The Curious Brazil Nut and Brazil Nut Tree

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Brazil NutsBuy a can of mixed nuts, and what large nut catches your attention because of its large size? Undoubtedly, it is a Brazil nut, perhaps an excellent indicator by its quantity of how good a quality your can of mixed nuts will be.

It is not merely size that sets the Brazil nut apart. There are many factors that make this nut unique among nuts. Let’s consider a few of them.

The Brazil Nut Tree

The Bertholletia excelsa, or Brazil Nut tree, is very imposing to look at. With its very large trunk, it towers above buildings. Atop the trunk is a crown of leaves and branches. Bertholletia’s fruits resemble coconuts. In fact, Brazil nuts are not nuts, but seeds from within the fruits.

Bertholletia excelsa
Bertholletia escelsa, the Brazil Nut Tree

A Curious Tidbit

One surprising trait of the Brazil Nut tree is its absorption from the soil, of not only barium, but also the chemically related radioactive element radium.

The reason for this unusual characteristic is twofold: first, deep soil where the nut grows is rich in radium. Second, the roots sink deeply into that soil.


Brazil nuts are high in lipids and are a good source of protein and selenium. Some of the protein content includes sulfur-containing amino acids.


Brazil nuts and other tree nuts, have been a cause of anaphylactic shock in susceptible individuals. The culprit is usually identified as certain proteins found within, not only the nut, but not infrequently in the nut oil, as well, since it may not be refined, containing traces of those proteins. Specifics are provided in the second reference.


The fruit case is extremely hard, as are the seed shells. Harvesting the nuts is very labor intensive, as the following video shows.

Note: You might also enjoy Black Walnut: A Beauty and a Beast Among Trees


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