pecan nutlets look similar to walnuts

What is the Difference between Pecans and Walnuts?

Pecan Nutrition

There is probably no pairing of nuts that gets more readily mistaken than pecans and walnuts. At a glance, they are roughly the same color, size, and texture and often serve a similar role as a crunchy add-on in salads, desserts, and snacks. Despite these similarities, there are some key differences appearance, taste/uses in cooking, and nutrition profile. Let’s break it down.

Appearance of the Nuts:

In terms of shells, walnuts tend to rest in the comfort of a light brown, round, dense, ridged shell. Pecan shells, on the other hand, tend to be darker, more oblong, and more difficult to break open. For the edible portion, walnuts are a bit light and larger to their pecan counterpart, with a convoluted, “brain-like” shape. Pecans, on the other hand, are typically found in their halved form. These pecan halves are smaller than walnuts, a brighter and warmer brown, and are typically straight in appearance with one distinct, central fissure. Understanding the differences in appearance and texture can help us to superficially understand the differences in their uses in the culinary world.

Taste and Culinary Uses:

Walnuts tend to be a bit bitter compared to other nuts and are used to add a crunchy texture in desserts, salads, granolas, and oatmeal, among others. Pecans hold a more distinct flavor profile and contain a slightly sweeter taste. They therefore add a whole new element to several recipes and can be found in sweet potato casseroles, sweeter salads, pastries, and pecan-centric desserts. In terms of purchasing value, walnuts tend to be a bit more expensive but have a longer shelf-life when stacked up next to pecans. Overall, walnuts and pecans can typically be swapped in most recipes, however, there are some key differences between the two to be aware before deciding to include them in your meal plan.

Nut Nutrition:

Now let’s break down how walnuts and pecans compare nutritionally.

 Pecans, per 1 oz serving (20 nuts):

  • Calories: 190
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Fat: 20 g
  • Saturated fat: 2 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 11 g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 6 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 4 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Calcium: 20 mg
  • Iron: 0.72 mg
  • Magnesium: 34 mg
  • Phosphorous: 79 mg
  • Potassium: 116 mg
  • Zinc: 1.28 mg
  • Vitamin B6: 0.06 mg (5%)
  • Vitamin E: 0.04 mg (2%)
  • Vitamin K: 1.0 ug (1%) 

Walnuts, per 1 oz serving (15 nuts):

  • Calories: 200
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Fat: 20 gSaturated fat: 2 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 2.5 g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 14 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 4 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Calcium: 28 mg
  • Iron: 0.82 mg
  • Magnesium: 45 mg
  • Phosphorous: 98 mg
  • Potassium: 125 mg
  • Zinc: 0.88 mg
  • Vitamin B6: 0.152 mg (12%)
  • Vitamin E: 0.02 mg (1%)
  • Vitamin K: 0.8 ug (1%)

As visualized in the above chart, it is clear walnuts and pecans are fairly comparable nutritionally speaking. Pecans are slightly lower calorically, especially when considering the amount of nuts per serving. Additionally, pecans happen to be a little higher in fiber and have a better overall fiber to total carbohydrate ratio. Fiber is an important nutrient component for increasing fullness, making pecans a slightly better snack for curbing hunger and facilitating weight loss. On the other hand, walnuts are higher in protein and have an elevated micronutrient profile compared to that of pecans’.

Pecans do, however, reign supreme in vitamin E content, making them a better anti-inflammatory nut option. Pecans and walnuts are both extremely heart-healthy options with high amounts of unsaturated (healthy) fats and absolutely 0 mg of cholesterol. While pecans pack in the monounsaturated fats, walnuts contain mostly polyunsaturated fats. The difference between these two types of healthy fats lies mostly within their chemical structures and what foods they are found in. Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are praised as important components of the diet and a much better option than their artery-clogging saturated fat counterpart.

Cracking the Nutshell:

While walnuts and pecans are thought to be interchangeable to the naked eye, there are some pertinent differences in their appearance, taste, and nutrient breakdown. Pecans are smaller, sweeter, and cheaper than walnuts, with a higher degree of fiber, monounsaturated fat, and vitamin E. Walnuts are larger, more textured, and more expensive than pecans. They reign supreme in protein content, most micronutrients, and polyunsaturated content. The superior nut is yours for the choosing.

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