There’s a newcomer headed to grocery shelves, and Georgia pecan growers couldn't be happier. Pecan oil will soon take its place alongside other cooking oils like corn, olive, peanut, canola and sunflower.
"This healthy nut now has a new cooking product that, although not cheap, broadens the availability of pecan products on the market," said Wojciech Florkowski.
An agricultural economist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Florkowski works closely with Georgia's pecan growers and shellers.
"At the last annual meeting and trade show organized by the Georgia Pecan Growers Association, a vendor was offering the long-awaited pecan oil," he said. "Now we need to inform consumers about the product's availability and educate them a bit on how to use the oil."
Currently, pecan oil can be purchased in gourmet shops or via specialty Internet Web sites. Prices range from $8.56 to $13.99 for 3.5 fluid ounces.
Many pecan producers are beginning to add the new oil to their product lists.
"We've just had it in our store for a few months, but it’s really going over well," said Robbie Henry of Ellis Bros. Pecans in Vienna, Ga. "The small olive oil-sized bottle sells the best. It's a little expensive, but people like new gourmet products."
Until now, pecan oil had been used as massage oil or incorporated into bath soaps. As cooking oil, it can be used in salad dressings and other applications. Compared to commonly used oils like soybean, peanut or olive, pecan oil has a light color and flavor and less saturated fat.
"Canola oil has even less saturated fat, but pecan oil has about a third more polyunsaturated fat," Florkowski said. "And the total content of mono- and polyunsaturated fats in pecan oil is about 90 percent. That's higher than soybean, corn, peanut or canola oils."
So what does all this mean to consumers?
UGA food specialist Judy Harrison with the College of Family and Consumer Sciences says substituting polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and, in clinical trials, it has led to a reduced risk of heart disease.
"LDL is the bad type of cholesterol," she said. "Studies have shown that replacing saturated fat in the diet with monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil, peanut oil and nuts, may lower blood sugar levels and have a mild cholesterol-lowering effect."
Harrison reminds consumers even though monounsaturated fats are healthier choices, they're still fats.
"Adults should keep their total fat intake to between 20 and 35 percent of their total daily calorie intake," she said. "And most of this fat should come from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils."
One tablespoon of pecan oil has about 14 grams of fat, which is about 22 percent of an average adult's daily value of fat and contain 120 calories, she said.
Harrison also cautions those with nut allergies to avoid nut-based oils. "If you’re allergic to pecans, you definitely would not want to use pecan oil," she said.
When it comes to frying, pecan oil has a higher smoke point (470 degrees F) than many other oils.
"In comparison, butter is around 350, vegetable shortening around 360, soybean oil around 395, virgin olive oil around 420 and peanut oil around 440," Harrison said. "Safflower oil has a higher smoke point as it's around 510."
Florkowski says the market success of other nut oils, like walnut, has created marketing opportunities for new tree nut oils.
"It's only a matter of time before food editors and chefs will note the presence of tree nut oils and adapt their recipes to include novelty food oils," he said. "Pecan oil enhances the options available to consumers and will likely catch their eyes as a gourmet-type oil."
For a heart-healthy recipe booklet from the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Pecans, visit www.georgiapecans.org.