What is the difference between walnuts and pecans?

To those in a hurry, walnuts may seem to be very similar to pecans… and, also to those in a hurry, when tasting or eating (not very healthy….) their flavour might seem similar.

What is the difference? Is one better than the other?

Walnuts and pecans are certainly related, both belong to the botanical family, Juglandaceae; and to the sub-family, Juglandoideae; and even to the ‘tribe’ Juglandeae. But beyond that they are categorised into different sub-tribes, pecans being Caryinae; and walnuts being Juglandinae.

The main differences from a culinary point of view are:

  • The taste: pecans have a wonderful rich, buttery flavour; while walnuts have a bitterness to them. If you dry fry or roast walnuts, they lose some of this bitterness. It’s the flavour which dictates the different culinary uses. There are shared flavour compounds between walnuts and blue cheese – hence a blue cheese, pear and walnut salad is a perennial success which wouldn’t work so well with pecans. On the other hand, a pecan pie made with walnuts, just wouldn’t be … a pecan pie!
  • The texture: pecans have a slightly waxy texture; walnuts are crunchier – this is why, although you can buy both pecan and walnut halves, pecan pieces are more difficult to find… in any case, if you do find them you probably don’t want them because, chopped, they will become stale more quickly.
  • The price: at the time of writing 100g pecan halves cost £2.55 at Waitrose; whereas the same weight of walnut halves cost £1.69.
  • The appearance: walnuts are larger and broader than pecans. Pecans are darker than walnuts.

Differences from a nutritional point of view

100g/¾ cupWalnuts

 

Juglans

Pecans

 

Carya illinoinensis

Protein15.23 g – walnuts are one of the most protein-dense nuts9.17 g
Calories (Kcal)654690
Carbohydrates13.71 g13.86 g
Including fibre content (which, although carbohydrate, as we all know, is not digested and goes ‘straight through’.6.7 g9.6 g
Fat65.21 g71.97 g
Including monounsaturated fat – good for the heart8.933 g40.801 g
Thiamine – Vitamin B10.341 mg

 

30 %*

0.66 mg

 

57%*

Vitamin B60.537 mg

 

41%*

0.21 mg

 

16%*

Vitamin E0.7 mg

 

5%*

1.4 mg

 

9%8

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Adrian

Thiamine is spelt incorrectly.

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