Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa)

Food and Recipe — By on December 2, 2008 12:30 PM

There is so much to love about the Brazil Nut

The Brazil nut is a South American tree in the family Lecythidaceae and also the name of its edible seed. It was always my favorite nut growing up. The actual tree is quite large, reaching 100-150 feet with a trunk having a 3-6 foot diameter! It is among the largest trees in the Amazon Rainforests. It can live for more than 500 years and often times has been recorded to live as long as 1,000 years! See, this is why I love this nut so much. What a magnificent presence on the earth.

There is only one way to pollinate these trees, large body bees of the genera Bombus, Centris, Epicharis, Eulaema, and Xylocopa. This means that the forest the trees grow in needs to be pristine, as disturbed forests lack this special type of bee.

FLOWER POWER! Get your mojo on!

The little yellow flowers that are produced from the Brazil Nut Tree are very special. They attract the MALE orchid bees. Why? Because the flower’s nectar is very sweet, which entices the large FEMALE long-tongued orchid bee, one of the special bees that can actually negotiate the complex coiled flower, and mating begins! Without the orchid, the bees do not mate, and the Brazil Nut fruit does not get pollinated.

When the orchids and the bees are present, the fruit takes 14 months to mature after pollination. The fruit resembles a coconut in size (see photo above) and weighs approximately 2 kilograms. The seeds inside (about 8-24), the “Brazil Nut,” are packed in wedges similar to orange slices which is how they get their unique shape.


Brazil Nuts are harvested right off the forest floor without ever having to destroy the forest. This way of “wild harvesting” has been a model for generating income without destroying the tropical forests.


Brazil Nuts are 18% protein, 13% carb, 69% fat! The saturated fat content (25%) is among the highest of all the nuts, even surpassing the macadamia nut. Brazil nuts are readily pressed for their oil. Because of their high fat content, when shelled, brazil nuts can become rancid quickly. As stated by Dr. Russo in his article about Selenium, brazil nuts top the chart as the richest dietary source of this element. With its healing properties, brazil nuts have been recommended as an important supplement in ones diet to help prevent breast and prostate cancers, regardless of their high fat content.


The brazil nut is also used to lubricate clocks, for making artists’ paints, and in the cosmetic industry.

The timber of the tree, although of excellent quality, is prohibited by law to be logged, thank goodness.




(1 hour to prepare)


3 eggs, separated

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Grated zest of 1 orange

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups finely ground Brazil nuts

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt


2 grapefruits

2 oranges

4 large egg whites

1 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 10 inch round cake pan with parchment paper, butter and flour.
In a mixing bowl, whip together the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow. Add the orange zest and vanilla, whip until light and fluffy and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of the Brazil nuts with the flour and set aside. Reserve the remaining nuts for the garnish.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Sprinkle in the salt and continue beating until soft peaks form. Alternate folding in the nut and flour mixture, and the beaten yolk mixture, until combined. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set on a rack to cool, about 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge to loosen and invert onto a platter. Remove the parchment let cool completely.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place cake on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Working over a bowl to catch the juices, peel the grapefruits and oranges and cut between the membranes to remove the sections. Remove the seeds. Arrange the sections over the cake. Pour the juice through a strainer and drizzle over the cake.
In mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the sugar, whisking until stiff peaks form, about 10 minutes. Gently fold in the reserved 1 cup of ground Brazil nuts.
Spread the meringue evenly over the cake and bake 1/2 hour. Cool on a rack and serve.

If you have any great recipes with your favorite foods, please send them to me and I will include them in this section of an upcoming issue. Or if you have any suggestions about what veggie, fruit, herb etc. you’d like to know more about- Just email me at ¬†Thanks!

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