Images of brazil nuts

Are Brazil nuts actually from Brazil?

Amazon nuts (Bertholletia excelsa), also known as Brazil nuts, are the fruit of a tree species native to the higher elevations of the Amazon rainforest. They’re found principally in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Madre de Dios, where NOW gets its Brazil nuts, is the only region in Peru where concentrations of Amazon nut trees are large enough for the sustainable extraction of their fruits. These trees can grow up to 50 meters, making them one of the tallest tree species in the Amazon forest. They’re essential to the conservation of Amazon rainforests since they can only survive and produce in an unexploited jungle ecosystem.

Amazon nuts naturally regenerate thanks to the eating habits of a unique species of rodent, the South American agouti, which is able to break the hard shell that contains the nuts. Once they satisfy their hunger, these rodents bury the remaining seeds, which consequently germinate, preserving a continuous cycle of reproduction and natural regeneration.

High Conservative Value

According to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Amazon nut forests belong to the category of forests with high conservation value (HCVF). They belong to this category because:

  • They’re forest areas with significant concentrations of biodiversity value
  • They’re home to rare ecosystems and species in danger of extinction
  • They provide resources to the people who live around these areas (watershed protection, erosion control, etc.)
  • They’re fundamental to meeting the basic needs of local communities

It is because of this unique ecosystem that the region of Madre de Dios has won the title of “National Capital of Biodiversity”.

Growth and Harvest

The fruits of Amazon nut trees are round-shaped, coconut-like shells typically 10 to 15 centimeters in diameter, which grow nuts (seeds) wrapped in a hard, woody, shell that’s not as thick as the outer shell. There are typically 18 to 20 nuts inside each coconut.

Between December and March, the fruits start to fall from the trees. Amazon nut gatherers (known as castañeros) move to the middle of the Amazon forest, where they build their camps and roam vast areas of jungle in search of Amazon nuts. Subsequently, they open them with a machete, and place the seeds in sacks and take them to the processing plants in nearby cities such as Puerto Maldonado, Peru, where the nuts are screened for quality, then peeled and dried.

Our Amazon nut gatherers are trained to promote sustainable and responsible use of forest resources. Thanks to this program, nearly 500 thousand acres of forest have been organic certified and are managed under Organic Standards.

NOW Real Food is proud to support the conservation of Amazon nut forests and their environmental and social value.

Brazil Nut Harvesting: How And When To Harvest Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are an interesting crop. Native to the Amazon rainforest, Brazil nut trees can grow to 150 feet tall and produce nuts for centuries. They’re almost impossible to cultivate, however, because their pollination requirements are so specific. Only certain native bees can get into the flowers and cross pollinate in order to produce the nuts, and these bees are virtually impossible to domesticate. Because of this, pretty much all the world’s Brazil nuts are harvested in the wild. Keep reading to learn about harvesting Brazil nuts and Brazil nut tree facts.

Brazil Nut Tree Facts

Brazil nut trees are a key element of rainforest preservation. Because their worth comes from harvesting Brazil nuts, which can be done when they fall naturally to the forest floor, Brazil nut trees discourage the slash and burn farming that’s ravaging the rainforest.

Together with rubber, which can be harvested without harming the trees, Brazil nuts form a year-long source of low impact livelihood called “extractivism.” Unfortunately, Brazil nut harvest depends upon a large undisturbed habitat for the trees as well as the pollinating bees and the seed-spreading rodents. This habitat is in serious danger.

How and When to Harvest Brazil Nuts

A lot goes into the development of a Brazil nut. Brazil nut trees flower during the dry season (basically autumn). After the flowers are pollinated, the tree sets fruit and takes a full 15 months to develop it.

The actual fruit of the Brazil nut tree is a big seed pond that looks like a coconut and can weigh up to five pounds. Since the pods are so heavy and the trees are so tall, you don’t want to be around in the rainy season (usually beginning in January) when they start to fall. In fact, the first step of Brazil nut harvest is to let the pods drop naturally from the trees.

Next, gather all the nuts off the forest floor and break open the very hard outer shell. Inside each pod are 10 to 25 seeds, what we call Brazil nuts, arranged in a sphere like segments of an orange. Each nut is inside its own hard shell that has to be smashed before eating.

You can break into the shells more easily by first freezing them for 6 hours, baking them for 15 minutes, or bringing them to a boil for 2 minutes.

Brazil Nuts Are Seeds, Not Nuts!

Posted in Science on August 13 2009, by Plant Talk

Scott A. Mori, Ph.D., Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany, has been studying New World rain forests for The New York Botanical Garden for over 30 years. This evening from 6 to 9 p.m., as part of the Edible Evenings series of The Edible Garden, he will hold informal conversations about chocolate, Brazil nuts, and cashews—some of his research topics—during Café Scientifique.

The Brazil nut is known to most people as the largest nut in a can of mixed party nuts, but other than that, most people know little about it, including that it comes from an Amazonian rain forest tree of the same name or that it is really a seed, not a nut.

The Brazil nut was first discovered by Alexander von Humboldt and Aime Bonpland on the Orinoco River in Venezuela and made known to the scientific world as Bertholletia excelsa in1808. The generic name honors a famous French chemist and friend of Humboldt’s and excelsa refers to the majestic growth form of the tree. Although discovered in Venezuela, this species became known as the Brazil nut because Brazil was, and still is, a major exporter of the seeds.

For the past 35 years my research has focused on the classification and ecology of species of the Brazil nut family. The Brazil nut itself is only one of what I estimate to be about 250 species of that family found in the forests of Central and South America. This number includes nearly 50 species that do not have scientific names, mostly because collectors are usually not willing to climb into tall trees to gather the specimens needed to document their existence. My research on the Brazil nut family has taken me on many expeditions to the rain forests of the New World, and what I have learned about this family of trees can be found on The Lecythidaceae Pages.

The Brazil nut flower is large, roughly two inches in diameter, and fleshy, and the male part of the flower has a structure not found in any other plant family in the world. (See illustration at right by Bobbi Angell.) The fertile stamens are arranged in a ring that surrounds the style at the summit of the ovary. This ring has a prolongation on one side that is expanded at the apex to form a hood-like structure. At the apex of the hood are appendages that turn in toward the interior of the flower.

A small amount of nectar is produced at the bases of these appendages. The fleshy “hood” presses directly onto the summit of the ovary and the six petals form an overlapping “cup” that blocks entry to the flower to all but the co-evolved pollinators.

The Brazil nut is known to be pollinated only by large bees with enough strength to lift up the hood and enter the flower. These bees are presumably rewarded for their efforts by the nectar they collect from the interior of the hood. When the bees are in the flower, pollen rubs off onto their heads and backs from where it is transferred to the stigma of subsequent flowers visited.

For the most part, a Brazil nut tree cannot fertilize itself so the bee pollinators are needed to carry pollen from one tree to another. This is an example of a biotic interaction in which both the bee and the tree benefit—the former is rewarded with a nectar meal and the trees end up producing seeds.

At maturity, the round, woody fruits the size of cannon balls fall to the ground with 10 to 25 edible seeds about 1.5 inches long trapped inside. In botanical terminology, a nut is a kind of fruit so this is why the Brazil nut would have been more appropriately named the “Brazil seed.”

The fruit walls are chewed open and the seeds are removed and carried away by agoutis (rodents about the size of a cat; see illustration at left, Copyright, Michael Rothman, 2005) and less frequently by squirrels. Because the seeds are trapped inside the thick, woody fruits and because the boney seed coats are difficult to open, only animals with sharp teeth or a strong bite are able to consume the seeds. The agoutis and squirrels eat some of the seeds and cache others for future consumption. Some of the cached seeds are forgotten by the animals, and it is these seeds that may germinate and grow into the next generation of trees. Once again, the animals and the trees benefit, the former get a meal and the latter have their seeds dispersed to an area where they have a better chance growing into adult trees.

The Brazil nut is a non-timber forest product that provides income to the Amazonians that harvest it for food. The harvesting of Brazil nuts has long been cited as a prime example of how human economic activity can provide income for people and protect biodiversity of tropical forests at the same time. However, a study by Carlos Peres and colleagues have demonstrated that continuous harvesting of Brazil nuts over long periods results in Brazil nut groves without juvenile trees; thus, there will be no replacement by younger trees when the older trees senesce and die. We continue to learn that tropical rain forests are so complex that every time they are exploited by humans they suffer negative impacts to their ecology and diversity.

Please help support the important botanical research, education, and programs that are integral to the mission of The New York Botanical Garden.

The Brazil Nut | How It’s Grown

At first glance, the Brazil nut seems little more than an oversized, overpriced nut you pass in the supermarket. You would never imagine the extraordinary journey it has made to reach you. But what is the actual story behind this nut, and what makes it so unique?

Brazil Nuts Only Grow Wild

You might not have thought it, but Brazil nuts are actually a pretty big deal – adding tens of millions to South American economies each year. Brazil nuts are the most economically important non-timber forest product in the Amazon Basin.1 Mainly an export product, the UK, United States and Germany gobbling up an annual average of 21,000 metric tons.2

But, despite its popularity, many of us are clueless to the fact that nearly every Brazil nut has come from Amazon rainforests, hand-picked by forest-dwelling harvesters – as Manuel Guariguata, CIFOR’s Principal Scientist on tropical forest ecology and management tells me from his office in Peru, ‘the Brazil nut is the only internationally traded nut that comes from the wild, so it’s very unique’.

Where Do Brazil Nuts Come From?

To make things confusing, the Brazil nut is actually a seed, not a nut. These seeds come from the fruits of one of the largest and longest-living organisms in the Amazon rainforest: the Brazil nut tree or Bertholletia Excelsa. Coined ‘excelsa’ in 1808 by naturalists Alexander von Humboldt and Aime Bonpland for its impressive size, these Amazonian giants tower above the canopy, reaching heights of up to 50 metres and establishing trunks as wide as men. Using radiocarbon dating, some trees have been aged between 800 and 1000 years old.3 The tree can be found widely distributed throughout the Amazon, in areas of non-flooded ground across the Guianas, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.4

How Are Brazil Nuts Harvested?

Brazil nut harvesting has a long history throughout the Amazon basin, with exports to Europe dating back to the mid-1600s.5 The majority of collection takes place along the tri-border regions of Acre, Brazil, Pando, Bolivia and Madre de Dios, Peru, where it is a crucial source of income for many local communities. Each year, thousands of collectors or castaneros make their journey to the forest, where they will spend the next few months collecting fruit.

Collectors harvest brazil nuts during the wet season (January-March) when most of the trees’ fruit has fallen to the forest floor. Mature fruits resemble woody cannonballs which are so robust that only the agouti, a rodent with the right dental equipment, can crack them open. Each fruit contains roughly 20 seeds (nuts) which are individually armoured and neatly packed like orange segments.

An established tree can produce up to 300 fruits, meaning collectors can harvest some 6000 seeds per tree. The seeds are extracted from the fruit using machetes, then carried out of the forest and transported via boat along the main river circuits, arriving – often days later – at urban processing plants where they are hand shelled, packaged and internationally exported.6

Now that you know where Brazil nuts come from, do you think we pay a fair price for them in supermarkets? Let us know in the comments below!

A single pod of brazil nuts can just about fit in a man’s hand. But whenever a good-sized pod, like the ones in the National Museum of Natural History’s South American exhibition, tumbles from its perch some eight stories above the forest floor, people take notice. “You sometimes see animals staggering around with large welts” where they’ve been struck, says Enrique Ortiz, a biologist at NMNH who has been studying Brazil nuts in Peru for more than eight years. The four- to six-pound pods hit the ground with a force that can — and does — kill a man. At times they literally plant themselves on impact.

A falling harvest is just one of the mortal dangers braved by castañeros, as people who live by collecting the nuts are known in Spanish-speaking South America. The nuts themselves are known as castañas (or castanhas in Brazil). Trying to gather Brazil nuts on a regular basis puts the castañeros in contact with vipers and jaguars, diseases like malaria and leishmaniasis, tyrannical bosses and traders, not to mention death from drowning and armed skirmishes over the possession of trees.

Brazil nuts add some $44 million annually to South American economies. Americans gobble up nearly $17 million of the nuts a year. Alone among the foods in the world economy, these nuts come almost exclusively from remote natural forests rather than more convenient plantations.

Ortiz and his colleague Adrian Forsyth describe their research goal as “getting Brazil nut forests protected based on the ecologic, economic and social viability” of collecting Brazil nuts from natural forests. They think they may be able to show that, danger of serious or fatal injury aside, castañeros can make a better living gathering nuts from a living forest year after year than from any one-shot timber harvest.

Ortiz and his team have gone to elaborate lengths with these goals in mind. Their research site is the Madre de Dios region of Peru in the Amazon’s lush, upland rain forests where Peru, Brazil and Bolivia meet. This is one of the most productive areas of Brazil nut country. From Lima, it’s a one-hour plane ride plus seven hours by boat. In Madre de Dios, Ortiz and a team of eight researchers keep 1,000 or so trees under surveillance, counting every pod that falls and locating the most productive areas so that castañeros can gather the nuts more efficiently. Each pod holds 10 to 25 Brazil nuts, which are technically seeds, arranged inside a pod like sections inside an orange.

Brazil nut trees flower at the start of the rainy season; each flower lasts just one day. Blossoms that open before dawn one morning fall by late afternoon. Gradually the forest floor becomes strewn with the cream-colored, marble-to-golf-ball-size flowers, which attract brocket deer and large nocturnal rodents called pacas. The mature pods fall in the rainy season.

Castañeros have to time things just right. If they come too early they waste valuable time waiting for the pods to fall. Too late and they’ll lose the harvest to agoutis, cat-size brown rodents that gather up all the Brazil nut pods they can find and then bury the nuts individually, just as squirrels bury acorns for future food.

The agouti turns out to be a major player in the history of the Brazil nut. By burying the Brazil nuts, agoutis hold the key to the tree’s survival in remote areas. The agouti is virtually the only animal that has teeth strong enough to open the thick husk and liberate the seeds so they can sprout. Ortiz was the first to fully understand the agouti’s crucial role. To learn how many pods each agouti collected and how far it carried them, Ortiz and his team carefully opened pods that fell from 12 trees in Madre de Dios, painstakingly glued a tiny magnetic strip and a number to each seed, then glued all 120 pods back together like Russian egg puzzles.

The agoutis were completely taken in and busily began eating, or burying the doctored nuts. Ortiz’s team later spent more than six months searching the forest with a magnetic locator and waiting for the seeds to sprout, a cycle that takes up to a year. Their patience is yielding a precise picture of how the Brazil nut population replenishes itself and what conditions are most favorable to its regeneration. Further research may reveal other ways in which the castañeros’ harvesting could be more efficient and profitable. At present, more than 30 percent of harvested nuts spoil before they get to market.

For centuries the trees have been acquiring more and more human travel agents, those local people who found the nuts and pods useful. Many tribes, like the Yanomami, ate the nuts raw, grated and mixed into a manioc porridge. (The nuts also contain varying levels of selenium — perhaps 250 times more than most foods — depending on the soil where they’re grown. Selenium may deter ovarian cancer by helping activate a powerful antioxidant, but too much can be toxic and cause balding.) Today the nuts are dried and graded, and some are shelled, before being packed in vacuum-sealed bags for shipment. They are eaten raw as well as roasted and salted. Brazil nuts contain about 14 percent protein, 11 percent carbohydrates, and 67 percent fat or oil, as well as potassium, phosphorus, calcium and Vitamin B.

People consume the Brazil nut not just as a protein-rich food, but in a special tea for stomachaches and ultimately as an ingredient in Ben & Jerry’s Wavy Gravy ice cream. Its oil has been used for cooking, and in lamps and soaps and, more recently, hair conditioners. The husk can be burned for fuel, set smoking to repel mosquitoes and blackflies, or carved into ashtrays and trinket cases.

At the end of the 15th century, unbeknownst to the Amazonians, Spain and Portugal divided up South America. The Portuguese got Brazil and started sending back tantalizing samples of the New World in ships laden with gold and jaguars. Meanwhile, the Spanish infiltrated from the west coast. On a reconnaissance mission in 1569, Spanish officer Juan Alvarez Maldonado and his exhausted troops flopped down to rest in the middle of some Brazil nut groves near the Madre de Dios River. The Cayanpuxes Indians told Maldonado about the nuts, and he ordered that thousands be collected for rations. The Spanish called them “almendras de los Andes” — “almonds of the Andes.”

But it wasn’t until 1633, when the trade-savvy Dutch sent some of the nuts home, that Brazil nuts gained a truly world market. The German botanist-explorer Alexander von Humboldt and French colleague Aimé Bonpland ventured to South America in 1799. During a five-year expedition, they collected 60,000 plants, as well as other specimens, and data on wildlife, climate and geology. Humboldt was the first European to observe how the poison curare was made. He scrambled most of the way up the Andean volcano Chimborazo, more than 20,000 feet tall, setting a world altitude record that stood for 30 years. On their return to Paris, they were treated like homecoming astronauts. It was they who named the Brazil nut tree Bertholletia excelsa, after Humboldt’s friend the chemist and salon host Claude Louis Berthollet.

By the second half of the 19th century, the celebration of Christmas in England had snowballed into a lavish affair, and the holiday brought bowlfuls of the raw, bitter-tasting nuts to households throughout the country. “I’m Charley’s aunt from Brazil — where the nuts come from,” was a boffo line in various versions of the farce Charley’s Aunt, which opened in London in 1892 and had many lives, including a movie with Jack Benny.

Along the way a remarkable thing happened. Brazil nuts got hooked up with that other Amazonian wonder, rubber, in a symbiotic relationship. The enormous demand for rubber that started in the mid-19th century brought waves of settlers from the coast into the forest, where they tapped the gooey white latex from May to November. Many collected raw rubber in Brazil nut husks. In the rainy winter, Brazil nut harvesting kept them working in the forest from December to March. When the rubber market soared, Brazil nut sales followed. From 1847 to 1897, rubber exports grew by more than 2,000 percent. But in the 1870s colonists in Southeast Asia found they could grow Brazilian rubber trees free from the parasites prevalent in South America. From 1910 on, Brazilians watched rubber’s price plummet. Those stranded in the forest with no sure income turned to the Brazil nut. Today’s castañeros live a lot like they did a hundred years ago. They make huts in the forest and wait for the nuts to fall. Most collecting is done in the morning, when the wind is still and there’s less chance of being beaned by a falling pod. On a good day, an experienced collector can find upwards of a thousand pods, chop them open with a machete and haul the nuts, in sacks of up to 140 pounds, to the nearest river or road.

The Brazilian port of Belém still exports about half the world’s Brazil nuts, but the supply pyramid is steep: many thousands of collectors feed only a few exporters; several of Brazil’s largest export firms are held by one family. In the backcountry the nuts remain a kind of currency, and occasionally violence erupts. In Macapa, Brazil, in 1985, six collectors were killed and 12 wounded in a fight over Brazil nuts. Dealers cruise the waterways in boats loaded with food and manufactured goods, looking to barter for nuts. Castañeros squirrel away Brazil nuts as insurance against emergencies. Ortiz tells of one family crisis when a collector had to rush his son, who was running a high fever, to a clinic. With no money on hand, the man threw several sacks of shelled nuts into the canoe. At the village, he quickly sold the nuts and bought the boy’s medicine.

There have been changes. Parts of the Amazonian forests have given way to dams, cattle ranching and slash-and-burn farming. Last year fires consumed thousands of square miles of forest. Ortiz and Forsyth know it won’t be biology alone that makes the Brazil nut business healthier for the castañeros and the trees. A sharp drop in the market price can transform some castañeros into chain-saw-wielding outlaws.

Though felling Brazil nut trees is illegal, a black market exists for the trees’ durable wood. But understanding biology can help. “Think about the connections,” says Ortiz. “Bees pollinate and affect fruit production, which determines the harvest size, and ultimately this justifies land-use policies, which determine the forest’s fate.” Likewise, “changes in the agouti population may affect seed losses, regeneration of the trees, forest health and collectors’ incomes,” says Ortiz. “This needs to be known.” The agoutis aren’t talking, however. One stands poised in the NMNH display, just a few feet from the Brazil nuts, forever awaiting its snack.

Brazil nuts

The Brazil nut can be mainly found in Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela. The Brazil nut became known in Europe because a Spanish officer fed his starving men with Brazil nuts. These men soon recovered as a result of the energy and nutritional value of the Brazil nut.

Eye-catching tree

The Brazil nut resembles a coconut and grows on a tree that is 40 to 60 metres high with a diameter of about two metres. In the wild, this eye-catching tree can be found in the Brazilian Amazon area. The tree is gigantic and towers above everything and everyone. The Brazil nut is aptly named after its most important country of origin. Fruit (hard balls) falls from the tree during the months of November to March. These balls contain eight to twelve seeds, known as Brazil nuts, in the shell.

Nutritional value

Brazil nuts are very rich in the mineral selenium, owing to the soil in the sun-drenched Amazon area where they grow. A handful of Brazil nuts contain at least 480% of the GDA of selenium. Selenium is an important antioxidant, as is vitamin E in nuts. Brazil nuts also contain a high level of phosphorus. Phosphorus keeps teeth and bones strong.

Further informationen to other nuts:

  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Almonds
  • Pecan nuts
  • Pistachio nuts
  • Walnuts

Brazil Nuts
© Denzil Green

Brazil Nut trees are grown in Peru and Bolivia as well as in Brazil. The trees grow up to 165 feet tall (50 metres.)

Attempts at growing the trees in plantations have so far failed to produce Nuts. Only a certain type of bee, called Euglossine bees, can really pollinate them. These bees are large enough to force open a small hood over the nectar in the blossoms. Unfortunately, these bees tend to be non-social ones, that don’t lend themselves well to being kept in hives which are used to fertilize other types of orchards. The bees won’t live near the trees, because the trees only flower, of course, for a small period each year, and there is nothing of interest to them amongst the Brazil Nut tree groves the rest of the year. Progress is being made by planting other types of flowering plants around and in between the Brazil Nut trees to keep the bees in the general area year round.

After pollination, the tough, hard-shelled fruit pods, called “castaña pods”, can take up to 15 months to develop. The size of the pods ranges from that of a grapefruit to that of a coconut, weighing up to 5 pounds (2 kg.) Botanically, the pod is the fruit of the tree. Inside it is a cluster of 10 to 25 seeds that we call “Brazil Nuts.” Each nut comes in its own 3-sided shell.

Because growing the trees in plantations is still at a very tentative stage, most Brazil Nuts are still harvested from the wild. Harvesting happens by waiting for the pods to fall from the trees. No harvesting is done while the pods are still falling, because their size combined with the height they are falling make them very dangerous objects. Harvesters, in fact, wait a few months until they are all finished falling before collecting them from the ground.

The pods are relatively safe waiting on the ground for their harvesters. Only one animal, a rodent, called an “agouti”, has teeth strong enough to crack open the pods. In fact, the tree relies on that animal to disperse the seeds. Once out of the pod and hidden somewhere by the agouti (and forgotten by the agouti), the nut shell can take a year to open up on its own finally allowing the actual nut (or “seed”) inside to sprout and grow.

As of July 2003, Brazil Nuts in the shell have been very hard to find in the UK. The reason is that certain moulds, called Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, may develop in the shipments of the nuts (the moulds can also develop on peanuts and sweet corn.) The moulds produce a toxin called “aflatoxin”, and in 2003 the European Union decreased the amount of “aflatoxin” that they considered safe. In order to be sold in their shell, the nuts must be tested to meet the new EU standards, and the supermarkets can’t meet the cost of the testing and still sell the nuts on at a price that they think consumers will still be able to afford. You can still buy shelled Brazil Nuts in the UK, as the costing of testing shelled nuts is minimal.

Cooking Tips

Though Brazil Nuts are often eaten out of hand as part of a nut mix, they are also good to cook with.

To crack Brazil Nuts more easily:
a. Freeze for 6 hours before cracking OR;
b. Bake the nuts for 15 minutes on a baking sheet at 350 F (175 C) OR;
c. Place in cold water in a pot, bring to a boil and boil 3 minutes, drain, and then pour on very cold water and let stand 2 minutes. Drain and crack.

The oven method has the advantage of developing the flavour. Whichever method you use, you will still need a serious nutcracker, or a hammer or a mallet to crack them open.


1 pound (450g) Brazil Nuts, in shell = 1 1/2 cups Brazil Nut pieces

1 pound (450g) Brazil Nuts, shelled = 3 1/4 cups Brazil Nut pieces

Literature & Lore

“Remember away back about 1941 when you could buy toasted, salted Brazil nut chips and ‘eat yourself sick?’ Mrs. Jerome M. Ziegler, the maker, reports she has located enough of a supply to provide the chips in limited amounts for another month or longer. But they’re made only on order—telephone Regent 7-0293. Pick up your purchase at the kitchen door, 61 East Sixty-fourth Street. The nuts are thinly sliced, the shavings roasted in butter and salt, and worth their salt, even at the price of $3 a pound.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. February 1944.

8. Processing

After many hard working weeks in the forest the Brazil nuts arrive in Riberalta by truck or on the Rio Madre De Dios on riverboat barges. Raw in-shell nuts are received at the factories in large sacks. At this point the nuts have a very high humidity level because they have been lying on the floor of the Amazon for a number of weeks. The materials are then calibrated (sized) into tiny/midget/medium/large, the international sizing format for Brazil nuts.

Once calibrated, the nuts pass down the line to the Autoclave, which is a large heated cylinder. This begins the drying process and helps to separate the protective nut shell from the nut kernel.

Traditionally most processing factories have used the hand cracking method but more recently several plants have converted to a mechanical cracking system to remove the individual nut shells from the kernels. Hand cracking is a huge source of employment for the town – normally a whole family unit is employed, sitting at one cracking table where they rotate on shifts, each taking their turn to crack the nuts and earn an income for their families. Hand cracked nuts are also seen by many to be of better quality because it results in less damage to the kernel when compared to mechanical cracked nuts. Plants switching to mechanical cracking feel they are getting increased throughput in the factory and saving on labour costs in the long term.

Once cracked the kernel passes through several quality control lines where teams of woman work to had select out ‘chias’ – rotten or damaged nuts.

The majority of factory employees are woman as the men tend to be out collecting the nuts in the forest. The kernel materials also pass under aflatoxin lights. Aflatoxin is a bacteria mould that can grow on nuts when there is prolonged exposure to wet conditions. These conditions are characteristic of the forest floor of the Amazon, so it is important that the collectors recover the nut pods from the forest at the right time. This is a critical part of the production process because to allow export and import of Brazil nut materials, aflatoxin levels need to be within a specified range.

Next the kernels are dried in metal trays for anywhere between 15 to 20 hours at high temperatures to take the humidity level down to a moisture level of about 4.5%. After another check for kernels with defects and one more aflatoxin check the goods come off the production belt and enter the packing room. Kernels are packed into 44LB cartons, ready for export. The export journey begins in Riberalta where trucks full of finished goods travel the 3 to 4 day “good weather” journey to La Paz to be warehoused in El Alto, a natural cool store at 4800 metres!!

La Paz is the export hub where all documents are prepared before the containers leave to travel to the port of Arica in Chile.

What Weighs 8 Pounds and is the Only Animal that Can Open a Brazil Nut Pod?

The Agouti. Photo by Brian Gratwicke.

The agouti is hunted by jaguars, ocelots, harpy eagles, and anacondas, but out of all of these powerful animals, it is the only one that can open a Brazil nut pod. The agouti, a type of rodent, can grow to about two feet long and weigh somewhere between 6.5 – 12 pounds and has a sharp pair of incisors in their mouth that enables them to chew open a Brazil nut pod. The difference between agouti’s teeth and other rodents is a special layer of enamel that makes the teeth extremely strong. The Brazil nut pod is a rock-hard fruit containing nuts that crashes to the ground from above and can kill or severely hurt any living thing standing underneath the gigantic Brazil nut trees. It is difficult for a human to open a pod swinging a machete full force into it so it is quite impressive that the large rodent can open it with its teeth. The incisors in an agoutis mouth will keep growing throughout their life so as long as an agouti can find Brazil nuts, they will not go hungry.

Paul Rosolie next to a Brazil nut tree. Photo by Mohsin Kazmi.

Agoutis have very strong senses of smell and hearing which helps the animal in the never-ending quest for food that is part of every living things existence in the jungle. They are able to hear a ripe piece of fruit fall to the jungle floor and use their sense of smell to find food they may have stashed for lean times. The hiding of Brazil nuts is part of an important relationship between the Brazil nut tree and the agouti. When Brazil nuts are abundant, the agouti will bury them to eat at another time but may never come back to every single nut it hides so the nut could eventually germinate when conditions are right, even after years in the soil, and turn into a massive Brazil nut tree. The tree is dependent on the animal for the dispersal of its seeds, forming a unique symbiotic relationship between the pair.

A chewed open and empty Brazil nut pod.

Brazil nuts are delicious and healthy so a big business has developed from all the trees spread out by the agouti. Up to this point, Brazil nut plantations have not been successful so the most effective way to get these tasty nuts is to gather them from naturally occurring trees in Amazonian rainforest which can make the industry an important part of the rainforest conservation effort. We run our expeditions out of the Madre de Dios region of Peru, and in this area alone there are over 1,000 people that have Brazil nut concessions from the government which helps employ many people from the native communities. In 2014 this industry resulted in over US $30 million in sales and employed roughly 15,000 people in the Madre de Dios region. In a region where extractive activities such as illegal gold mining, logging, and poaching continually add to the degradation of pristine jungle, industries centered around Brazil nuts and eco-tourism can play a key part in keeping the rainforest standing and healthy.

Workers sorting through shelled Brazil nuts at a processing facility. Photo by Mohsin Kazmi.

So the next time you eat some Brazil nuts, think of the journey that nut has taken from the agouti planting the seed, growing into a towering 150 foot tall tree, pod hurtling down to the jungle floor, gathered and processed by humans to just nuts, sent out for sale, and most importantly how this nut is an important part of the most biodiverse area of the planet.


  1. Hodgdon, B.D., Martínez, G. (2015) Transforming Small-Scale Non-Timber Forest Production Into Competitive Enterprise: A Case Study of Work with Brazil Nut Producer Associations. Community Forestry Case Studies No. 6/10.

Brazil Nut Stock Photos and Images

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  • Single milk chocolate coated brazil nut bitten into isolated on white background
  • Shelled Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) – Castanha do Pará – on white background
  • Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) seeds in shell, native to South America
  • BRAZIL NUT TREE (Bertholletia excelsa) Iwokrama rainforest, Guyana. View upwards towards canopy.
  • Brazil Nut
  • Victorian engraving of a brazil nut branch. Digitally restored image from a mid-19th century Encyclopaedia.
  • Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa)
  • Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa).
  • Three types of nut kernel Shelled Walnuts Brazil nuts and Pecans
  • Pile of brazil nuts over white background
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Brazil nuts on white background
  • Dead Brazil nut tree Deforestation at Flona do Jamanxim Para State Amazon rainforest Brazil Illegal occupation of Government lan
  • Cosmetics with Brazil nut´s oil of cosmetics company Natura, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Nut or a Brazil-Nut – Bertholletia excelsa
  • Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) canopy during the flowering season
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Whole single fresh Brazil nut on white background
  • Brazil nut nuts from above bowl wooden board wood
  • Brazil nut, butter nut, cream nut, para nut (Bertholletia excelsa), many Brazil nuts
  • Packet of Traidcraft Fair Trade Brazil Nut Cookies
  • BRAZIL NUT TREE (Bertholletia excelsa) in primary rainforest, Iwokrama forest forest reserve, Guyana, South America.
  • A slab of Walker’s Brazil Nut Toffee on a white background
  • Huge Brazil nut tree and jungle canopy at sunrise, Tambopata River Reserve, Peruvian Amazon
  • Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa)
  • Brazil nut seeds on a white background
  • Pile of shelled Brazil Nuts
  • Barringtonia, brazil nut family
  • Overhead view of brazil nut crunchy cookies on wood
  • Brazil nut on burlap
  • Single milk chocolate coated brazil nut isolated on white background
  • Quality control of Brazil nut oil from the Amazon rainforest in the laboratory of cosmetics company Natura, Belem, Brazil
  • Nut or a Brazil-Nut – Bertholletia excelsa
  • Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) canopy during the flowering season
  • A Brazil nut farmer uses a pallana to collect Brazil Nuts under a mature Brazil Nut tree.
  • Brazil nut seeds in shell (Bertholletia excelsa), native to South America against white background
  • A crimson-crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos) climbing a large burned brazil nut tree in Madre de Dios, Peru.
  • Brazil nut opening – Amazonas Brazil
  • Brazil nut, butter nut, cream nut, para nut (Bertholletia excelsa), seeds in the open fruit
  • 200g Box of Tesco Finest half coated chocolate brazil nut cookies
  • Brazil nut seeds in shell (Bertholletia excelsa)
  • A slab of Walker’s Brazil Nut Toffee on a white background
  • Huge Brazil nut tree and jungle canopy at sunrise, Tambopata River Reserve, Peruvian Amazon
  • Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa)
  • Close up macro photo of a brazil nut against white background.
  • Brazil nuts in a white bowl
  • Barringtonia, Brazil nut family, purple nuts and green foliage
  • Brazil nut pods on sale at Belem’s Ver-o-peso market
  • Shiny metal nutcracker with a Brazil nut against a parchment paper background.
  • Single milk chocolate coated brazil nut isolated on white background
  • Quality control of Brazil nut oil from the Amazon rainforest in the laboratory of cosmetics company Natura, Belem, Brazil
  • Brazil nut
  • Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) canopy during the flowering season
  • A Brazil nut farmer uses a pallana to collect Brazil Nuts under a mature Brazil Nut tree.
  • Burlap and Brazil Nut with selective focus. Space for copy. This seed is a rich source of selenium and natural antioxidant
  • The Brazil nut, Bertholletia excelsa, from Plantes equinoxiales, named by Humboldt for his friend Comte Claude Louis Berthollet, French chemist and salon host
  • Brazil nut opening – Amazonas Brazil
  • Nuts on blue ceramic bowl, rustic table and paper bag. Brazil nut, hazelnut, walnut, almonds, cashew. Memory, trainig, fitness, sport, superfood, raw.
  • 200g Box of Tesco Finest half coated chocolate brazil nut cookies
  • Close-up image of Brazil nut with more in background
  • Brazil nut
  • Huge Brazil nut tree and jungle canopy at sunrise, Tambopata River Reserve, Peruvian Amazon
  • Brazil nut cracker, Peru
  • Close up macro photo of a brazil nut against white background.
  • Brazil nuts in a white bowl
  • Pile of Brazil nut fruits
  • Mix of nuts: walnut, hazelnut, almond, brazil nut and pecan
  • Walnut, Brazil nut, hazelnut and almond seed on a dark, textured, vintage background.
  • Single milk chocolate coated brazil nut bitten into isolated on white background
  • Opened capsule fruit with brazil nuts, seeds of the Brazil Nut Tree (Bertholletia excelsa), Tambopata, Madre de Dios, Peru
  • Top view of mixed nuts including walnut, hazelnuts, almonds and a brazil nut
  • A dead brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) from Madre de Dios, Peru.
  • A Brazil nut farmer uses a machete to crack upon a Brazil nut under a mature Brazil Nut tree.
  • ”traffic lights” system of nutritional information guidelines on a pack of co – op truly irrestible brazil nut cookies
  • Brazil nut (Portuguese: Castanha do Pará) on white plate, white background, flat lay
  • nut or brazil nut on a background
  • Nuts on blue ceramic bowl, rustic table and paper bag. Brazil nut, hazelnut, walnut, almonds, cashew. Memory, trainig, fitness, sport, superfood, raw.
  • A metal nut cracker with one cracked brazil nut
  • Close-up of a single brazil nut isolated on white background.
  • Brazil nut butter in an open jar served with oatcakes
  • Looking up through the jungle at a giant Brazil nut tree, Tambopata National Reserve, Peruvian Amazon
  • Brazil Nut on a black background
  • Close up macro photo of a brazil nut against white background.
  • Trunk-nut Brazil – Bertholletia excelsa
  • A Brazil nut tree in the Amazon rainforest, Amazon basin
  • Brazil Amazonas state Amazon river basin along Rio Negro Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa)
  • cannonball tree
  • bag of Thorntons brazil nut special toffee isolated on white background
  • Ripe fruit capsule with Brazil nuts, seeds of the Brazil Nut Tree (Bertholletia excelsa), Tambopata, Madre de Dios, Peru
  • brazil nut oil isolated on white background
  • A dead brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) from Madre de Dios, Peru.
  • One whole unshelled brazil nut on brown wood
  • ”traffic lights” system of nutritional information guidelines on a pack of co – op truly irrestible brazil nut cookies
  • Brazil nut (Bertholetta excelsa) showing seed capsule with seeds (nuts) within, Belem, Brazil, South America
  • nut or brazil nut on a background
  • Nuts on blue ceramic bowl, rustic table and paper bag. Brazil nut, hazelnut, walnut, almonds, cashew. Memory, trainig, fitness, sport, superfood, raw.
  • A Partly Eaten Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa) Pod Belem Brazil
  • Close-up of a single brazil nut with a shadow, isolated on white background.
  • Brazil nut butter in an open jar served with oatcakes

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Brazil nut trees ~ the giants of the rainforest

Brazil nut trees are among the giants of South America’s Amazon. Famous for reaching heights up to 60 m (200 feet) and with a trunk 1-2 m (3-6.5 ft) in diameter, the Brazil nut tree towers above other trees in the Amazon rainforest. Known as an emergent, a true forest giant standing head and shoulders above the forest canopy below.

The stem is straight and commonly without branches for well over half the tree’s height, with a large emergent crown of long branches above the surrounding canopy of other trees. Their spreading branches and flowers provide habitat and food for numerous forest creatures.

The Brazil nut tree is the only species in the monotypic genus Bertholletia. The genus is named after the French chemist Claude Louis Berthollet.

Berthollotia excelsa biology

The bark is grayish and smooth. The leaves are dry-season deciduous, alternate, simple, oblong, 20–35 cm long and 10–15 cm broad. The flowers are small, greenish-white, in panicles 5–10 cm long; each flower has a two-parted, deciduous calyx, six unequal cream-colored petals, and numerous stamens united into a broad, hood-shaped mass.

The fruit takes 14 months to mature after pollination of the flowers. The fruit itself is a large capsule 10–15 cm in diameter, resembling a coconut endocarp in size and weighing up to 2 kg (4.4 lb). It has a hard, woody shell 8–12 mm thick, which contains between 8 and 24 triangular seeds 4–5 cm long (the “Brazil nuts”) packed like the segments of an orange.

The Brazil nut tree can live to be more than five centuries old, it may possibly even live for 1,000 years!


Please click on image for a larger view and description.

Intensive harvests ‘threaten Brazil nut tree future’

Image caption Agoutis are said to the only rodent able to gnaw through the nuts’ outer casing

A study examining the natural dispersal of Brazil nuts has suggested that intensive harvesting could threaten future regeneration of the trees.

Researchers found that large rodents quickly ate the nuts, rather than caching them, when supplies were scarce.

When supplies were plentiful, almost twice as many nuts were buried, increasing the chance of successful germination, the team added.

The findings appear in the Journal of Tropical Ecology.

The scientists from Norway, Brazil and the UK said that very little was know about the fate of Brazil nuts under natural condition, despite it being one of the most economically important non-timber crops to come out of Amazonia.

Seasonal effect

In order to get a better understanding of how the seeds were dispersed, they tracked 1,800 marked seeds to see how seasonal food availability affected agoutis’ and acouchis’ – large scatter-hoarding rodents – caching rates, dispersal distances and how long the seeds were buried before being eaten.

“We basically found that the seasons had a very strong effect on the dispersal distances and what happened to the seeds themselves,” explained Torbjorn Haugaasen, an ecologist at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

“During the wet season (April) – when there are a lot of other fruits in the forest – more seeds were cached for later retrieval,” he added.

“In the dry season (September), on the other hand, more seeds were eaten immediately because there was not that much food around and the rodents needed to draw on the food resource.

“Seeds were also taken further away during the dry season, which suggests that the rodents saw them as a more valuable resource than during the wet season,” Dr Haugaasen told BBC News.

The field study, carried out during 2006, showed that 74.4% of seeds were buried during the wet season, compared with just 38.2% during the dry season.

The team suggested that collecting too many Brazil nuts from an area could replicate “dry season” conditions for the rodents.

“Reduced seed availability due to intensive harvesting could potentially create a dry-season scenario where most seeds succumb to pre-dispersal predation, thereby adversely affecting the natural regeneration of Brazil nut trees,” they wrote.

Seeds of hope

The researchers said that populations of two large rodent species were responsible for the dispersal of the Brazil nut tree seeds: agoutis and acuchis.

Image caption Up to 25 seeds, what we call Brazil nuts, are contained in the trees’ fruit

However, they added, only the agoutis were capable of gnawing through the hard, thick outer casing of the fruit and releasing the seeds (Brazil nuts).

Agoutis, which can weigh up to 6kg, are found throughout the same range as the Brazil nut trees in South America.

“The (trees) therefore rely almost entirely on these large terrestrial rodents for the release of their well-protected seeds,” the team explained.

“Those seeds not consumed within the germination period (12-18 months) may germinate, and seeds may remain viable for at least six years.”

Scatter-hoarding also benefits plants in a number of ways, such as transporting seeds away from the parent plants and increasing the probability of reaching a site more suitable for germination.

Dr Haugaasen explained that the team decided to carry out the study in order to build on the findings of a 2003 paper published in Science, which first identified the link between intensive harvesting and the lack of young Brazil nut trees.

Writing in the 2003 paper, researchers said: “Persistently harvested stands were characterised by larger (and presumably older) trees and few or no juveniles.

But, they observed: “Juveniles were most common in unharvested and lightly harvested stands.”

However, Dr Haugaasen said, the people harvesting the nuts could unknowingly be contributing to the regeneration of the trees, as some nuts were accidentally dropped as they were carried out of the forest.

“We actually found seedlings along the path used by the collectors. However, this does not mean that they are all going to reach maturity because they are in (vulnerable) places.”

But he warned that restricting nut collecting could prove to be counterproductive because the harvests were a key source of income for local communities.

“Alternative possibilities, such as managed planting of seedlings in natural gaps in the forest might be a better solution,” he suggested.

Dr Haugaasen said that the next step for the researchers was to look at the “management implications” of their findings.

“We also need to know how the hunting of these rodents can effect the natural regeneration of these trees,” he added.

“You can have a negative impact by reducing the number of these rodents.

“However, if you have a large number of seeds already buried by a rodent before it is shot, other agoutis or seed-eaters will not know where those seeds are located.

“The seeds may therefore have a higher chance of survival, which could arguably have a positive impact on regeneration.”

Further studies on the ecology of Brazil nut trees are expected to be published in the coming 12 months.

Brazil Nuts (In Shell)

Brazil nuts offer a creamy texture and sweet taste that delight the senses while supplying an invaluable source of nutrition. These hard-shelled nuts are imported from South America. Each shell conceals a smooth, sweet snack that provides the perfect treat to eat while you’re relaxing at home. What’s more is that this wholesome kernel is free of gluten and offers a kosher means of satisfying both your senses and your body with the rich nutrients the flavorful nuts contain.

These delightful treats are full of unsaturated fats and proteins to support muscle function and heart health; the savory snacks also supply an abundance of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals- including folates, vitamin E, copper, and magnesium. To assure that you get the most of your nuts and the nutrients they contain, we work hard to ensure that our supply is always supremely fresh to impart on you only nuts that are of the highest possible caliber.

Each nut can be cracked and eaten whole for a simple snack or used as an ingredient in any number of recipes to create delicious sauces and confections that will tickle your tongue and tantalize your taste buds. You won’t believe the layers of flavor that these scrumptious kernels can pull out of a dish; they can be finely chopped to add to your favorite brownies, ground into a fine powder to use in tarts, or left whole as a garnish atop a delectably decadent cupcake.

Whether you need an ample supply or just a small sample for some healthy snacking, our sizing options are sure to accommodate. Treat yourself to these healthy, natural nuts nuts today!

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