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

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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.

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

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Sha, your question about DNA affecting our food preferences is a good one. It's certainly true with cilantro (as you found out) and dark chocolate. Just for you I'll research Brazil nuts (but I no longer have a forum for the answer).

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 11, 2021:

Fascinating history on the Brazil nut, Linda! The agouti looks like a cross between a squirrel and a bunny. I certainly wouldn't want to be bitten by one!

Harvesters take their lives in their own hands as well. I would imagine a falling Brazil nut cannonball could kill if it landed on a human head!

The recipes you present are interesting, although I've never been a fan of Brazil nuts. I wonder if DNA determines whether or not an individual likes them, much as with cilantro. I do not like cilantro at all! I bought it by mistake not too long ago because my grocery store had some in the Italian parsley section. Yuck! I threw the whole bunch away.

Glad I was able to find this in my feed. I'm not always successful.

Lots of love to you, Sis!

Sha

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Manatita, I can't imagine the beauty of the rainforest in Brazil. We have a rainforest here in Washington State, but it is much different. Obviously, it is not a tropical forest but it is nevertheless amazing. A rich tapestry of every shade of green, lush, moist, and also teaming with wildlife, but of a much different sort than the Amazon.

As to selenium, there are other good natural sources. Eggs, of course, but I don't recall if you have excluded them from your diet. Brown rice is another good one, as are mushrooms, spinach, lentils, bananas, and oatmeal. I eat 1/2 cup of raw whole oatmeal every morning. Sometimes I “spice it up” with a tablespoon of chopped raw walnuts.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Flourish, I agree. Those Brazil nuts in the shell were a real challenge--but anything worth having is worth fighting for, right?

manatita44 from london on January 11, 2021:

Such richness of nature and the rain forest is amazing! I have ran out of Selenium, so necessary to fight both cancer and Covid-19. There's also a high content in sperm, I hear. Anyway, I need some soon, inshal'lah. Stay blessed.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 11, 2021:

I have never seen anything made with Brazil nuts. They are super hard to crack. TWhen I was growing up we had bowls of nuts out and they were always the last ones left. We always used to challenge each other to crack them without breaking the nut. Hartd to do!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Ann, thank you for taking the time to find and comment on my article (via the back door). That's a testament to your friendship. I love doing the research for these, and I'm glad to know that there's an audience that enjoys it.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Denise, it seems that you and I share a beloved Christmas memory. There were always far too many Spanish peanuts (in my opinion) in those mixed nuts collections. Almonds were nice, pecans and cashews were certainly appreciated, but the Brazil nut was the prize.

Ann Carr from SW England on January 11, 2021:

You've done it again, Linda! Great recipes and a side-dish of background information and history - superb!

I love brazils but they are very filling which is probably a good thing, otherwise I'd eat too many.

Well done!

Ann

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 11, 2021:

I LOVE the history lesson. I always wondered about the Brazil nut. It seemed I only had access to them during Christmas when my grandmother would put out a bowl of mixed nuts and searching for the favored nut was a treat. What great information. I suddenly have even more admiration for this humble nut.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Kalpana I hope you are able to find Brazil nuts and give them a try. They have a unique flavor and texture.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Thank you Peggy. I wrote this one last summer and this week just seemed like the right time to bring it to light. I'm thinking of Christmas past, when I was little, our Christmas stockings would be filled with an orange (or two) and mixed nuts in the shell--both were real treats.

Kalpana Iyer from India on January 11, 2021:

Very informative! I have never had Brazil Nuts. Very intrigued about them and will be trying them out the first opportunity I get.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 11, 2021:

Your article covers so many aspects of the brazil nut and is fascinating to read. Like you, I would not want to be under one of those nuts when dropped on the ground. It could cause quite a headache or even be deadly!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

M Mallika Rani, thank you for the "follow" and for taking the time to leave a comment. Perhaps Brazil nuts are not available in your area. (I have difficulty obtaining them too). Do look for them--you will enjoy them.

MallikaLotus from Hyderabad, India on January 11, 2021:

I never heard of Brazilian nuts. Good article. Thank you for this info.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Eric, you are very kind. I enjoyed writing the intro. I hope you and Gabe try some of the recipes.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 11, 2021:

Fantastic. I knew they were good for you but just not how good. These recipes look so delicious and nutriousess.

Your writing on this one may be up there with the 50 best.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Dora, as soon as I can get together a food order, I'm going to make those quinoa cakes.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Bill, it' you've ever eaten mixed nuts, you've had the pleasure of Brazil nuts. Yes, I'm ready for the fire hose of weather this week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2021:

Pamela, I'm glad you found this interesting. Yes, do the fridge cake--it doesn't take much time (and anything with dark chocolate is "healthy", right?)

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 11, 2021:

Thanks for these very interesting suggestions for the use of Brazilian nuts and also for quinoa. So healthy! I appreciate the warning on overuse of the nut.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 11, 2021:

Hooray, I'm first, and I avoided the dreaded "feed search" for your article.

I suppose I've had Brazil nuts. I mean, I must have, right? I just didn't know what they were. Roasted nuts sound good, especially this time of year. And nuts are part of the Mediterranean Diet, right? Not that I follow it. lol I'm just rambling now. I enjoyed the article. Loved the random facts.

Stay dry! It's going to be a wet week. I suspect I'll be towel-drying my dogs quite often this week.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 11, 2021:

The interesting information about the Brazil nuts is new to me and I found it very interesting.I like all the recipes you added also. I have never made a fridge cake, but it looks delicious.

This is another excellent article, Linda. Thank you for the recipes.