Latin Name: Bertholletia excelsa
Other Names: Pará nut (Brazilian Portuguese)
Proud standouts in a bowl of mixed nuts, Brazil nuts (botanically a seed) are the largest of the bunch. (There are technically larger nuts, but they don’t typically make an appearance on snack trays.) Arguably the most famous member of the Lecythidaceae family of tropical trees, Brazil nuts are high in oils that tend to turn rancid in the wrong conditions. Avoid this by storing them in the freezer, where they’ll keep for about two years.
Why is it healthy?
All tree nuts are good for you, and Brazil nuts are no exception. Their standout quality is as a source of selenium, a trace mineral that’s especially important for thyroid function. Just one Brazil nut has more than your daily requirement of selenium! They’re also excellent sources for other minerals like copper, manganese, magnesium, and zinc, and the healthy fats that nuts are famous for.
What does it taste like?
Brazil nuts have a dense, oily meat with a sturdy crunch. Their flavor is buttery and aptly nutty. Their texture and flavor is somewhat similar to coconut, and they take on a warm-toasty aroma when roasted.
Where does it grow?
Take a guess. Glibness aside, Brazil nuts do indeed grow in Brazil, though their range extends to elsewhere in the Amazon rainforest, where they’re among the largest and longest-living trees. Like many rainforest species, Brazil nuts are threatened with extinction due to deforestation.
How do I prepare it and what do I pair it with?
Brazil nuts shells are very hard and require a good nutcracker and strong hands to access the meat within. Or you can buy them shelled. Their substantiality makes them a great choice for gluten-free, protein-rich pie shells: just pulverize them in a food processor and press them into a pie or tart pan (with or without sweetener, depending on the application). You can also use them for nut butters and plant-based milks and cheeses.
The flavor of Brazil nuts is similar enough to other nuts that they can be used relatively interchangeably; their toasty/buttery taste pairs well with dark chocolate and citrus, and their creaminess makes them a nice addition to curries.
One Brazil nut contains around 68-91 micrograms of selenium, which is more than the recommended daily amount. Though selenium is an essential trace element, as with anything, too much of it can be toxic (400 mcg is considered the upper intake limit for adults). However, it’s far more likely that you’ll overdo it with supplements than by eating too many Brazil nuts. Case in point: in 2006 a 75-year-old man died of accidental selenium poisoning when he read that it could treat cancer, but he’d taken 10 grams, or 10 million micrograms.