Interestingly, Brazil nuts are not native only to Brazil. In fact, much of the Brazil nuts we buy are imported from Bolivia.
Brazil nuts are the large seeds of majestic trees that grow wild throughout the span of the Amazon jungle. Brazil nuts are shaped like rough, brown-orange segments. The nuts are extremely hard and are found in clusters inside a 4- to 6-inch round fruit, called a pod, which resembles a coconut.
After the pods have fallen from the trees, they are gathered and chopped open to retrieve the 10 to 25 nuts inside. Brazil nuts taste sweet and rich, and their texture is similar to that of coconut meat.
Brazil nuts: nutrition
Brazil nuts are nutrient-dense—in relation to their size they contain a wide variety of nutrients. Brazil nuts contain protein, fiber, vitamin E, thiamin, iron, magnesium, and zinc. They also supply heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.
Brazil nuts’ most important nutritional claim, however, is their extraordinary selenium content. The trace mineral selenium is an antioxidant, and a single Brazil nut can provide more than twice the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of selenium. A large nut has 140 micrograms, or 254 percent of the RDA. It's much better to get your selenium from food than from supplements, which have largely struck out in clinical trials testing them for various health benefits, and may actually pose risks.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Brazil Nuts in the National Nutrient Database.
Types of Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are available in several forms:
- Raw: both in the shell and shelled
- Roasted: both salted and unsalted
How to choose the best Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts in the shell are generally seasonal, and tend to be best in the fall and early winter. When choosing Brazil nuts in the shell, look for clean, well-filled shells. Shake them. As a general rule of thumb, they shouldn’t rattle—this indicates they have shriveled inside the shell. Pre-shelled Brazil nuts are usually sold packaged and thus keep relatively fresh.
How to store Brazil nuts
Keep Brazil nuts in the refrigerator or freezer as they tend to spoil quickly, especially if they’re shelled.
How to crack Brazil nuts
Brazil nut shells are very hard, and some people find it easier to crack them open after they’ve been frozen, steamed, or boiled for a few minutes. Boil or steam the nuts for about three minutes, then run cold water over them before cracking the shells with a nutcracker.
4 ways to serve Brazil nuts
- Add to a bag of pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries for a wholesome trail mix.
- Serve on a green salad with seasonal fruit.
- Give almond milk the boot, and try making Brazil nut milk. Simply blend soaked nuts in a high-powered blender with water and then strain the remaining nut pieces from the nut milk.
- Try making a pesto with Brazil nuts in place of pine nuts, along with basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.