For many people, pecans conjure thoughts of decadent pastries, cookies, and classic Southern pecan pie. However, pecans also make for a convenient and nutritious snack. They are full of magnesium, fiber, and healthy unsaturated fats.
With delicious flavor, the highest number of antioxidants, and the lowest amount of net carbs per serving of any nut, pecans aren’t just an ingredient for your holiday cooking and baking. Families across the nation are wisely adding this nutritious, American-grown nut to their snacking rotation. If you plan to snack on pecans, you may be curious about their shelf life and the best practices for storing them.
Shelf Life of Pecans
Like most produce, pecans have a shelf life. Depending on how well you store them and whether they still have their shells, pecans can last for a long time. To maximize the shelf life of pecans, try to keep them in airtight receptacles such as sealed plastic bags or rigid plastic containers.
With their high amount of plant-based oil, pecans also last longer at lower temperatures preventing the fats from spoiling. Properly stored, shelled pecans can last for up to six months, while unshelled — or in-shell — pecans can last for up to nine to 12 months. Try saving some refrigerator space for your pecans, as both shelled and unshelled varieties last longer and retain more of their flavor when stored in a chilled environment.
How Long Do Pecans Last in the Shell?
Shelled pecans are more likely to go rancid and are more prone to absorbing tastes and odors from other foods in your refrigerator. When protected by their natural shells, pecans generally last longer. Around room temperature, in-shell pecans can last for up to 4 months. At chillier temperatures, they can last for much longer. Frozen, in-shell pecans can remain good for several years.
If you choose to buy unshelled pecans, look for nuts that feel heavy relative to their size, don’t have any cracks or damage to their shells, and don’t rattle around when you shake them. Also, keep in mind you won’t be able to shell the pecans with your hands alone. You’ll need to carefully use a nutcracker or hammer to get to the tasty snack inside.
How to Tell Good Pecans from Bad
Knowing how to tell if pecans are good or bad can help you select nuts that may last the longest with proper storage. It may not be obvious, as there are several factors involved in choosing the best pecans. Like many naturally grown foods, pecans are susceptible to pests, fungi, and damage from harvesting and handling. To enjoy the best pecans, keep these factors in mind:
Shell shape: As pecans grow, they form inside the husk as nutrients travel through the husk and shell. Dry weather, low-nutrient soil, and insect damage are all possible interruptions to this growing process. When a pecan hasn’t grown properly, it tapers towards the tip end, so look out for this visual sign of a bad pecan.
Coloration: High-quality pecans should exhibit a smooth, uniform color. Certain varieties of pecans, such as Stuarts, show stripes near one end of the shell. For these striped varieties, look for a clear definition between the color of the stripe — black or very dark — and the light tan color of the pecan’s shell. Consistent color and definitive stripes are both excellent indicators of quality pecans.
Weight: A good pecan bears a hefty weight relative to its size. If a pecan feels light and unsubstantial, it probably doesn’t contain a quality nut.
Sound: You may not think sound plays a role in identifying a good pecan, but it can. High-quality pecans will sound solid when rattled together or dropped. In contrast, bad pecans will sound hollow because the nut inside hasn’t filled out. To pick good pecans by ear, try shaking them in your hand to listen for the right sound.
Shelled vs. Unshelled Shelf Life
Unshelled pecans retain the protective benefits of their natural shell. Storing in-shell pecans offers a bit more leeway as the shells protect from insects, molding, and moisture that shelled pecans miss out on. However, both shelled and unshelled pecans can be stored easily for a convenient and healthy ingredient or snack.
As long as they’re in a cool place, unshelled pecans can last for up to six months. Shelled pecans will last up to nine months in the refrigerator. In both cases, be sure to use a sealed container to provide another layer of protection from pests and humidity. Plastic bags, glass jars, reusable tin cans, and other containers that lock out air are excellent choices for pecan storage.
Also, consider that whole nuts retain their taste and nutrition longer than nuts in pieces. Roasting pecans may decrease their shelf life, but roasted pecans more than make up for it in convenience and flavor. You can add roasted pecans to salads, stir-fries, baked goods, ice cream, and meat dishes. Best of all, enjoy pecans as an anytime-of-day snack.
What’s the Proper Way to Store Pecans?
Delicious, healthy snacks sometimes require a bit more care than quick-and-easy, processed options — but it’s worth the effort. By learning what to avoid when storing pecans, you can have this tasty, nutritious snack ready to enjoy at any time:
Keep pecans away from moisture: To prevent discoloration, molding, and breakdown of the oils inside pecans, store them in a low-moisture environment. In-shell pecans may start to darken in color when stored amidst high humidity.
Store pecans in cool, dry places away from heat: Because pecans contain such a high amount of healthy, plant-based oils, they are prone to going rancid if they spend too long in warm temperatures.
Protect pecans from strong odors: Shelled pecans are prone to absorbing unwanted odors. Nearby vegetables, fruits, and even paint or wood may end up affecting the taste and quality of your pecans. Be sure to keep pecans in clean, airtight containers to maximize their shelf life.