high Cholesterol by oxidizing the (bad) LDL cholesterol levels.

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