The pecan, a Georgia crop staple, packs a much higher antioxidant punch than its nut-cousin the almond. But what the little-known nut is high in is overshadowed by what it’s low in—research, marketing and consumer data.
With a four-year, $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, UGA food scientist Ron Pegg and his team now have the funding to transform the pecan’s image from holiday baking ingredient to year-round powerhouse. Their goal is to give consumers more information on the nutrient-packed nut and provide pecan growers with long-term profitability by improving their production efficiency and productivity.
With UGA as the lead, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant also involves collaborators from Texas A&M and New Mexico State universities.
Pegg’s research on pecans started with peanuts. As a food scientist in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, his specialty is looking at the nutrients and bioactives—like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering components—that certain foods possess.
“In looking at pecans versus other tree nuts, pecans are the highest in antioxidant activity,” Pegg said. “We’re extending our research looking at antioxidant activity, and we’re finding higher values than those listed in the USDA oxygen radical absorbance capacity database.”
Pegg’s UGA grant collaborators include M. Lenny Wells, a Cooperative Extension horticulture pecan specialist on the Tifton Campus. Wells and faculty at Texas A&M and New Mexico State universities will run horticultural studies and develop outreach materials. Pegg and Philip Greenspan, an associate professor of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences in the College of Pharmacy, will conduct pecan analytical and biological studies. John McKissick, an agricultural economist and professor emeritus in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and Sharon Kane, a food business development specialist with the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, will examine the production and marketing economics of pecans.