Consumer hedonic ratings and associated sensory characteristics and emotional responses to fourteen pecan varieties grown in Texas
Pecan is one of the top five most widely consumed tree nuts, and pecan nut quality is a major factor for consideration in breeding better pecan cultivars for use by producers. However, the pecan industry faces a hurdle to evaluate its nutmeat taste, and there has so far been limited evaluation of consumer attitudes toward pecan nutmeat. This study aimed to investigate the consumer (n = 198) hedonic rating, diagnostic sensory attribute intensity, and emotional response for 14 pecan samples, consisting of native/seedling and improved varieties. The results showed all kernels received positive hedonic scores (>5, 9-point hedonic scale) for overall acceptance and the acceptability of size, interior color, typical-pecan flavor, and raw-nut flavor. The primary sensory attributes (intensities > 5.0, 0–10 line scale) were typical-pecan and raw-nut flavors, followed by buttery flavor, sweetness, and astringency. Kernel off-flavors were not perceived in general. For 20 emotion-associated terms, the intensity of the satiating effect was medium, while the energizing effect was lower. The major emotional responses were healthy, satisfied, and comfort, followed by calm, interested, premium, and relaxed. Kernel variety difference was significant (p ≤ 0.05) for all these measured variables. Consumer overall acceptance toward pecan kernels was driven by the acceptability of flavor and interior color, flavor intensities, no off-flavors, and positive emotional responses; kernel size was not an impactful factor. The six most preferred varieties were 86TX2-1.5, Pawnee, Barton, 1997-09-0012, 1991-01-0026, and Harris Super. This study is the first to use consumer input to assess nut quality and consumption preference and will be foundational to ongoing breeding programs to develop new pecan cultivars that will better meet consumer preferences and expectations, and therefore will be accepted by the processing industry and growers.