Brazil Nuts
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The Brazil Nut, also called the butternut, cream nut, Para nut, or castanea, is the Seed of a tree (Bertholletia excelsa) in the family Lecythidaceae and is a close biological relative of the Blueberry, Cranberry, Gooseberry and Persimmon. The Brazil Nut is not actually a true tree Nut but instead a seed and what we call a Culinary Nut because it is thought of and treated like a nut in the kitchen. The Brazil Nut is actually the seed of a hard-shelled indehiscent fruit.

Brazil Nut trees favor large, tropical river forests and are native to Brazil, Venezuela, eastern Columbia, eastern Peru, eastern Bolivia and the Guianas. Brazil Nut trees are thought to live for 500 years to 1,000 years.

Brazil nut entered world commerce in the late 18th century, introduced by Dutch traders during the period that they attempted to colonize eastern Amazônia and Maranhão (Mori & Prance 1990b). A prosperous trade developed soon after Brazil opened its ports to world trade in the late 19th century and Brazil nut has been an important item of trade since that period (ibid.). Before this, it had been an extremely important subsistence product for the Amerindians and later the colonists.

The fruit of the Brazil Nut tree which matures 14 months after pollination, looks something like a Coconut with a hard woody shell and can weigh 4.4 to 5 Lbs (2 to 2.7 kg). Inside, rest 8 to 24 triangular, Brazil Nut seeds, packed like the segments of an orange. Once collected, the seeds are taken out, dried in the sun, the washed and shipped while still in the shell. A mature Brazil Nut tree will produce more than 300 pods which ripen and fall to the ground from January through June.

The Brazil Nut’s flower has a coiled hood and a long, complex, coiled stem so pollination requires a strong insect with a long tongue. Brazil Nut trees rely on large body bees to pollinate them and as consequence do best in pristine, undisturbed forest where those bees can thrive making it very hard to farm Brazil Nuts. Most Brazil Nuts are harvested from wild sources by workers called “castanheiros.”

Production

Even thought the country Brazil is in the name of the Brazil Nut, Brazil is only the second largest producer of Brazil Nuts (roughly 8,000 tons/yr). The honor of leading Brazil Nut producer actually rests with Bolivia which harvests around 10,000 tons of Brazil Nuts a year.

Purchasing

Fresh Brazil Nuts out of the shell are supposed to be ivory white. If they’ve turned yellow, don't eat them. They are likely Rancid. If unsure, you can take a small, sampling bite.

For Brazil Nuts in the shell, look for an intact shell with a rich brown color. There should be no dark discolorations or indications of mold. The nut should not rattle when shaken, which would indicate a withered kernel.

Storage

Brazil Nuts, like other high fat nuts, are prone to become Rancid if exposed to light and heat. The best way to avoid Rancidity is to store Brazil Nuts in a cool, dark place.  

If improperly stored, Brazil Nuts can also host the mold Aspergillus flavus which produces the carcinogen aflatoxin that can lead to liver cancer.  As compared to other Nuts, Brazil Nuts do have a storage advantage in that Brazil Nuts contain Ellagic Acid which inhibits the “activation” of the aflatoxins enzymes.

Culinary Uses

The first challenge of working with or eating most Brazil Nuts is getting them out of their tough outer shell. A Nut Cracker is the preferred way to liberate the Brazil Nut Kernel, though we have seen a hammer (and safety goggles) employed. If you have trouble with your Brazil Nuts at room temperature, consider freezing them before cracking. Frozen, the shells will break more easily and more cleanly, resulting in a higher yield of nut “meat.”

A serving is considered 8 medium Brazil Nuts which would be about 1.05 oz. (30 grams) and most Brazil Nuts are consumed Raw. They have a creamy, mild nutty taste, similar to Almond or Coconut, and a crunchy texture.

Brazil Nuts can also be roasted & salted, included in mixed roast nuts, or used as an ingredient in confections or baking.

Brazil Nut Oil has a nice nutty flavor and can be used to make Salad Dressings or Chopped and included in Pesto. Brazil Nuts can also be used as a thickener or a source of texture in Soups or Stews.

Nutritional Value USDA
BRAZILNUTS,DRIED,UNBLANCHED
Amount Per 100g
Calories 656
%Daily Value*
 
101%
Total Fat 66g
11%
Saturated Fat 15g
Polyunsaturated Fat 20g
Monounsaturated Fat 24g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 3mg
14%
Potassium 659mg
4%
Total Carbohydrate 12g
28%
Dietary Fiber 7g
Sugars 2g
Protein 14g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

The nutritional values above are for 100 g, but a serving is considered 8 medium Brazil Nuts which would be about 1.05 oz. (30 grams).

Brazil Nuts are high in Fat (65% to 70%) but it is considered a Polyunsaturated Fat because Polyunsaturated fat dominates. The actual break down is 24.4% Saturated Fat, 34.8% Monounsaturated Fat, and 36.4% Polyunsaturated Fat. Brazil Nuts also have about 18% Protein.

Brazil Nuts are often called a “Complete Protein,” and technically they are because they contain all 9 of the Essential Amino Acids needed by humans. In reality, Brazil Nuts have a very small amount of Tryptophan (0.14 g per 100 g) which makes them less-protein rich, basically a little less “complete.”

The news is really that Brazil Nuts are high in the sulfur amino acids (methionine, cysteine), which are largely missing from many Vegan staples such as the seed of the common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). Brazil Nuts make for a good protein complement for Vegetarians and Vegans seeking to round out their Amino Acid intake.

Brazil Nuts are a good source of Thiamin, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Brazil Nuts are also a good source of the minerals Manganese, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Copper, Calcium and Selenium.

Brazil nuts are thought to be the richest dietary source of Selenium. One ounce of Brazil Nuts, roughly equivalent to 6 to 8 nuts can contain 10 times the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance of Selenium.

Selenium intake is a mixed bag. In smaller doses, Selenium has been suggested, in some studies, to correlate with a reduced risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. Of course, other studies dispute the claims, but we do know that too much Selenium can be toxic and overconsumption of Selenium has lead to hair loss (Thorn et al. 1978).

Phytic Acid can also be found (2% to 6% of dry weight) in Brazil Nuts. Phytic acid can prevent absorption of some nutrients, mainly iron, but is also a subject of research and possibly confers health benefits. Brazil Nuts also contain small amounts of Radium, though most of it is passed through the body. The radium is thought to be present in quantities 1000 times higher than other foods because of the extensive root system of the Brazil Nut tree, not because of radium contamination in the soil.

Allergies and Toxins

Some people are allergic to certain nuts and Culinary Nuts, including Brazil Nuts. They can experience symptoms ranging from a rash to deadly anaphylaxis. Always be careful to alert your diners to the presence of Brazil Nuts in your cooking. It is also important to be aware that people with Brazil Nut allergies may also be allergic to other Nuts, such as Hazelnuts, Chestnuts, and Acorns, or to other Culinary Nuts such as Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts and Pecans.

We do not hear of as many Brazil Nut allergies, most likely, because Brazil Nuts are not as widely consumed as other more common nuts but because of the likelihood of dual allergies, it is typical to advise people with Brazil Nut allergies to avoid eating all nuts.  

As noted above, Brazil Nuts can also host Aspergillus flavus which produces aflatoxin.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No