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Brazil nuts

Why Eat It
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Brazil nuts are nutrient-dense, which means that, in relation to their size, they contain a wide variety of nutrients. Brazil nuts, in fact, are chock full of significant nutrients, including protein, fiber, selenium, magnesium, phosphorous, and thiamin (there is also a decent amount of niacin, vitamin E, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, and copper). Brazil nuts are also a source of arginine (an amino acid that plays a role in blood clot formation) and flavonoids--important antioxidant compounds believed to be protective against both coronary disease and cancer.

While it is true that Brazil nuts are high in fat, the fat is mostly unsaturated, the type of fat that has been associated with lowering cholesterol. The large crescent-shaped kernels contain alpha-linolenic acid, which converts to omega-3 fatty acids in the body; it is the omega-3 fatty acids which scientists feel may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Brazil nuts are actually large seeds of giant trees that grow in the Amazon jungle. These extraordinary nuts are shaped like triangular orange segments, are extremely hard, and are found in clusters of 12 to 24 inside a 4" to 6" pod that resembles a coconut (a botanical definition of a nut is a fruit with a hard, dry shell that needs to be cracked open to release the kernel). The pods are gathered when they have fallen from the trees and they must be chopped open to obtain the nuts. Falling Brazil nut tree pods can be dangerous, and Indians who gather the pods make sure to do so in clement weather.

A mature tree can produce between 250 and 500 pounds of Brazil nuts per year. Brazil nut trees do not begin to produce nuts in significant quantities until after about 12 to 15 years. The majestic Brazil nut tree grows wild in the tropical rain forests, and most attempts to cultivate it elsewhere have been unsuccessful. Although thousands of tons of Brazil nuts are exported each year from Brazil, almost all of Brazil nut production is a result of wild forest trees and wild harvesting.

Brazil nuts taste sweet and rich, and their meat is similar in texture to coconut. These nuts can be eaten raw, roasted, salted, and in various dessert items such as ice cream, confectionery, and baked goods.

Availability

They are available raw (with shells and without), roasted, and dry-roasted. Brazil nuts can be found in some supermarkets year-round, but fresh nuts in the shell are more seasonal; supplies are best in the fall and early winter.

Shopping

When choosing Brazil nuts in the shell, look for clean, well-filled shells--they won't rattle. When choosing shelled nuts, look for plump, crisp nuts. Shriveled nutmeats are a sign of age and indicate staleness. One pound of nuts in the shell will yield about 1 1/2 cups of nutmeats.

Storage

Keep shelled Brazil nuts in the refrigerator as they tend to spoil quickly. Make sure to store them in a tightly sealed container or zip-seal bag to prevent them from absorbing food odors. Unshelled Brazil nuts can last for up to two months if kept in a cool, dry place that is insect-free and away from humidity.

Preparation

While it is preferable not to subject them to extremes in heat, Brazil nuts are very hard, and some people find it easier to crack them open after they have been frozen, steamed, or boiled for a few minutes. If boiling or steaming, do so for about three minutes, then run the nuts under cold water before cracking with a nut cracker. Use nuts in desserts and savory dishes.

Nutrition Chart

Brazil Nuts/1 ounce

186
Total fat (g)
19
Saturated fat (g)
4.6
Monounsaturated fat (g)
6.5
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
6.8
Dietary fiber (g)
1.5
4
Carbohydrate (g)
4
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
1
Thiamin (mg)
0.3
Copper (mg)
0.5
Magnesium (mg)
64
Phosphorus (mg)
170
Selenium (mcg)
839


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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