Monday, January 9, 2017

In the eye of the beholder: Kanza and Pawnee

     Kanza and Pawnee are the two most popular pecan cultivars being propagated for northern pecan growers (photo at right).  The decision growers make to graft one or both of these cultivars is largely based on the expectation that the nuts they produce will command top dollar in the marketplace. However, the way growers look at pecan cultivars may be entirely different than the way consumers judge pecans.
   Consumers are visually oriented. Given the choice between several, in-shell cultivars most consumers will be attracted to the largest nut and immediately ask if the nut is a "paper shell". It doesn't seem to matter if a quality kernel actually resides inside the shell. Given the choice between Kanza and Pawnee, most in-shell buyers will choose Pawnee based solely on its larger size.

   Everything changes when the nuts are cracked (photo at right). Once a consumer can see the kernel, different visual cues come into play. Kernel color makes the greatest impression. In the minds of the consumer, a light, straw-colored kernel is associated with freshness. Dark or mottled kernels are associated with off-flavors even if the kernel is actually top quality.
    Kernel appearance is where Kanza really shines. A bag of cracked Kanza nuts is filled with plump, light-colored kernels. Cracked with a modern pneumatic pecan cracker, Kanza kernels not only look pretty but entire kernel halves are often freed from the shell.
    In comparison, Pawnee kernels vary widely in appearance, even when harvested from a single tree. Some kernels have a nice golden color while others appear mottled (photo above). This causes the consumer to pause and ask if the mottled kernels have something wrong with them. Offering a taste sample may be the only way to convince a consumer that a mottled Pawnee kernel tastes just fine.
   Its unfortunate that taste, that one human sense that should guide consumers,  is rarely used to select pecans within the marketplace. Both Kanza and Pawnee have excellent flavor, although their flavors differ. Kanza kernels taste sweet and oily while Pawnee kernels have a distinctive buttery flavor. Personally, I like the flavor of both nuts and I find it refreshing to switch up a recipe by simply using a different pecan cultivar.