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The Rise of Paper-Shell Pecans

At Royalty Pecan Farms®, we grow several different pecan varieties, and most of them were originally developed at a USDA breeding station just down the road in College Station. While we do have a native pecan tree on the property, all of our Royalty Pecans® are improved varieties known as “paper-shell” pecans.

Cracked Cheyenne Inshell Pecans from Royalty Pecan Farms Large cluster of ripe Royalty Pecans Wichita Inshell Pecans Grown at Royalty Pecan Farms

What is a paper-shell pecan and why are they so popular?

The paper-shell pecan is an improved nut, which means it’s not native but cultivated, and it’s named for its ultra-thin shell. These nuts can usually be cracked open with two fingers, much like a peanut. Paper-shell pecans are preferred by producers and consumers in commercial use, as they are easily processed and produce larger nuts than native or wild pecans.

But, that’s not the only reason why paper-shell pecans are highly sought after. Paper-shell pecans offer a sweeter taste, making them the best nut for pecan pie. Some native pecans yield bitter parts and in turn artificial sweeteners and sugars must be added.

Colonel W. R. Stuart of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, made a great contribution to the rise in popularity of paper-shell pecans, and as a result, the rise in popularity of pecans as a viable commercial crop. Colonel Stuart (where we get the name for the Stuart pecan) is credited in history as the first successful grafter of paper-shell pecans. In the late 1800s, he was a pioneer in researching and experimenting with cross-pollination and other methods to develop the “paper-shell” or “improved” pecan varieties widely grown today.*

Thanks to Colonel Stuart’s research, pecan nurseries in the southern U.S. started to graft paper-shell pecans. Because of their predictable and stable characteristics, grafted pecan nuts are preferred over seed-grown pecan trees (seedlings) or natives. Eventually the United States Department of Agriculture caught wind of this new nut and developed it into the commercial industry it is today.

So, without Colonel Stuart’s hard work and dedication, many tooth-smackin’, tummy achin’, lick-the-bowl-clean pecan pie recipes may not exist!

*The Paper-Shell Pecan and the Satsuma Orange, South Orchards Company

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