What is a Brazil Nut?
Brazil nut is the seed of a tropical South American evergreen tree – Bertholletia excelsa belonging to the family of Lecythidaceae. The fruit is a spherical capsule weighing 2–4 lb (1–2 kg) which, when mature, consists of an outer hard indehiscent husk enclosing an inner hard-shelled container or pod filled with about 20 rather triangular seeds or nuts.
These seeds come in clusters of 8 to 24 inside a hard, 4- to 6-inch globular pod that resembles a coconut. The extremely hard shell of each seed, or “nut,” is dark brown and triangular in shape. The kernel is white.
While chefs classify the Brazil nut as a nut, botanists consider it to be a seed and not a nut, since in nuts the shell splits in half with the meat separate from the shell.
Brazil nuts are most popular in the UK and the USA where they are associated with Christmas time. In-shell nuts are either eaten raw, roasted or salted. They can be used as additional ingredients in ice cream, desserts or nut mixes.
Brazil nuts are harvested from December to March. Brazil nuts are found abundantly in Amazonian forests of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. The Brazil nut is particularly well known in the Brazilian state of Pará, where it is called castanha-do-pará (Pará nut) and is grown as one of the major commercially traded nuts in the world.
Comparatively though there are a few plantations in Brazil, majority/most of the production is gathered from wild trees. The nuts are mostly exported to Europe, Canada, and the United States. About one-fourth of the crop is shelled in Brazil before export.
A Brief Historical Background
For centuries, Brazil nut trees have grown in the wild Amazon forest of South America. Many indigenous tribes, like the Yanomami, used the nuts to supplement their diets, and the oil and husks for a variety of other purposes.
The Portuguese and the Spanish introduced Brazil nuts to Europe in the 1500s, when the nuts were used for expeditionary rations and sent back with other New World discoveries. The Spanish called them “almendras de los Andes” – almonds of the Andes.
It was a German botanist-explorer, Alexander von Humboldt, who upon returning from a five year expedition collecting and cataloging thousands of plants in the late eighteenth century gave the nuts their name, Bertholletia excelsa, after his friend the chemist Claude Louis Berthollet.
The history of Brazil nuts is also intertwined with rubber production that began in Brazil in the mid-19th century. Brazil nut collection was done in the rainy season from December to March, while rubber was collected from May to November. When the rubber market soared, Brazil nut sales followed. But by the turn of the century, the majority of rubber production had moved to Southeast Asia. The collectors (castaneros) were left with the harvesting of Brazil nuts to sustain themselves.
Nutritional Content of Brazil Nut
Brazil Nut is an excellent source of Selenium and a good source of Megnesium and Thiamine. The Brazil nut is also popular with the health & beauty industries, since its high selenium content (about 2,500 times the amount found in other nuts) is a powerful antioxidant which has been found to slow the aging process, stimulate the immune system and protect against heart disease and certain forms of cancer. Brazil nut oil is frequently found in shampoos, conditioners, soaps and skin lotions.
Like all nuts, brazil nuts are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and are a popular source of nutrition and minerals with vegetarians. Brazil nuts are high in minerals including zinc and magnesium, and contain useful amounts of phosphorous, copper and iron.
Nutritional Information about Brazil nuts (un-blanched), 6-8 kernels (1 oz. [28g])
- Calories: 186
- Protein: 4.0g
- Carbohydrate: 3.6g
- Total Fat: 18.8g
- Fibre: 1.5g
- Selenium 839mcg
- Magnesium 63.8mg
- Thiamine 0.28mg.
Roasted Broccoli with Brazil-Nut Pesto
Brazil nuts not only make a great pesto, they also add selenium, a cancer-fighting mineral, to this already healthful broccoli dish.
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup Brazil nuts, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
- 1 large garlic clove, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 500°. In a mini food processor, combine the parsley with the Brazil nuts, water, tarragon, garlic and lemon zest and pulse to a coarse paste. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the Parmesan and process to a slightly smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper.
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- On 2 large, rimmed baking sheets, toss the broccoli florets with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and spread in an even layer. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the broccoli in the center of the oven for 8 minutes. Switch the baking sheets and continue to roast for about 8 minutes longer, or until the broccoli is browned and crisp-tender. Transfer the broccoli to a platter, drizzle the pesto on top and serve.
- Make Ahead The pesto can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before using.