Skip to main content

Exploring Brazil Nuts: Facts, Nutrition, Recipes, and Trivia

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Brazil nuts have a unique flavor and texture

Brazil nuts have a unique flavor and texture

The Oldest Organism in the Rainforest

The Amazon rain forest spans 1.7 billion acres, the largest forest on earth and perhaps the most beautiful wilderness on our planet. One half of the world's plant and animal species live there with only one major river but 1,000 tributaries.

The largest and oldest living organism in the rainforest is the Bertholletia excelsa, the Brazil nut, which is not really a nut at all.

Allow me to explain—a nut is a hard-shelled fruit, a single seed but the B. excelsa doesn't fit that definition; it's actually one of many seeds contained in a cannonball-sized pod, and each pod is part of a cluster of one to two dozen. Only two animals on earth can open them. A housecat-sized rodent called an agouti can gnaw them open with chisel-like teeth. Human beings use an ax or machete.

There are a few Brazil nut plantations scattered throughout Northern Brazil, but most production is actually in the wild, from December to March. Gathering the nuts is not for the faint-hearted. The pods are collected on the ground—that's the easy part. But the five-pound cannonballs drop without warning from a height of 100-feet or more, hurtling to the ground at 50 miles per hour. (I wouldn't want to be hit by one of those, would you?)

They'e Good to Eat, But Don't Overdo It

Although Brazil nuts are a tasty fruit (once you extract them from their tough outer shell), be careful about how many you include in your diet. They contain a rather high amount of the trace mineral selenium. That's not a bad thing—our bodies need selenium to support our immune systems and maintain a healthy thyroid—but there are recommended daily amounts:

Selenium RDA

Source: National Institute of Health (NIH)

 Recommended Dietary AllowanceTolerable Upper Limit

Children 4 to 8 years

30 micrograms

150 micrograms

Children 9 to 13 years

40 micrograms

280 micrograms

Adults 14 and over

55 micrograms

400 micrograms

According to the NIH, an occasional serving of four or five Brazil nuts is acceptable. On the plus side, they are a good source of dietary fiber and other valuable nutrients and minerals. Here's what else they contain.

Brazil Nut Nutrition Facts

Per serving (4 Brazil nuts): Data from Convert-to.com

Calories - 131

Protein - 2.42 g

Saturated fat - 2.55 g

Dietary fiber - 1.26 g

Selenium - 323 µg

Sodium - 0.51 mg

Potassium - 111.14 mg

Magnesium - 63.4 mg

Phosphorus - 122.3 mg

Zinc - 0.68 mg

Iron - 0.4 mg

Copper - 0.29 mg

Spicy rosemary roasted Brazil nuts

Spicy rosemary roasted Brazil nuts

Spicy Rosemary Roasted Brazil Nuts

This first recipe allows the flavor and texture of the Brazil nut to shine. Simply toss them in a bowl with olive oil, rosemary, some sea salt, and (if you wish) a dash of cayenne pepper. Roast in the oven. Cool. Eat. Spicy rosemary roasted Brazil nuts are that easy.

Quinoa risotto with Brazil nut "Parmesan"

Quinoa risotto with Brazil nut "Parmesan"

Mushroom and Quinoa Risotto With Brazil Nut Parmesan

Traditional risotto is a northern Italian dish of creamy rice and herbs. It's amazingly and wonderfully versatile—you can add sauteed vegetables, cooked meats (if you wish to make it a hearty meal), or go total comfort-food-crazy with the cheese of your choice.

Read More From Delishably

This mushroom quinoa risotto dish is not a true risotto; there's no rice. But quinoa is just as flavorful but wait, there's more. Quinoa is a complete protein; that means that it is a perfect food for those who are trying to reduce the amount of meat in their diet or are vegetarian.

Could this get even better? Well, yes, it does with the addition of Brazil nuts used to make a faux Parmesan cheese. So this is also a vegan dish, high in protein, gluten-free and dairy-free. Enjoy with wild abandon.

Quinoa-cauliflower cakes with herbed Brazil nut cream

Quinoa-cauliflower cakes with herbed Brazil nut cream

Quinoa-Cauliflower Cakes With Herbed Brazil Nut Cream

To be perfectly honest, I don't purposely seek out vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free recipes for myself. Although I appreciate the thoughts and theory behind a plant-based diet, it just isn't my thing. However, I chose this recipe, not because of what has been subtracted, but because of its attributes.

Ashley's crispy quinoa cakes are oven-baked to crispy golden perfection, but the insides remain soft and creamy. Chives, lime juice, garlic, toasted sesame oil and a dash of red pepper flakes fill them with bright, umami, and hot-spicy flavors. But for me, the star of the show (and why I'm featuring this recipe) is the herbed Brazil nut cream. Cilantro and lime juice add a punch of flavor to a cream made of Brazil nuts that have been soaked in hot water for an hour. That's all it takes to make a rich and creamy, but non-dairy dip to go along with this wonderful main dish for a lunch, brunch, or light dinner.

Brazil nut biscotti

Brazil nut biscotti

Brazil Nut Biscotti

Just for fun, let's have a bit of a history lesson (this is my favorite part of writing).

In Italian, the word biscotto means "one biscuit" or "cookie." Thus biscotti is the plural—two or more cookies. But wait, there’s more. Biscotti also refers to the original method of baking. Bis and cotto literally mean "twice" and "baked."

Historians tell us that the Romans discovered that bread baked twice (think of it as the first crouton), would keep well during long journeys (and the occasional war). In time the practice was used by soldiers, sailors, and fishermen during the Renaissance. Somehow the concept of twice-baking bread was used with cookies, and biscotti were born.

The first documented recipe for biscotti (Biscotti of Genoa) is a centuries-old manuscript discovered by 18th-century scholar Amadio Baldanzi. (The manuscript is preserved in a museum in the town of Prato.) Prato is home to the historic bakery “Mattei,” founded in 1858. The owner, Antonio Mattei, developed the recipe that is considered the original biscotti recipe. His friend was Pellegrino Artusi, an author who included some of Mattei’s recipes in the book Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well (1891). The publication is still available today.

This fruity Brazil nut biscotti would make a wonderful Christmas stocking stuffer, or gift to have on hand. The dried fruits are what you would commonly have in a fruitcake or plum pudding.

Chocolate Fridge Cake

Our final recipe is a chocolate fridge cake—have you heard of them? Fridge cakes are the perfect way to create a dessert without using the oven. A mixture of syrup and eggs is slowly cooked on the stovetop, chocolate is stirred in, and then the resulting fudge-like batter is used to coat mixed nuts and broken cookies. Spread it all in a shallow pan and chill until firm. It's more like candy than cake, which in my book is a good thing.

Trivia

  • Because of their size and high oil content, two Brazil nuts are the caloric equivalent of one large egg.
  • Brazil nut trees have a lifespan of 500 years or more.
  • There is only one insect (the Euglossine or orchid bee) strong enough to pry open and pollinate the Brazil nut flowers.
  • A mature tree can produce as many as 300 fruits in a growing season.
  • The chief exporter of Brazil nuts is Bolivia.
  • Around 25,000 metric tons of Brazil nuts are harvested each year.

Sources

© 2021 Linda Lum

Related Articles