What Are Brazil Nuts?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Brazil nuts are technically seeds, not nuts, but their brown nut-like casings have led most people to call them nuts. They are produced by a South American tree which tends to grow in virgin rain forests, and they are an extremely popular food source in many Latin American nations, as well of the rest of the world. The nuts have a rich, creamy flavor which lends itself well to an assortment of dishes in addition to being tasty on its own.

Brazil nuts come from trees that tend to grow in rain forests.
Brazil nuts come from trees that tend to grow in rain forests.

The tree from which Brazil nuts come is known as Bertholletia excelsa by most botanists. In good growing conditions, the tree can reach heights of 150 feet (45 meters), and it plays a significant role in rain forest ecology. The trees typically have straight, smooth trunks which open out to a branching canopy, and they drop their leaves during the dry season. Many animals interact with Brazil trees, including the agouti, a type of South American rodent which eats the seeds and hides others for later consumption. The hidden nuts sometimes develop into trees of their own, perpetuating the cycle.

The trees are excellent illustrations of the complex web of interdependence which characterizes the rain forest. When they bloom, the trees produce complex, coiled flowers which cannot be penetrated by most pollinators. One species of bees likes the flowers, but it is only found in the presence of a particular orchid. Therefore, Brazil nuts will only be produced in rain forest regions which have this orchid. In turn, the tree relies on animals like the agouti to seed itself.

In nature, the nuts develop inside a large capsule which strongly resembles a coconut. If cut open, the capsule reveals a number of three-sided nuts. The nuts have extremely hard shells, but if they can be successfully cracked, they yield protein and fat rich seeds. These nuts are considered a complete protein, making them an excellent addition to the vegetarian diet. Unfortunately, because of their high fat content, the nuts can easily go rancid, and they should be kept in a cool dry place and eaten quickly.

In addition to being marketed on their own as nuts, Brazil nuts are also pressed to yield oil. The oil is rich, creamy, and very flavorful. It can be used in cooking projects, and also has applications as a lubricant. It can sometimes be difficult to find the oil, but the nuts themselves are usually readily available in most markets.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@shell4life - You might be able to tell if you have a keen sense of smell. You will have to put the Brazil nut right up to your nose and inhale deeply, though, because if the nut has just started to go bad, then the smell could be faint.

To me, rancid Brazil nuts smell a little like fish. With nuts, that is bad. Do not eat nuts that smell like they have come out of a lake.

Sometimes, you can tell just by looking at them. If they look darker than they did, then they might be going bad. Sniff them, and if they still smell okay, it is all right to taste them.


I’ve only ever eaten salted Brazil nuts, so I don’t know what the full-on natural flavor is like. I can detect a hint of it underneath the salt, but it is somewhat disguised, I’m sure.

It does taste like something that came from a garden. It reminds me a little of the salted avocado I eat in my fajitas with steak. Avocado is creamy like the nut.

Can you tell when a Brazil nut has gone bad by the smell, or do you have to bite into it to figure this out? I would like to try some fresh ones, but I’m scared that they will go bad and I won’t discover it until I eat a rancid one.


The cool thing about Brazil nuts is that you can eat just one or two for a snack and get full. They are so full of protein and fat that it’s like eating meat.

My favorite kind is chocolate Brazil nuts. They are a sweet snack, and they are even more satisfying than regular nuts. I have eaten both the kind covered in dark chocolate and the kind coated in milk chocolate, and I keep both in the house. If I’m in the mood for something really sweet, I will go with the milk chocolate kind, but if I’m craving something only slightly sweet, I’ll go with the dark chocolate kind.


@feruze - I had no idea that you could get selenium poisoning from Brazil nuts. Luckily, I only eat one or two every few weeks.

I only buy roasted Brazil nuts that come in a can with other types of nuts, like pecans and almonds. I’m assuming that preservatives keep the Brazil nuts from going bad, because I have had the same can of mixed nuts for several months, and they all still taste good.

I guess that the nut company must have known that you can poison yourself by eating too many Brazil nuts. They never put more than three or four in a can. I used to be disappointed by this, but now, I’m glad.

@burcinc-- Brazil nuts naturally have an earthy flavor. A nut that has gone rancid has an absolutely horrible flavor that will definitely put someone off nuts for a while. But it's nearly impossible not to tell the difference between a good Brazil nut and a rancid one.

Also make sure that the brand you're buying is a quality one and that the nuts are that year's imports and not the previous year's. The older the nuts are, the higher the chance of becoming rancid.

It is true that Brazil nuts have a lot of oil in them. Most have around fifty percent oil, some up to seventy percent. But this oil contains essential fatty acids that are beneficial to us as well as antioxidants. If you have one to three Brazil nuts a day at most, it should not increase your cholesterol. If you overdo it, you not only risk high cholesterol levels but also selenium poisoning.

To avoid extra oil, get dry roasted or raw Brazil nuts, not the oil roasted ones.


@alisha-- Oh really?! I had no idea! I thought that that's how Brazil nuts normally taste!

I've never been able to love Brazil nuts, perhaps that is the reason! I can't believe I might have had only rancid Brazil nuts previously and thought it was normal.

The other reason I've been avoiding Brazil nuts is because of the fat content as you also mentioned. I know that there are benefits of Brazil nuts, but I have high cholesterol and my doctor has warned me against fatty foods. And when I have nuts, I tend to go overboard and have too many. Especially if it's chocolate covered Brazil nuts!


I've never looked up information about Brazil nuts' calories or nutrition facts, but I've always felt that they're high in fat. The reason is because they're slightly softer than most nuts and kind of melt in your mouth while you chew. It's a really interesting nut, or perhaps I should say seed, because the flavor is sort of bland but rich at the same time. It's so hard to explain, it's definitely a food that has to be experienced to understand.

I'm glad the article mentioned that Brazil nuts can go rancid. I think Brazil nuts should be refrigerated as soon as you buy them. And if you don't plan on consuming them for a while, store them in the freezer.

I kept out a bag of Brazil nuts for some time several months ago, and they developed a moldy flavor. I didn't see any mold on the nuts themselves, but I could taste it. An otherwise good bag of nuts gone to waste!

Now I always keep them in the fridge and try to consume them as soon as possible. It's better to buy it in small amounts I think for this reason.


High in selenium and magnesium. Also high in protein and healthy fats. Good snack food as are all the nuts.

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