What is in this article?:
- Pecan industry moving toward oil, flour
- Health benefits
- A market exists for pecan oil and pecan flour, but don't expect them to be on the average grocery store shelf anytime soon.
- While the price of pecans has eased a bit, it's not enough to make a pecan oil and flour processing plant economically feasible.
They taste good, they're good for you, and a market for them already exists. But don't expect these specially produced products to be on your average grocery store shelves anytime soon.
New Mexico State University researchers recently examined the feasibility of locating and operating a 2-million-pound pecan processing facility in southern New Mexico that would produce high-grade pecan oil and de-fatted gluten-free pecan flour. The oil and flour would be derived from the pecans using a new extraction process developed by Oklahoma State University and Ambient Temperature Extraction Partners of Oklahoma. No large processing facility using the OSU method exists anywhere outside of a university lab.
William Gorman, a professor emeritus in NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and his team of researchers, including graduate research assistant Skyla Cockerham and Jay Lillywhite, professor of agricultural economics and agricultural business, see great potential for such a processing facility in pecan-rich southern New Mexico.
"We did a lot of research and there are several methods of getting pecan oil, but the most common one is using a screw-type press to squeeze out the oil," Gorman said. "When you're through, besides the oil, you have a meal that still has about 20 percent fat in it and it's not shelf-stable."
The OSU process uses propane and leaves behind oil that does not have to be filtered and de-fatted flour that won't turn rancid. With cooperation from Stahmann Farms, Gorman and his team shipped out pieces of New Mexico pecans to OSU for processing.
"We ended up with two very nice products," Gorman said.
After OSU returned the processed pecan oil and flour to NMSU, the consumer testing began.
"We had really great responses from all of the consumer and marketing research that we did," Cockerham said. "We did several taste tests at 100 West Cafe on the NMSU campus. We also did taste tests at a few retail-distributing companies to see how they thought the product would work in their settings, and the response was very good. A lot of times people's responses were, 'Where can we buy it? Can we get it right now?' It's not being produced commercially, so what we had was just a test product."
Taste testers first compared the pecan oil to olive oil by dipping pieces of bread into the liquid. Then they were given salad dressings made from the two oils. For the flour, the taste testers ate cookies and breads made from the product. The tasters also compared oil and flour made from roasted and non-roasted pecans.
According to the study, of the 41 people who participated in the blind taste test, 31 favored the pecan oil over the olive oil.
"A lot of the taste testers said the oil had a really nutty flavor, a distinct pecan flavor," Cockerham said. "Pecan oil made from the screw-press method doesn't have that flavor because the process requires extensive filtering, which takes out the taste."