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Daily Sun photo/Stephen Farris Isamu Kitajima, left, and Hiroaki Kubota, right, look through a bin of cracked pecans during a tour of Navarro Pecan Company Friday morning.

Pecans are taken for granted in Texas, but in Japan they’re considered an exotic nut.

Consequently, when a Japanese delegation of candy and snack makers visited Corsicana on Friday they were treated like minor royalty.

The four businessmen, faithfully trailed by a dozen or so representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Southern United States Trade Association, toured the Navarro Pecan factory and a pecan orchard outside of Corsicana, seeing everything from soup to, well, nuts.

Pecans have a hard time of it in Japan, though, the visitors explained.

“It’s like horse racing,” explained Hiroto Nakajima, president of the Toyo Nut Company in Kobe, Japan. “Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are already ahead. We need some kind of whip for pecans.”

Nakajima’s company has been processing nuts for 50 years, and he is a second-generation nut expert.

Logically, Japanese snackers know pecans are good nutritionally, Nakajima explained. “But all kinds of nuts have good nutritional benefits. We need more. It’s not only taste, it needs a good image.”

Historical tidbits, even interesting superstitions, might sell Japanese buyers on the relatively obscure nut that grows only in the Southern United States, Nakajima said.

Pecans in Japan are used like other nuts — as a snack with formal teas, or as an ingredient in sweets.

Junichi Ishihara said he personally likes pecans, and he uses them in the candies, cookies, ice cream and other desserts his company makes.

“But they’re not so popular because the prices change each year,” he said. “It’s hard to use pecans if the price is not stable. So many chocolate makers find it difficult.”

The Corsicana tour was part of a larger Southern U.S. swing by the group. Earlier in the week, they visited Atlanta, Georgia; Houston and then Corsicana. In May, pecan sellers from the South traveled to Asia.

Pecan sales in Japan are up, but still aren’t as meaty as in European countries, where the nut is more familiar, said Caroline Snow, with the Texas Department of Agriculture.

“They are just now learning about pecans,” she said, adding that the tours were well-received. “They really liked it. They took a lot of pictures.”

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Janet Jacobs may be contacted via e-mail at jacobs@corsicanadailysun.com

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