The Brazil Nut tree can reach 50 metres high with a trunk up to 2 metres in diameter, making it among the largest of trees in the Amazon Rainforests and in Brazil it is illegal to cut down a Brazil Nut tree. It can live for 500 years or more. The bark is greyish in colour and is smooth.
The fruit of the Brazil Nut tree contains nuts which are very heavy and rigid and they pose a serious threat to vehicles and people passing under the tree. Brazil Nuts sink in fresh water, which can cause serious clogging of waterways.
Brazil Nuts have been harvested from plantations, but production is low and is not economically viable. The fruit takes 14 months to mature after pollination of the flowers. The fruit has a hard, woody shell which contains eight to 24 triangular seeds packed like the segments of an orange. Despite their name, the most significant exporter of Brazil Nuts is Bolivia.
The Brazil Nut has a rich, creamy flavour which lends itself well to an assortment of dishes in addition to being tasty on its own. Brazil Nuts roasted in oil and salted are high in calories and should be avoided. To gain maximum benefits of consuming Brazil Nuts, it is good to consume them unsalted. Shelled Brazil Nuts in their natural form are basically safer and healthier. You can also use chopped Brazil Nuts in biscuits, cakes and other desserts.
Brazil Nuts are very nutritious containing 14% protein, 12% carbohydrate, and 66% fat. They are also an excellent source of dietary fibre and vitamins. They are ideal for those with low thyroid function, as they are a good source of the mineral selenium, which we need to produce the active thyroid hormone. Selenium also supports immunity and helps wounds to heal. You only need three or four Brazil Nuts a day to get all the selenium you require.
Due to their high polyunsaturated fat content, shelled Brazil Nuts may quickly become rancid.
The European Union has imposed strict regulations on the import of Brazil Nuts in their shells from Brazil as the shells have been found to contain high levels of aflatoxins, which can lead to liver cancer.
Brazil nuts also contain small amounts of radium, a radioactive element.
Brazil Nut Oil contains 75% unsaturated fatty acids. It can be used in cooking as well as a lubricant in clocks, for making artists' paints and in the cosmetics industry.
Engravings in Brazil Nut Shells were supposedly used as decorative jewellery by the indigenous tribes in Bolivia and because of its hardness, the Brazil Nut Shell is often pulverized and used as an abrasive to polish materials such as metals and even ceramics.