The South American Amazonian superfood Brazil nut, filled with essential nutrients and minerals, a great addition to your recipes and menus.
History of the Brazil nut
There has been a long history of extraction and collection of Brazil nuts from the rainforest of Northern Bolivia and Brazil. The annual collection is very important for the local communities, accounting for over half of these families’ incomes.
Brazil nuts have been eaten by the native people of the region at least since the Upper Paleolithic era, some 11,000 years ago. But the first mention of the Brazil nuts from Western sources goes back to 1569 during a time when Spanish and Portuguese explorers were tramping through South America, fighting, killing, and subjugating native peoples.
One of these explorers, a Spanish conquistador named Juan Álvarez Maldonado, was introduced to Brazil nuts while exploring the Madre de Dios river region of Peru and promptly ordered that thousands be gathered for his hungry troops.
That was pretty much the best thing that happened to Maldonado and his troops on that trip: their boats overturned navigating a swollen river, a bloody battle ensued with rival Spaniards who were also exploring the area, followed by another battle with natives that wiped out most of the rest of the crew. Maldonado barely made it back to civilization alive.
Not surprisingly, Brazil nuts didn’t really take off until the Spanish and Portuguese made better inroads into the jungles. But, strangely, it was Dutch traders who first introduced the food to Europe in the early 1600s, although it would take another hundred years or so before they became popular there.
Brazil nuts first arrived in America in the early 1800s, and as in Europe, it took some time before they reached the kind of popularity that would land them in those ubiquitous tins of mixed nuts you find on your grocery store shelf. Today, nearly half the Brazil nuts imported to the United States come from Bolivia.
Seasonality and availability
The local families depend on the virgin forest for survival, but significantly, so does the Brazil nut tree itself. Interestingly this canopy emergent tree has never been successfully cultivated outside the forest to produce nuts.
The Brazil nut tree is a great example of the interactions, complexity and vulnerability of the rainforest ecosystem. The tree and therefore its fruits and the people who depend on them are inextricably linked to the intact standing rainforest and the creatures who life within it.
The magnificent trees are sparsely distributed in groups throughout the forest, where the nuts are wild harvested each year during the rainy season. The trees, which have been found to live for over 650 years, require some very specific forest creatures to help them survive.
The Brazil nut trees life cycle is linked with the special animals and insects that live within the natural forest environment.
As scientists Wadt et al wrote in 2005 and 2008; the Brazil nut is the principal cash crop in sustaining the livelihoods of many collectors or extractivists…the Brazil nut is widely recognizes as a model Non-Timber-Forest-Product for promoting tropical forest conservation. It is solely harvested in the wild from mature forests and has enjoyed widespread and longstanding economic success in the international market.
Indeed, this single species has been credited with the protection of millions of hectares of intact forest in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru (Ortiz, 2002) where its commercial harvest and marketing represents a major income source for rural and peri-urban collectors and processors (Stoian, 2005).
Consequently, Brazil nut productivity has become increasingly linked with the long-term reserve viability, particularly given the economic attractiveness of alternative land uses that least to forest conversion such as cattle ranching.
A nut, by definition, is a hard-shelled fruit with a single seed. But Brazil nuts don’t fit that at all; they’re actually considered seeds since they come in large pods about the size of a baseball in groups of 10 to 24.
They’re more closely related to blueberries and persimmons than they are to walnuts or pecans. The pods are extremely tough – so much so, there are only two animals that can open them: Humans, with the help of an ax or machete and a small rodent called an agouti, who gnaw the pods with their chisel-like teeth.
In Brazil, these seeds are called “castanhas-do-ParÁ¡” or “chestnuts from ParÁ¡,” after a state in Northern Brazil where the trees grow abundantly. While there are some plantations, most of the production comes from harvesting the pods in the wild, which takes place from December to March.
It’s a dangerous profession since each pod weigh up to five-and-a-half pounds and drop without warning from trees the height of an 18-story high-rise building. The pods hurtle toward the earth at 50 miles per hour with such force they can drive themselves deep into the ground!
Even the way in which the trees are pollinated is a bit odd. There’s only one insect for job, the orchid bee, which is big enough, strong enough, and has a long-enough tongue to pry the flower’s hood open and lap up the nectar within.
A serving of 3 Brazil nuts contain:
- 99 calories
- 2.15 grams (g) of protein
- 10.06 g of fat
- 1.76 g of carbohydrate
- 1.10 g of fiber
- 109 milligrams (mg) of phosphorus
- 99 mg of potassium
- 56 mg of magnesium
- 24 mg of calcium
- 0.61 mg of zinc
- 0.36 g of iron
- 0 mg of sodium
Brazil nuts are a great source of protein, essential minerals and good fats
Health benefits of Brazil nuts
Helps lower cholesterol
The fiber in Brazil nuts can help you lower your cholesterol. This is important, since high cholesterol is associated with heart disease and other heart problems. The Mayo Clinic notes that several studies show a cholesterol-lowering effect from eating nuts regular.
Good source of copper, which helps to build tissue and generate energy in the cells
Copper is one of those minerals that’s really important for our health. It doesn’t get its place in the spotlight as much as other minerals, like the aforementioned calcium.
Enjoy a couple Brazil nuts each day to increase the copper in your body and promote overall wellness.
Good source of disease-fighting antioxidants
Brazil nuts are a good source of an antioxidant called selenium. According to the Cleveland Clinic, antioxidants help to keep disease at bay, and are specifically linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
It’s important to note that taking antioxidant supplements does not provide the same benefits as eating foods high in antioxidants — which is another good reason to choose Brazil nuts.
How to prepare and cook
Brazil nuts come ready to eat. They are a delicious adittion to salads and pasta dishes. Try making the most amazing Brazil nut milk or butter
My favourite Brazil nut recipe
Brazil nut butter is the best nut butter in the worldd. Due to their high fat content, the consistency of Brazil nut butter is immensely enjoyable.
Interesting Brazil nut fact
The Brazil nut tree has a lifespan of 500 years or more. According to some authorities they often reach an age of 1,000 years.
Eating Brazil nuts protects the rainforests
- Brazil nuts only thrive in a pristine Amazon rainforest.
- They grow best in an untouched primary forest, else yields can fall by 70% in a secondary forest environment.
- Surrounding trees and vegetation are not disturbed or removed by farmers as this affects the quantity and quality of the Brazil nut crop.
- Keeping the rainforest healthy maintains the bee population who pollinate the flowers. Orchid bees are attracted to the Brazil nut tree as they are strong enough to open the flower and drink its nectar.
- Attempts to cultivate brazil nuts outside the rainforest have failed. Meaning all Brazils are grown in their natural environment.
- Buying Brazil nuts employs locals and places a value on preserving the rainforest.
- If forest communities can make a living keeping the forest healthy there is less of an incentive for destructive processes like mining, logging and hunting
Where to buy
Brazil nuts are available to buy at all good food stores and various online sources