What are Brazil nuts?
Brazil nuts are actually the seeds from inside the fruit of the Bertholletia excelsa tree. This tree grows in the Amazon rainforest. It’s huge, reaching heights of around 50m. The fruit, which looks a bit like a coconut, forms high up in the crown of the tree and contains between ten and 24 of what we know as Brazil nuts.
There are a few plantations, but most Brazil nut trees grow wild in the rainforest. Their fruit is harvested between December and March. In fact, they are the only internationally traded nuts that come from the wild.
Harvesting is simple. Just wait and the fruit will fall to the ground. But it’s a dangerous job! Each fruit weighs around 3kg and can drop from the tree without warning, hurtling to the ground at speeds of up to 50mph – ouch!
Once collected, the hard outer shell of the fruit is opened with a machete to remove the nuts inside, which are packed together like the segments of an orange.
Interestingly, of the 20,000 tonnes of Brazil nuts harvested each year, around half come from Bolivia. Only around 40% come from Brazil and 10% from Peru.
When they are in their shells, these nuts look similar to chocolate orange segments. When the shell is forced open with a nutcracker, a long white nut about 2.5cm long is revealed, with a thin layer of dark brown around it, which is soft to touch.
You can buy Brazil nuts in many forms. Shelled or unshelled, salted or unsalted, whole, sliced, ground. We also love them coated in chocolate or yoghurt as a snack.
Brazil nuts are the top foodstuff on the planet for selenium – and only two Brazil nuts a day are much more effective than a supplement. Selenium is essential for many bodily functions from mood to inflammation.
Like many nuts, Brazil nuts contain ellagic acid, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. In conjunction with selenium, this helps protect the body against free radical damage and inflammation, It can also help fight cancer. Just one a day is enough to improve anti-inflammatory and antioxidant responses in the body and improve ‘good’ cholesterol levels in the blood too while reducing ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Selenium has been scientifically proven to lift mood and help prevent anxiety and depression. When it comes to mood, serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical, is key. Researchers in Spain found that people had higher levels of serotonin after eating nuts including Brazil nuts, almonds and walnuts.
Your thyroid gland helps control your metabolism, heart rate and body temperature and contains more selenium per gramme of tissue than any other organ in your body. Selenium is a key component of the molecules your body needs to synthesise and use thyroid hormones, so Brazil nuts can help to keep your thyroid healthy.
Brazil nuts have an unusually rich flavour and their shells are notoriously difficult to crack. They can be enjoyed raw as a healthy snack or used in cooking. Whole, they are often used in confectionery. Commonly covered with chocolate or yoghurt and used for decorating cakes. Chopped, they make delicious toppings for desserts and add crunch to rice or vegetable dishes. Ground, they can be stirred into cakes and cheesecake bases, combining extremely well with chocolate.
Energy ball recipes including Brazil nuts: