When it comes to pecans vs. walnuts, you may wonder if there is much difference. Both are commonly used in baked goods and desserts and are healthy snacks packed with vitamins and nutrients. But is one nut better than the other? In this guide, I provide an in-depth comparison of the two and how to decide which is best to use in your recipes!
- What is pecan?
- What is walnut?
- What is the difference between pecans and walnuts?
- Pecans vs Walnuts - Types
- Pecans vs Walnuts - Look
- Pecans vs Walnuts - Taste
- Pecans vs Walnuts - Nutritional values
- Pecans vs Walnuts - Health benefits
- Pecans vs Walnuts - In Baking
- Which is healthier pecan or walnuts?
- Can I substitute pecans for walnuts?
- So, pecans vs walnuts which is better?
- Pecans and walnuts FAQs
- Pecan and Walnut recipes
What is pecan?
Pecans are a type of tree nut and hickory species native to northern Mexico and the southern United States. They are primarily found in the states of Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas. Because they grow in pods, they are considered legumes, as are many beans. In fact, they have more in common with snow peas than they have in common with other nuts!
However, they are considered nuts in botany terms because they are a "dry, one-seeded fruit encased in a hardened ovary wall."
What is walnut?
Walnuts are the edible seed of trees in the Juglandaceae family. The walnuts most commonly eaten are called the Juglans regia and the Juglans nigra, otherwise known as the Persian or English walnut and the Black walnut, respectively. Although they are technically seeds, walnuts are also considered nuts by definition due to their single seed, hard shell, and protective outer husk.
What is the difference between pecans and walnuts?
Although pecans and walnuts share many similarities, there are also quite a few differences. These differences include the various types of each nut, how they look and taste, their nutritional value, and how beneficial they are to our health. There are also differences in their shelf life as well as cost.
Below I dive into each of these characteristics to help you decide which should be the nut of choice for your next recipe or snack!
Pecans vs Walnuts - Types
Types of pecans
There are more than 500 varieties of pecans, although only a handful are produced in the United States. The most popular varieties of pecans include Stuart, Desirable, Moreland, Cape Fear, and Natives.
Pecan trees tend to grow in warmer climates, so it isn't surprising that the states of New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Georgia are the top producers of pecans in the U.S. The second highest producer of pecans in the world is Mexico.
Although pecans are pecans at the end of the day, the different types are usually distinguishable by the nut size, taste, and shell thickness. Some pecans have thicker shells and smaller nuts, while others have thinner shells and larger nuts. Some pecans have a more bitter taste than others. The shape can also vary, with some pecans having more of an oblong football shape and others having a round shape.
Types of walnuts
Although more than 50 species of walnut trees belong to the Juglandaceae family, two are most commonly eaten and sold. The first is the Juglans regian, also known as the English walnut, California walnut, or Mission walnut. The second is the Juglans nigra, also known as the California black walnut.
Unlike pecan trees, walnut trees grow better in cool, dry climates. The English walnut is native to Asia and the Balkans, although nowadays, it is produced commercially in Europe, Asia, and the western United States. On the other hand, the black walnut is native to the United States and grows wildly in the central and eastern regions of the country.
The two varieties are notably different when it comes to taste and texture. The English walnut has a thin, easy-to-crack shell and a mild taste, whereas the black walnut has a thicker, hard-to-crack shell and a much bolder flavor.
Pecans vs Walnuts - Look
One of the significant differences between the two nuts is their appearance. Although both are said to have some characteristics resembling a brain, numerous features set them apart in the looks department.
How do pecans look?
On the outside, pecans have a hard, smooth, oblong, reddish-brown shell with pointy ends. Its shell can also have some darker brown streaks or spots. On the inside, the pecan slightly resembles a brain. The kernel has a uniform shape and dark brown color with one indented ridge down the middle.
How do walnuts look?
Like the pecan, the walnut has a hard, brown outer shell. However, the shell of a walnut is a little lighter and uniform in color, rounder, tougher, and bumpier. A brown, antioxidant-rich skin coats the shell. The inside of the walnut also resembles a brain in terms of shape, with a thick skin that separates each of the crevices and bumps. The flesh is brittle, often breaking apart when the shell is cracked open.
Pecans vs Walnuts - Taste
Pecans and walnuts are both delicious snacks that make them easy to enjoy at any time of day. However, there are some notable differences between the two in terms of flavor and texture.
How do pecans taste?
Pecans have a unique but delicious taste thanks to their high oil content. The flavor tends to be sweet, buttery, and nutty, with a crisp and mildly chewy texture. Because of its natural sweetness, it is a popular snack and ingredient in dessert recipes. For vegetarians, pecans are also an excellent substitute for meat.
Make sure to try my homemade pecan butter recipe!
Toasting just for a few minutes can really bring the taste of the pecans to another level!
How do walnuts taste?
Walnuts have a mild yet complex taste. The meat of the walnut has a tangy, sweet, and earthy flavor, while its papery skin has a bitter taste. The rich flavor of the meat of the walnut makes it a popular ingredient in desserts and other recipes.
Similarly to pecans, toasting on the stove or roasting in the oven can really elevate the taste of the walnuts!
Make sure to try my homemade walnut butter recipe!
Pecans vs Walnuts - Nutritional values
When it comes to the nutritional content of pecans vs. walnuts, the two are very similar. Both are calorie-dense food, have a high healthy fat content, are low in saturated fat and sugar, and are packed with the nutrients your body needs to fuel itself. Not only are they delicious, but they're also a healthy go-to snack!
Nutritional values of pecans
A one-ounce serving of raw pecans (approximately 15-19 pecan halves) contains approximately 196 calories, 20 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and one gram of sugar.
Nutritional values of walnuts
A one-ounce serving of raw walnuts (approximately 12-14 walnut halves) contains approximately 200 calories, 18 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, and one gram of sugar.
Pecans vs Walnuts - Health benefits
There's a reason that nuts are said to be a key factor in a healthy diet, and that is because they offer numerous health benefits. When eaten in moderation, pecans and walnuts are said to promote heart health, reduce the risk of major diseases, and provide the body with essential nutrients that are otherwise difficult to incorporate into the diet.
Please note that the following is for informational purposes only and is not professional medical advice. Any questions or concerns about how pecans are walnuts affect your diet should be discussed with your physician.
Health benefits of pecans
In addition to being a sweet snack and baking ingredient, pecans pack significant health benefits. Compared to the other varieties of nuts, pecans have the highest number of antioxidants and unsaturated fats. This helps to reduce age wrinkles and the risk of cancer, lower cholesterol levels, and prevent the quick progression of diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
According to WebMD, pecans are an excellent source of magnesium and fiber, helping to strengthen bones, reduce blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke, and promote a healthy colon. They are also rich in vitamins A and B and are a source of copper which helps the body make red blood cells.
Pecans also pack many other health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and boosting immunity, cleaning and improving the digestive tract, improving the hair and skin, and boosting the metabolism.
Health benefits of walnuts
Like pecans, walnuts also come with numerous health benefits, making them an ideal snack and baking ingredient. According to Healthline.com, they are also among the nuts with the most antioxidants and healthy fats that help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and promote overall brain health.
When it comes to incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into your diet (essential for brain function and maintaining a healthy body), walnuts are one of the best ways to do so. Walnuts contain the recommended daily intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid, in just one serving. Walnuts also contain linoleic acid and arachidonic acids and are excellent sources of vitamins A, E, K, and B, folic acid, and magnesium.
Other health benefits include reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels, aiding in weight loss and weight management by reducing appetite, improving gut health, and reducing inflammation that causes diseases such as Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes.
Pecans vs Walnuts - In Baking
If you're looking for a healthy and crunchy addition to your favorite baked dessert, pecans and walnuts are two options that should be at the top of your list. Whether you plan to bake a cake, cookies, muffins, or brownies, pecans and walnuts make excellent toppings and ingredients.
How to bake with pecans?
Pecans are a very popular baking ingredient due to their sweet, rich flavor and crunchy texture. It is common to find pecan halves in baked goods, such as my chocolately fudge pecan brownies, or as a topping, such as my festive pecan upside-down cake. You can also use pecans to enrich cookies, such as my pecan chocolate chip cookies, or grind up pecans to create a delicious pie crust.
For the best taste and texture, you should toast pecans before using them in baked recipes. Toasting brings out the pecan's natural oils and rich, nutty flavor, intensifying its crunch and deepening its brown color.
Pan-toasted pecans: Add your pecans to a saucepan and heat them on medium heat for a couple of minutes, until they start to smell nutty. Do not walk away from the stove as they can easily burn.
Oven-toasted pecans: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the pecan halves on the sheet in a single layer. Place them in the oven and toast them for 7-10 minutes at 325 F / 163 C, stirring as needed until they reach a golden brown color and beautiful nutty smell.
How to bake with walnuts?
Walnuts are another popular ingredient in baked goods. Their mild and buttery yet sweet flavor makes them perfect additions to cakes, bread, and cookies, such as my moist walnut babka or chewy chocolate chip walnut cookies. You can even toast and grind them into creamy walnut butter!
If you want to toast walnuts before baking to bring out their flavor, you can certainly do so!
Pan-toasted walnuts: Add walnuts into a saucepan and warm them on medium heat for a couple of minutes, until they start to smell nutty. Make sure that you do not burn them.
Oven-toasted walnuts: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the walnut halves on the sheet in a single layer. Place them in the oven and toast them for 7-10 minutes at 325 F / 163 C. They are ready when they reach a golden brown color and nutty smell.
Which is healthier pecan or walnuts?
There is no easy choice when it comes to deciding which nut is the healthier choice. Both have very similar health benefits, from overall nutrition values to their high number of antioxidants and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. However, a few slight differences may make one nut a healthier choice than the other, depending on your particular dietary needs and expectations.
Pecans have a higher number of strong antioxidants, more fiber, and more monounsaturated fat versus polyunsaturated fat. They are also higher in vitamin E. On the other hand, walnuts are the best go-to nut for Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and Vitamin B. Walnuts also have more protein and polyunsaturated fat.
Can I substitute pecans for walnuts?
Yes! Pecans and walnuts have many more similarities than they do differences, especially when it comes to baking. That said, they are excellent substitutes for one another that you can easily use interchangeably in recipes whether it be cookies, pies, etc.
So, pecans vs walnuts which is better?
When choosing which nut is better for you, there are many things to consider. These considerations include cost, size, health, and purpose in baking or cooking.
If cost is the biggest factor, pecans would be the better choice as they are less expensive than walnuts. However, pecans have a shorter shelf life than walnuts do. If the nut size is important in your recipe, walnuts are the best choice.
If heart health is your focus, walnuts are the best choice because of their high omega-3 content. Meanwhile, pecans are the best choice for lower blood sugar because of their low carb and high fiber levels. Those seeking to incorporate more protein into their diet should opt for walnuts.
When it comes to baking and cooking, pecans are best in dessert recipes due to their sweeter flavor. On the other hand, walnuts are a great go-to nut choice for both sweet and savory recipes.
When you have two very similar nuts that are both heavy in nutrients, health benefits, and delicious flavor, it isn't easy to choose just one. The good news is they are interchangeable and are great whether eaten alone or when used in a recipe. If it were up to me, I'd keep both in the pantry!
Pecans and walnuts FAQs
To keep them fresh and help extend their shelf life, storing pecans in the refrigerator or freezer in a zip-locked freezer bag or airtight container is best. Shelled pecans can be frozen, thawed, and refrozen many times without damaging their quality.
Because of their high oil content, walnuts can quickly go bad if not stored properly. You should store shelled and unshelled walnuts in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. To preserve the best quality, keep walnuts in the refrigerator or freezer.
When stored properly and left in their shells, you can store pecans at room temperature for up to four months. Kept in a refrigerator, they will last for four months up to a year. In the freezer, they will last up to two years when shelled or up to four years if unshelled.
When stored properly and left in their shells, you can store walnuts in the pantry at room temperature for 2-4 weeks. In the refrigerator, they will last up to three months when unshelled and up to size months when shelled. In the freezer, they will last up to a year.
The recommended amount of nuts to eat per day is approximately one ounce. For pecans, that is about 15 halves. For walnuts, one ounce is about 12 halves. Because nuts are calorie-dense, eating too many could result in weight gain. Eating too many of either nut can also result in gastrointestinal and digestive issues such as bloating and loose stools.
When it comes to tree nuts from the same tree family, such as pecans and walnuts, if you have an allergy to one, you are likely to have an allergy to the other. Likewise, if you can tolerate one, you can likely tolerate the other. While pecans are less likely to trigger an allergic reaction, walnuts are the second most common nut allergy in the U.S.
Nut allergies are developed when the body's immune system is oversensitive to particular nut proteins, and it is possible to have allergies to one nut and not to others. However, if you have or suspect you have a nut allergy, it is best to avoid consuming walnuts and pecans without discussing or taking the proper allergy tests with your physician.
Yes! Both walnuts and pecans are very keto-friendly and are excellent additions to a balanced diet. Pecans are one of the most keto-friendly nuts because of their protein content and high level of healthy fats. Since walnuts have a very similar nutritional makeup to pecans, they are also excellent snacks to enjoy on a keto diet.
You should not give pecans or walnuts to your dog, as they both contain a toxic compound called juglone that is very harmful to their health. If your furry friend has consumed pecans or walnuts, seek veterinary care immediately, as they can cause several gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting and diarrhea.