Are you a “puh-kahn” or “pee-can” person?   

By Corey Williams
September 05, 2019
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Justin Walker

Worried about running out of things to argue about this Thanksgiving? Don't panic! Just ask your family one simple question: “How do you pronounce ‘pecan?’” 

How to Pronounce “Pecan”

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Contrary to popular belief, how you pronounce “pecan” depends on more than where you live in relation to the Mason-Dixon line. 

Many people believe Southerners say “pee-can” while Northerners say “puh-kahn.” According to the National Pecan Shellers Association (which, we assume, is the foremost authority on all things pecan), only 45 percent of Southerners are Team Pee-can—unlike 70 percent of people in the Northeast. 

I’m a native Alabamian and have always pronounced it “puh-kahn.” I polled about 20 coworkers and friends who grew up in various parts of the U.S.—all but one Georgian said “pee-can.” So what gives? 

“Conventional wisdom holds that the difference is regional, one more thing separated by the Mason-Dixon line,” Kathleen Purvis, author of Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook, wrote in a 2013 article for Our State Magazine, a North Carolina-based publication. “Sorry, but that’s just not so. I’ve listened to people from all over. And in my experience, this pronunciation isn’t North versus South. It’s urban versus rural.”

According to Purvis, “If you want to sound down-home or a little bit country, say ‘pee-can.’ If you want to sound a little more urbane, say ‘pah-cahn.’”

Full disclosure: This answer doesn’t line up with my experience. (Then again, I didn’t write the literal book on pecans).

I come from a long line of “puh-kahn” sayers and, while most members of my deeply Southern family aren’t exactly hillbillies, we definitely fall closer to “a little bit country” than “urbane” on the spectrum in question. 

Meanwhile, my Manhattan born-and-bred former coworker says he eats “pee-cans” and not “puh-kahns.”

It looks like, in this particular instance, there may not be a definitive answer—so just shut up and eat your pie.  

Pecan 101

WATCH: How to Make Pumpkin-Pecan Cheesecake

The pecan is a type of hickory nut native to northern Mexico and the southern U.S. 

Though it’s primarily cultivated in Georgia, it’s a state symbol in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Pecans were widely consumed and traded by Native Americans pre-European settlement. Since they’re edible long after they’ve been separated from the tree, they were a practical choice for consumers in a preagricultural society. 

Europeans came into contact with pecans sometime in the 15-century via Spanish explorers who called them “nuez de la arruga,” which roughly translates to “wrinkle nuts.” Yum?

The nuts, which are typically harvested from October through December, have a rich and buttery flavor. 

They can be eaten fresh, but they’re often associated with desserts like pecan pie and pralines. 

Related: 200+ Thanksgiving Recipes

Pecan Recipes

Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Christine Keely; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer

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