One of our friends recently moved into a new house and noticed that pecans were falling all over their yard this winter. They had a pecan tree that was producing tons of pecans and dropping them to be picked and eaten. So far, they have gathered over 5 pounds worth of pecans, ready to be cracked.
We on the other hand are big walnut eaters. We rarely eat pecans, but we have walnuts for every breakfast, sprinkled on top of our oatmeal. So, which one is better? And what are the differences between pecans vs. walnuts for taste, nutrition, benefits, baking, appearance, and price?
It made me realize, pecans and walnuts are very similar and easily confused. I only know that I’m eating walnuts because that’s what the bag has marked at the grocery store. Otherwise, I might not know the difference.
The second question is, which are healthier to eat? Pecans vs. Walnuts? And what are some other differences? Let’s check it out.
A little rundown of each one first, before we get to the comparison.
What Are Pecans?
Pecan trees grow in the Southern United States and Northern Mexico. In the United States, pecans are primarily harvested in Georgia, Texas, and New Mexico. Mexico is the world’s leading pecan producer, with the United States second.
Pecans were consumed originally by Native Americans in North America. The Spanish explorers referred to them as nogales and nueces, which translates as “walnut trees” and “fruit of the walnut”, due to their similarity to walnuts, which the Europeans were already familiar with.
The seed is inside a shell, which is cracked open revealing what we know as the pecan nut.
But, pecans are actually not nuts, even though they are commonly referred to as. They are technically drupes, and so are walnuts.
Pecans are most famously used to make pecan pie and are also found in ice creams, brittles, pralines and other baked goods like bread. You can also find pecan butter.
See more about pecans.
What Are Walnuts?
Walnuts originated in a much different region than pecans. The origination of the walnut was in the Mediterranean region and Central Asia (Which is why it’s called the Persian walnut or English Walnut) and dates back to 7000 B.C. In Roman times, they were called “Jupiter’s Royal acorn”.
Most of the walnuts grown in America come from California. The world’s leading walnut producer is China, at over 50% of all walnuts. The United States is second and Iran is next. In historical times, the walnut was also known as the “royal nut”.
Walnuts are commonly eaten raw and by themselves as a snack. They are also commonly used in baking goods such as baklava or banana bread, or sprinkled on top or added to other foods such as salads, cereals, oatmeal, or soups.
Walnuts are also sometimes pickled and can be bought as walnut butter. There is also a very expensive walnut oil, that is used in salads.
More about Walnuts.
What’s the Difference Between Walnuts and Pecans?
Walnuts vs Pecans in Appearance
Pecans and walnuts are commonly mistaken for one another. They are actually from the same tree nut family, the Juglandaceae, which is why some people who are allergic to pecans are more likely to be allergic to walnuts as well.
They are both also very similar in the way that they look and can be difficult to tell apart. When looking at the outside shell, walnut shells are rounder than pecan shells. Pecan shells are darker and more oval-shaped. The pecan shells are also tougher and more difficult to break open.
For the inside edible nuts that we commonly eat and see, walnuts are lighter in color. Walnuts are also curlier and look more like little brains.
Pecans vs Walnuts Taste
Pecans are a little bit sweeter than walnuts. Although, both have a fairly neutral taste.
The taste of walnuts is usually described as slightly more bitter than pecans. When I try both of them, I do agree that walnuts are more bitter. The bitterness though is found in the aftertaste. This hits you after you’ve already eaten the walnut, surprisingly.
So, which tastes better, pecans or walnuts? To me, pecans have a better taste. This is especially true if you are eating them both by themselves. If you are putting walnuts on top of another food or mixing it into a baked good, the taste difference will be much less noticeable, if noticeable at all.
In fact, I’ve read that you can substitute walnuts for pecans in baking goods and vice versa. I’ve never tested this to know if it’s true though.
Overall, if the taste is an issue, I give the winner to Pecans. But this is much less an issue if being used with another food.
Commonly I will eat pecans by themselves or with other nuts, and for walnuts, I will sprinkle walnuts on top of my breakfast. So in that case, they both serve their purpose.
The taste winner: Pecans (if eating them by themselves).
Pecans vs Walnuts Nutrition
Looking at walnuts versus pecans in nutritional value, both are fairly identical. There really are no huge, noticeable differences.
The only thing to note is that walnuts have slightly more protein, at 5g per serving compared to 3g for pecans. Also, the total amount of fat is about the same, except that walnuts have much more polyunsaturated fat, whereas pecans have more monounsaturated fat. Both fats are considered healthy, and good for the heart.
I think when comparing both nuts, as far as nutritionally, they are about the same.
The Nutrition Winner: Tie
Health Benefits of Pecans vs Walnuts
This will be tough because both of these nuts are very good for our health. Both are high in unsaturated fats and can help lower cholesterol levels. This makes both of them good for the heart.
Walnuts are typically known for being better for the brain. Surprisingly, they also look like little brains! This is because walnuts have a higher level of Omega-3s and ALA. (See my other sources of Omega-3s at How I Get My Plant-Based Omega-3 Fatty Acids!)
This makes walnuts superior for brain health. In fact, as I mentioned here in Healthy Foods that Start with E, test-tube studies have shown a decrease in inflammation in the brain from walnuts. Also, mice with Alzheimer’s saw significant improvement after eating walnuts over a period of time. Finally, there have been links to walnuts and improved brain processing and memory.
Now, how about the antioxidant levels of pecans versus walnuts, and what’s the difference there? Antioxidant levels are important since antioxidants from plant-based foods neutralize free radicals that can damage our bodies and health. So, antioxidant levels are always important to look at when considering health benefits.
This one is interesting. That’s because when ORAC levels were first released, they showed pecans as being the nut with the highest level of antioxidants, and beating walnuts. ORAC levels are a measurement of the amount of antioxidants in a food. But, it should be noted, that walnuts were still high in antioxidant levels, being one of the highest for any nut.
But since then, new research has been released that’s shown that walnuts are actually almost twice as high as pecans or any other nut in antioxidant polyphenols. According to LiveScience,
“The Antioxidants in walnuts were four to 15 times as potent as they are in vitamin E”
So, are walnuts healthier than pecans? It looks like when examining the health benefits, walnuts are the winner. This isn’t too surprising, as the University of California, Davis actually has an annual walnut conference discussing all the latest health benefits of walnuts.
But don’t be mistaken, pecans are still extremely good for you, just as any nut is. And all should still be consumed for this reason.
The health winner: Walnuts
Pecan vs Walnut Price
Lastly, let’s look at the difference in price for pecans versus walnuts. This is largely probably going to depend on where you live. I’ve heard that in Asia where walnuts are produced more, they are cheaper than pecans.
In the United States, I am going to use prices on Amazon as a good market comparison. As of the time of writing this, you can get walnuts for as low as $0.30 an ounce, if you buy a large enough amount (6 lbs.). There are also plenty of options for smaller sizes with prices in the range of under $0.40 an ounce.
For pecans, the cheapest price is around $0.53 per ounce. So almost twice as much if you are buying in bulk, and otherwise it is still more expensive than walnuts.
The price winner: Walnuts
Pecans vs Walnuts Baking & Recipes
Can I Substitute Pecans for Walnuts?
You can substitute pecans for walnuts in most recipes, they are very similar and interchangeable. Keep in mind there is a slightly different flavor. Pecans have a sweeter flavor, so bear in mind there might be a slight difference.
Can I Substitute Walnuts for Pecans?
Yes, you can substitute both since they are fairly similar. Instead of making a Pecan Pie, you can actually find a recipe for Walnut Pie.
Final Thoughts on Pecans vs Walnuts
The winner of pecans vs walnuts seems to be walnuts. But both are still extremely healthy and good for you, and each has it’s own flavor. Really, any kind of plant-based food will be good for you. And the WFPB Diet is great for health.
But if you have to choose the best one, even despite their strong similarities, walnuts are the winner and they beat pecans in health benefits and price. Pecans are better in taste, but both have somewhat mild tastes.
If they are being added to something, then the difference should be much less noticeable, if even at all. That’s why they can usually be substituted one for another in baking.