Giving a Pecan Gift? Taste Matters More Than Size
If you’re giving a pecan gift, you might be tempted to choose a gift with the largest pecan size. That’s a mistake. Taste matters more than size, and the best tasting pecan is actually a smaller size.
First, a quick overview. Like wine grapes, pecans come in different varieties, called cultivars. They also have different sizes, called grades. Pecan halves that meet the largest grade are called mammoth. Those that meet the smallest grade are called toppers. Then, there are additional classifications for pieces, all based on the size and uniformity of the pieces, and finally, pecan meal.
Bigger is Not Better
Different cultivars naturally grow to different sizes, and cultivars have their own taste, again, like wines. You don’t have to become a connoisseur of pecans to choose wisely, and I doubt that pecan tasting rooms will ever become a thing, although that might be fun.
Here’s the main fact you need to know: larger size does not mean better taste or better quality. Bigger is not better. In fact, when it comes to pecans, what matters most is the cultivar, or kind, of pecan. It might surprise you to learn that one of the smaller pecan cultivars actually has the best taste.
Meet the Elliot Pecan
That pecan cultivar is the Elliot. It was discovered by an American lumberman in Milton, Florida named Henry Elliot, a little more than 100 years ago. Elliot pecans are a plump, round nut and is unlike any other pecan you’ve ever tasted. If you’ve only bought pecans at a big box store or even in the grocery store, you’ve most likely never had an Elliot.
Elliot pecans are sweet and they are smaller in size than other pecans. Pecan farmers and pecan researchers (yes, that’s a career) consider Elliots to be one of the highest-quality cultivars grown in the US. Foodies and chefs recognize them for their signature sweet flavor, high oil content, and natural buttery crunch. Their outstanding color, flavor, and consistent nut quality also means they sell for top dollar and are a treat worth savoring.
We use only Elliot pecans here at Wutta Nut! precisely because of their superb taste and quality. Further, the small size makes for a favorable ratio of seasoning to pecan, without obscuring the pecan taste.
Most pecans advertised as snacks or as gifts are heavily coated with largely sweet flavors that obscure the taste of the pecans. In some cases, that coating also hides the inferior quality of the pecans. In other cases, it may be because the pecans themselves are less flavorful.
Fancy Pecans and Toppers
Here’s a few more facts about pecans while we’re on the subject.
Since we’re talking about sizes, Elliot pecans are considered junior mammoth. A pound contains 275 to 300 junior mammoth halves. By comparison, a pound of mammoth halves contains 150 to 200 mammoth halves. For more examples of sizes and counts per pound, read here.
Fancy refers to the quality and uniformity. Specifically, are the halves well-dried, well-developed, of uniform color not darker than amber, and free from damage as well as free from shell, the center membrane, or other debris? The halves must also be fairly uniform in size and conform to size classification. Pecan halves that meet all of these criteria are called Fancy. You’ll notice that taste is not a consideration.
A quick word about pieces and our Toppers, so you’re not confused with the official size designation of Topper halves. We call our pieces Toppers because they’re seasoned and sized to add to your recipes, often without additional chopping. Ours are one-eighth to one-quarter inch cubes, and because they are machine-chopped, they are uniform in size and shape. We use only Elliot pieces to make our line of Toppers.
Now you have a good understanding of the most important things to know about choosing pecans, whether to give as a gift or to purchase for yourself. For more information about storing pecans, check out our FAQs. For information on freezing and thawing pecans to keep them fresh and tasty, read this blog post.