Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts

Pawel Malczewski
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Brazil nuts – general description

Botanically, Brazilian nuts are considered seeds. The shape of the seed is triangular and is about 5cm. The seed has a hard, woody shell and to open, it has to be boiled for 3 minutes, cooled down in cold water, dried and then cracked open. The nut itself has an earthy flavor and is quite oily.

This nut is also known by:

  • English: Brazil nut, Para nut
  • Venezuela: almendra, juvia
  • Surinam: Braziliaansche, noot, ingi nooto (Taki-Taki), para noot
  • Peru: castaña
  • Brazil: castanha do Brasil, castanha-do-Pará, castanheira
  • Bolivia: tapa.

In the wild, only animals with sharp teeth and a strong bite, such as agoutis and squirrels, can manage to crack the shell open.

Folk/traditional uses of Brazil nuts

Brazilian Indian tribes have been using Brazilian nuts as an important part of their staple diet.  They usually eat them raw or mix them with gruels after grating.

One of the traditional foods made from the nuts is a bread called “chappa”, which consists of grated nuts and manioc (cassava) flour. Since the nuts supply over 15% of protein and 70% of fat, including omega 6, this bread is a great source of nutrients.

Indigenous and rural people also use the extracted oil from the nuts for cooking, fueling lamps, soap production, and feeding the livestock.

Other parts of the nuts, such as the pods, are used for gathering rubber latex from the trees. They are also burned to produce smoke that repels black flies or are used as kitchen accessories.

Tea products have been used in traditional Brazilian folk medicine to treat certain diseases. Teas brewed from the seedpod husks have been used for stomach ache treatments.  In addition, teas from the tree bark are used to treat diseases associated with the liver.

Other uses of Brazil nuts

Raw shelled Brazilian nuts are available around the world at similar prices of between $US15-20 per kilo. Unshelled nuts are also available.

Brazilian nuts are used for other food products, such as cold pressed oils, spreads, Brazil nut milk and Brazilian nut granulated. Some suggestions for preparing some of these products are presented below.

Brazil nut milk

Brazil nut milk is very easy to make in a blender. Simply add a handful of nuts and water and blend it for about 30-50 seconds. The more powerful the blender, the smoother and better the quality of the milk. After blending, you can sieve the resulting product to separate the thicker pieces of nuts.  They can be used for baking or added to your breakfast cereal.

Brazil nut butter

To make Brazil nut butter (spread), add the required amount of Brazil nuts and blend it without water. Adding an oil (with a compatible taste, such as walnut oil) makes the blending easier. Powerful blenders are very efficient and take about one minute to blend into a smooth butter.

NOTE: since it is important not to exceed the safe daily limit of selenium, be aware of how much spread you use. It is easy to keep track of the number of nuts you consume per day, but how much nut milk you drink or butter you spread is more difficult to assess. One good method to reduce the risk of selenium overdose from these homemade products is to add other nuts or seeds to the mix. Varying the mix will not only reduce the proportion of selenium, but will also add other complementary nutrients that Brazil nuts may lack or not contain as much, such as calcium.

Other uses of Brazil nuts

Brazilian nuts are also used to produce candles, soaps, shampoos and hair conditioners, as a detergent stabilizer for hair products, skin creams, to prevent dryness and to provide antioxidants, body lotions and body scrub.

Due to their high oil content, the nuts can burn by themselves for a long time like a candle. However, the smoke is not very pleasant.

Brazil nut trees

The Brazilian nut grows on trees that can reach up to 50 meters and have more than 16 meters in circumference. The tree has very thick branches, at the end of which are scattered leaves where the fruit grow. The gray, smooth barked tree can live over 500 years. It starts to grow the branches only after reaching around half of its mature height.

Brazilian nut trees produce fruit in the forests that haven’t been planted by humans. The main areas for harvesting are in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and especially in Bolivia.

The nuts can be harvested during the rainy season that lasts up to 6 months, between January and June.

It takes a little over one year for the fruit to mature from pollination. The fruit itself weights up to two kilos and has a hard, woody, 1 cm thick shell.

Inside the shell, there are 8 to 24 seeds arranged as orange segments at the end of which there is a small opening through which rodents have access to the seeds.

Brazil nuts and calories

Brazil nuts are high in calories due to their high concentration of fat (about 66%). The energy derived from 100g of nuts is approximately 2747 kJ, most of it from fat 2328 kJ.

A safe daily amount of Brazil nuts is no more than 4 kernels (20g of nuts or 0.7oz) to avoid selenium toxicity. If you eat this amount each day, you will add 137 calories (576 kJ). Although it is a high energy food, eating a moderate amount of nuts will not cause weight gain, and may even slightly reduce it. (read more..)

Nutritional value of Brazil nuts

The most significant nutrients in Brazil nuts are fats and minerals. However, they are also a significant source of proteins, fiber, vitamin E and vitamin B1.

Fat in Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts are mostly composed of fat – 66.4%, with the following fats ordered by amount in descending order: Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and omega6.

These nuts contain a very high ratio of omega6 to omega3 fatty acids (20564mg-18mg) and also some percentage of saturated fat, which has an inflammatory effect on the body.  However, as a counter balance, it also has anti-inflammatory components such as Monounsaturated fat, zinc and selenium, which overall makes this nut moderately anti-inflammatory.

The oils present in Brazilian nuts are predominantly palmitic, oleic, linoleic and alpha linolenic acid. Other, less abundant oils are myristic, stearic acids and phytosterols.

Proteins in Brazil nuts

Proteins contained in the nuts have a very high concentration of glutamic acid, arginine, cysteine and methionine (which helps absorption of selenium and other minerals that are available in the nut).

Protein Quality for Nuts, Brazil nuts, dried, not blanched.

This symbol illustrates the proportion of essential amino acids in this food, and can help you identify complete proteins.

Carbohydrates in Brazil nuts

Brazilian nuts are a good source of dietary fiber (7.5%). It has only 2.3% of sucrose, making it a low Glycemic Index snack.

Minerals in Brazil nuts

Selenium

Brazilian nuts are the biggest source of selenium, containing approximately 544 micrograms of selenium per 30 grams of nuts.  By comparison, the next highest selenium containing food is canned tuna in oil, with about 20 micrograms of selenium in 30 grams.

The recommended daily value of selenium in the USA for males and females over 19 years old is 55 micrograms.

Due to the extremely high selenium content in these nuts, it is recommended to eat them only occasionally. One nut a day would be enough, although the safety limit is set to 4 Brazil nuts. (read more..)

Other minerals
In addition to selenium, Brazilian nuts are a great source of the following minerals: copper, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and zinc. It also contains significant amounts of calcium (approximately half of what is in almonds), iron and potassium. (see table below)

Other elements

Brazilian nuts may also contain traces of radioactive elements, such as barium and some amount of radium.

Vitamins in Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts have good amounts of vitamins E and B1.

Nutritional information for Brazil Nuts (per 1 oz. - 28g serving)

MACRO-NUTRIENTS
NutrientAmount% of RDA
for men
Rating
for men
% of RDA
for women
Rating
for women
Fiber (g)2.17-8.4-
Omega 3 (mg)50.3-0.5-
Omega 6 (mg)575833.9Excellent48Excellent
MICRO-NUTRIENTS (VITAMINS)
NutrientAmount% of RDA
for men
Rating
for men
% of RDA
for women
Rating
for women
Vitamin A (IU)00-0-
Vitamin C (mg)0.20.4-0.4-
Vitamin E (mg)1.616Good16Good
Vitamin K (mcg)00-0-
Thiamin - B1 (mg)0.216.7Good18.2Good
Riboflavin - B2 (mg)00-0-
Niacin - B3 (mg)0.10.6-0.7-
Pantothenic Acid - B5 (mg)0.11.7-2.5-
Vitamin B6 (mg)00-0-
Vitamin B12 (mcg)00-0-
Folate (mcg)6.21.6-1.6-
Choline (mg)8.11.5-1.9-
MICRO-NUTRIENTS (MINERALS)
NutrientAmount% of RDA
for men
Rating
for men
% of RDA
for women
Rating
for women
Calcium (mg)44.84.5-4.5-
Copper (mg)0.555.6Excellent55.6Excellent
Iron (mg)0.78.8-3.9-
Magnesium (mg)10525Excellent32.8Excellent
Manganese (mg)0.313Good16.7Good
Phosphorus (mg)20320.3Excellent20.3Excellent
Potassium (mg)1844.8-6.6-
Selenium (mcg)537767.1Excellent895Excellent
Sodium (mg)0.80.1-0.1-
Zinc (mg)1.110-13.8Good
For Table Legend & Data Sources Information click here.

Other nutritional information for Brazil Nuts (per 1 oz. - 28g serving)

Other informationAmountRating
Calories (Cal) 192.8-
Kilojoules (kJ)806.7-
Glycemic Index (GI)--
Portion for GL (g)--
Glycemic Load (GL)--
Energy nutrientsAmount% of Energy
Total Carbs (g)3.44.9
Fat (g)18.686.8
Protein (g)48.3
For Table Legend & Data Sources Information click here.

Brazil nuts are in danger

In addition to the rapid deforestation of the Amazon forest and the resulting destruction of the trees themselves, there is another danger – over-harvesting.

It has been shown that a moderate to intense gathering of the nuts leads to the depletion of potential new trees to grow.

The Brazilian nut is only harvested in the wild and is the only wild seed crop traded in the international market.

Approximately 50,000 tons are harvested in the Amazon region of Brazil, Bolivia and Peru alone.

Such an intensive harvesting practice decreases the chances of re-growth.

Alergic reactions to Brazilian nuts

As many other nuts, Brazilian nuts may cause allergic reactions in some people.

The main cause of the allergic reaction are some types of the many thousands amino acids, such as albumin. Brazil nuts should be avoided in case of allergy.

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