Amazon's dense forest holds some of the unique plant species like Brazil nuts, acai berry, guarana, that can be found nowhere else on the planet earth. Botanically, brazil-nut tree belongs to the family of Lecythidaceae, in the genus: Bertholletia. Scientific name: Bertholletia excelsa.
Native Amazonians cherished these delicious nuts since ages, which provided them much-needed protein, fats, and other essential nutrients. Some of the common names in local dialects are castanha-do-pará, castania, para-nut, cream-nut, Castaña-de-Brazil (chestnuts of Brazil), etc.
|Brazil nuts (cream nuts). Note for their creamy butter appearance due to high fat content.||Castania tree (Bertholletia
excelsa). Note for acai palm on the background.
Photo courtesy: mauroguanandi
Brazil nut trees are conspicuous in the non-flooded forests of Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. They, indeed, are one of the tallest, and long-living plant species among all the tropical rain forests. Each tree can grow up to 50 meters in height with large erect stem and wide umbrella-like foliage canopy near its top 1/3. Its lifespan is about 500 to 700 years.
Each mature tree bears up to 300 fruit pods in a season. A brazil nut pod features thick outer shell as in coconuts and may weigh up to 2.5 kg in weight. It takes about 14 months for the fruit to mature after pollination. Upon maturity, the pod falls itself from the tree, usually with a thud. The pods may remain intact even after falling from such a height. At their natural habitat, brazil nut pods exclusively depend upon caviomorph rodents (agoutis, Dasyprocta spp. that have the ability to gnaw open woody shell) to free and disperse leftover seeds for germination.
Internally, each fruit pod features 10-25 seeds (kernels), arranged in segments. Each kernel, in turn, is encased in its thick dark-brown thin shell. An edible white meat kernel features a triangular base with sloping sides, and sweet, nutty flavor and weighs about 5 g.
Brazil nuts are high in calories, contain good quantities of vitamins, anti-oxidants, and minerals. Its kernels, in fact, have been major energy sources of native Amazonians even today.
100 g of brazil nuts provide about 656 calories. Their high caloric content chiefly comes from their fats. However, much of this fat content is monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) like palmitoleic acid (16:1) and oleic acid (18:1) that helps lower LDL or "bad cholesterol" and increase HDL or "good cholesterol" levels in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet that is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids offers protection from coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
The nuts are also a great source of vitamin-E; contain about 7.87 mg per 100 g (about 52% of RDA). Vitamin-E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant. It required for maintaining the integrity of mucosa and skin by protecting it from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
Brazil nuts hold exceptionally high levels of selenium. 100 g nuts provide about 1917 µg, or 3485% of the recommended daily intake of selenium, rating them as the highest natural sources of this mineral. Selenium is an essential cofactor for the anti-oxidant enzyme, glutathione peroxidase. Just 1-2 nuts a day provides enough of this trace element. Adequate selenium in the diet can help prevent coronary artery disease, liver cirrhosis, and cancers.
Furthermore, just as in almonds and pine nuts, brazil nuts too are free from gluten protein. For the same reason, they are one of the popular ingredients in the preparation of gluten-free food formulas. These formula preparations are, in fact, healthy alternatives in people with wheat food allergy and celiac disease.
Additionally, these creamy nuts are an excellent source of the B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin (51% of RDA per 100 g), riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), and folates. Altogether, these vitamins work as co-factors for enzymes during cellular substrate metabolism inside the body.
In addition to selenium, they hold superb levels of other minerals such as copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Copper helps prevent anemia and bone weakness (osteoporosis). Manganese is an all-important co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Brazil nut oil, extracted from these nuts, has many traditional medicinal applications as an emollient and massage oil. It has clear yellow color with a pleasant sweet smell and taste. Its emollient property helps keep skin well protected from dryness. It has also employed in the cooking, and as “carrier or base oil” in traditional medicines in aromatherapy, in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry.
|Unshelled brazil nuts. Note for dark brown color shell enclosing cream color edible kernel inside.
photo courtesy: nickton
Brazil nuts can be available raw (unshelled or shelled), roasted, and salted in the stores. Since the nuts are high in polyunsaturated fats, they may turn rancid and deteriorate rather early if exposed to air, humidity, and sunlight for prolonged periods. It is, therefore, recommended to purchase unshelled nuts and shell them as and when required to enjoy their meaty kernel.
Buy whole, brown color nuts that feature full, compact, and heavy in hand. Avoid shriveled and damaged ones as they may be affected by fungal mold.
Unshelled brazil nuts keep well in cool, dry place for few months. For extended use, store them in air-seal bags and place in the refrigerator. This method will prevent them from turning rancid.
Raw nuts are cut open from processing units using larger sheller (cracker) machines. For domestic purposes, small size nutcracker machine or hand held pliers are sufficient.
Here are some serving tips:
Brazil nuts can be eaten all alone. Additionally, they can also be enjoy roasted, salted, or sweetened.
They also employed in fudge, puddings, pesto, chocolate bar and crunchy bar preparations.
Coarsely ground brazil nuts sprinkled over fruit/vegetable salads.
They also used in desserts, particularly in fruitcakes.
Add them to the soup as well as meat and vegetable dishes.
Brazil nut oil used in salad dressing and cooking.
Brazil nut allergy, like other tree-nut allergies, may occur in some sensitive individuals. The reaction symptoms may range from simple skin itching (hives) to severe form of anaphylactic manifestations, including breathing difficulty, pain abdomen, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cross-reactions may occur to some other nuts and fruits, especially of Anacardiaceae family such as mango, cashew nuts, pistachio, etc. Persons with known allergic reactions to any of these nuts may, therefore, need to observe caution.
Excess consumption of these nuts may result in selenium toxicity. Often, the symptoms may be severe, including nausea, vomiting, a garlicky smell in the breath, and emotional disturbances. Other likely manifestations may include dental caries, alopecia (loss of hair), neuropathic pain, and dermatitis. It is, therefore, advised to eat only a few nuts (2-4 nuts) per day (each nut weighs about 5 g). (Medical disclaimer).
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