Storing Pecans | New Mexico State University (2024)

Guide H-620
Reviewed by Ron Byford, Department Head, Extension Plant Sciences
College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences New Mexico State University (Print Friendly PDF)

Pecan nuts harvested in the fall can retain their fresh condition during the next year or until consumed, if handled and stored properly. Good storage helps keep the pecan's quality. The analysis of a good quality kernel will give a composition of 73–75% oil, 12–15% carbohydrates, 9–10% proteins, 3 to 4% water, and about 1.5% minerals. A high percentage of oil is indicated by plumpness, crispness, and solidity of kernels, compared with shriveling, sponginess, and hollowness. High oil content, and the fact that it is highly unsaturated (93%), or cholesterol free, is one of the most important factors, along with water and temperature, impacting the storability of pecans.

Oil. Because oil content in pecans is high, rancidity can develop at warm temperatures and is more noticeable than in most other nuts. Pecan oil is a mixture of several oils, although oleic and linoleic oils are the two principal ones, usually comprising about 95% or more of total oil. Both the amount of oil and degree of saturation vary with geographical locations. Linoleic acid is the primary chemical component responsible for oxidation and rancidity in pecan kernels. Linoleic acid varies widely in different varieties of well-matured and plump kernels, and it also varies from year to year in the same variety.

Water. Lowering the moisture content of pecan kernels is an important step for maximum storage life of pecans.

Pecans, like many other agricultural products, are harvested at moisture contents higher than those required for storage. Pecans harvested early can contain 25–30% moisture. Water content decreases in pecans harvested later in the season. Pecans should be stored at a moisture content of about 4%. Pecan moisture needs to be decreased as soon as practical after harvesting. This prevents molding, discoloration, and breakdown of the oil. Drying pecan nuts was originally done outdoors, by air and sun drying. This process took three to four weeks and molding often took place in the pecans. Artificial drying or drying with forced air is now used for pecans, speeding up the process considerably and eliminating molding problems.

Shelled pecans stored at non-freezing temperatures should be maintained in an atmosphere of about 65–70% relative humidity to hold the 3–4% moisture content. Humidity above these values can cause kernel molding and pecan texture deterioration (pecans become soft and rubber-like), whereas lower humidities will cause excessive drying. In-shell pecan kernels will darken under high humidity as a result of the tannic acid being dissolved from the shell lining.

For vacuum or gas packed pecans, or those stored under freezing conditions, relative humidity control is not necessary.

Temperature. Lower temperatures usually result in longer storage life of nuts. Storage temperatures and predicted storage times of shelled and unshelled pecans are listed in table 1. Pecan pieces have a shorter shelf-life than pecan halves. This time reduction is in proportion to the surface exposure of the pieces. Storage of nutmeat pieces should be limited to 1 or 2 months at temperatures about 32°F. The greatest benefit of storing at low temperature is retention of fresh flavor, followed by color, aroma and texture.

Because pecan meats absorb odors and flavors readily from the surroundings, a storage area free of odoriferous materials and commodities is necessary. Even faint odors of paint, wood, asphalt, vegetables, and other fruits can accumulate and appear stronger in the nuts than in the surrounding environment. In-shell pecans can remain good for 4 months at 70°F, but can be stored successfully for 18 months at 32°F to 36°F. Storage life of in-shell nuts may extend to 5 years or more when stored at 0°F (table 1).

Table 1. Relative storage life of pecans held at various temperatures

Temperature In-shell (Months) Shelled (Months)
70°F 43
47–50°F 96
20–25°F 20–40 18–24
0°F 24–60 24–60

Burlap bags are satisfactory for holding in-shell pecans if the bags are clean or have been sterilized. Pecans stored in rat contaminated bags are subject to confiscation by the Food and Drug Administration.

An unbroken pecan shell is one of the best packages for kernels. But, an oil film will form from the broken areas of shelled pecans and spread over the kernels as rancidity develops.

When taking nuts out of frozen storage, thaw kernels slowly; this is called tempering and involves gradually raising the temperature to 45°F or 50°F before exposing to a higher temperature. If the pecans are subjected to unusually high temperatures upon removal from storage, moisture will condense on the kernels. Therefore, a series of gradually increasing temperatures is desirable.

It is usually recommended that nuts and nutmeats be stored only in brine or freon refrigerant cooled rooms; however, this may not always be possible. Storage in areas cooled by ammonia refrigeration systems may be unavoidable. Because of the rapid and extreme blackening that occurs on contact with even a small concentration of ammonia gas, leakage prevention is mandatory. Ammonia damaged nuts and nutmeats cannot be salvaged. The package for shelled pecans must be impermeable to oil. The package should also prevent penetration of air and moisture. Metal, foil, glass, and flexible films are adequate and practical. An antioxidant on the inner surface of the container has proved effective.

At home, pecan kernels may be kept in the refrigerator in a covered glass jar or in plastic bags. In-shell pecans can be stored at room temperature for a short period of time. Keep in a refrigerator, if so desired, to keep for longer than 4 months. If pecans need to be stored for more than a year, either in the shell, cracked, or shelled, they have to be placed in the freezer.

Original author: Esteban Herrera, Extension Horticulturist

To find more resources for your business, home, or family, visit the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences on the World Wide Web at

Contents of publications may be freely reproduced for educational purposes. All other rights reserved. For permission to use publications for other purposes, contact or the authors listed on the publication.

New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

Revised and electronically distributed October 2005, Las Cruces, NM.

Storing Pecans | New Mexico State University (2024)


How should pecans be stored? ›

Want to know the secret to keeping your pecans fresh? It's simple. Just keep your pecans in airtight containers and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. When you are ready to serve, you can bring them up to room temperature or cook with them right away, no thawing necessary.

What is the #1 pecan producing state? ›

It wasn't until the late 1800s that farmers began cultivating pecans in orchards. Georgia is the nation's largest supplier of pecans, accounting for about a third of all U.S. pecan production. An average pecan harvest in Georgia is about 100 million pounds-enough to make around 200 million pecan pies.

How long do pecans last in a ziplock bag? ›

Sealed plastic bags are best for storing pecans in the freezer. In-shell pecans can be stored in a cool, dry place for 6 to 12 months. They can be refrigerated up to 18 months and frozen for about three years.

How long do unshelled pecans last at room temperature? ›

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.

What happens if you don't refrigerate pecans? ›

Question: Do pecans need to be refrigerated? Answer: No, shelled pecans do not need to be refrigerated and will last up to 4 months if kept around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to know if pecans go bad? ›

They should have a firm, almost crunchy texture and a rich golden or amber color. On the flip side, bad pecans may show signs of spoilage, such as a rancid smell, a shriveled appearance, or a soft and rubbery texture. And if you're daring enough to taste some, it's likely a bit bitter and honestly, gross.

What country eats the most pecans? ›

United States Is The Biggest Consumer Of Pecan

Along with the higher production, the United States is one of the largest pecan consumers globally. Furthermore, pecan consumption is mainly concentrated in states in the country, such as California, Florida, New York, Texas, and New Jersey.

Who buys the most pecans? ›

Bakers and confectioners are the largest buyers of shelled pecans, using pecans in cakes, pies, pralines and brittles.

Where is the pecan capital of the world? ›

San Saba Texas | Welcome to the Pecan Capital of the World.

Can you store pecans in mason jars? ›

Pecans (and almost any food) can be preserved in Mason jars. This method frees up your freezer space, and there is no freezer burn.

How long should pecans dry before cracking? ›

Allow the pecans to dry in the shell for a couple of weeks or so. Once the nuts are dry enough, you'll be able to break open the hulls without much effort. Rounding up, always ensure to pick your pecans during the late fall. After all, you'll be able to snap the kernels effortlessly only when the nuts ripen.

Do sealed bags of nuts go bad? ›

If sealed correctly, nuts can maintain freshness for up to 3 months in this short term storage.

How to get mold off of pecans? ›

Most nuts have mold on them. You may not be able to taste or see it, but they're kept in storage bins for weeks or months and accumulate mold, which produces toxins called mycotoxins. Soaking nuts helps reduce and eliminate mold from the nuts.

Do you wash pecans after shelling? ›

In-shell, or shelled stored in a 40° atmosphere should not exceed a 365-day shelf life. When stored in a freezer, keep them no longer than two years. Don't wash pecans. Don't run water over them or even use a damp towel to clean them.

Are pecans ripe when they fall off the tree? ›

In most cases, pecan trees drop their nuts in the fall when they are fully ripe and ready to be harvested.

Do pecans need to be refrigerated after opening? ›

In-shell pecans can be stored at room temperature for a short period of time. Keep in a refrigerator, if so desired, to keep for longer than 4 months. If pecans need to be stored for more than a year, either in the shell, cracked, or shelled, they have to be placed in the freezer.


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