Food | Business | Nation

The Enigmatic Pecan: Why So Pricey, And How To Pronounce It?

NPR | Nov. 9, 2013 12:08 p.m.

Contributed By:

Melissa Block

Where In the U.S. do people say 'pee-kahn' over 'pi-kahn'? Joshua Katz answered your burning question by mapping Bert Vaux's dialect survey on regional variations in the continental United States.

Where In the U.S. do people say 'pee-kahn' over 'pi-kahn'? Joshua Katz answered your burning question by mapping Bert Vaux's dialect survey on regional variations in the continental United States.

Courtesy of Joshua Katz

The price of pecans is going up, up, up, which may mean that if you’re planning on a pecan pie for Thanksgiving, the time to buy them is now. It all comes down to natural forces: supply and demand and weather.

China can’t get enough pecans, according to fourth-generation pecan farmer Randy Hudson. His Hudson Pecan Company in Ocilla, Ga., ships 80 to 90 percent of its pecans to China.

The Chinese, Hudson says, are hungry for all kinds of nuts. Their growing economy means they’re more willing to pay higher prices, and that’s raising prices everywhere.

The demand is also moving faster than the pecans can grow. “You don’t just plant pecans, it takes 10 years,” from start of cultivation to harvest, Hudson tells All Things Considered’s Melissa Block.

Mixed with that, “the most significant thing is the weather,” Hudson says. Southern Georgia experienced two of the wettest springs and summers on record last year, “creating real issues with diseases.”

Pecans are currently about $9 a pound in the U.S. But according to Forbes, by late November pecans may get up to $11, even $12 a pound, in grocery stores.

Hudson suspects 10 to 15 million pounds of pecans, or about 7 percent of total U.S. production, will ship to China from the U.S. this year.

And speaking of pecans, is there a right way to say the word, pecan? There are, after all, a few different takes: pee-kahn, pi-kahn and pee-kan.

Not really, says Grant Barrett, co-host of the public radio show about linguistics, A Way with Words.

“It’s always had a variety of pronunciations,” Barrett tells Block. “We find it first 300 years ago in the journals of French and Spanish explorers in the New World. And from the very start spelling and pronunciation did not remain fixed.”

A dialect survey on the word pecan showed in the U.S. almost thirty percent say pee-kahn, 21 percent say pi-kahn, while pee-can had only 13 percent.

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