|Brazil nut tree|
Humb. & Bonpl.
The Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) is a South American tree in the family Lecythidaceae, and also the name of the tree's commercially harvested edible seed.
Brazil nut tree
The Brazil nut tree is the only species in the monotypic genus Bertholletia. It is native to the Guianas, Venezuela, Brazil, eastern Colombia, eastern Peru, and eastern Bolivia. It occurs as scattered trees in large forests on the banks of the Amazon River, Rio Negro, Tapajós, and the Orinoco. The genus is named after the French chemist Claude Louis Berthollet.
The Brazil nut is a large tree, reaching 50 m (160 ft) tall and with a trunk 1 to 2 m (3.3 to 6.6 ft) in diameter, making it among the largest of trees in the Amazon rainforests. It may live for 500 years or more, and according to some authorities often reaches an age of 1,000 years. 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.
The bark is grayish and smooth. The leaves are dry-season deciduous, alternate, simple, entire or crenate, oblong, 20–35 cm (7.9–13.8 in) long and 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) broad. The flowers are small, greenish-white, in panicles 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in) long; each flower has a two-parted, deciduous calyx, six unequal cream-colored petals, and numerous stamens united into a broad, hood-shaped mass.
In Brazil, it is illegal to cut down a Brazil nut tree. As a result, they can be found outside production areas, in the backyards of homes and near roads and streets. The fruit containing nuts is very heavy and rigid, and it poses a serious threat to vehicles and persons passing under the tree. At least one person has died after being hit on the head by a falling fruit. As the Brazil nut is a botanical seed, and unlike botanical nuts, the density of the fruit makes them sink in fresh water, which can cause clogging of waterways in riparian areas.
Brazil nut trees produce fruit almost exclusively in pristine forests, as disturbed forests lack the large-bodied bees of the genera Bombus, Centris, Epicharis, Eulaema, and Xylocopa which are the only ones capable of pollinating the tree's flowers, with different bee genera being the primary pollinators in different areas, and different times of year. Brazil nuts have been harvested from plantations, but production is low and is currently not economically viable.
The fruit takes 14 months to mature after pollination of the flowers. The fruit itself is a large capsule 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) 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 (0.31–0.47 in) thick, which contains eight to 24 triangular seeds 4–5 cm (1.6–2.0 in) long (the "Brazil nuts") packed like the segments of an orange.
The capsule contains a small hole at one end, which enables large rodents like the agouti to gnaw it open. They then eat some of the nuts inside while burying others for later use; some of these are able to germinate into new Brazil nut trees. Most of the seeds are "planted" by the agoutis in shady places, and the young saplings may have to wait years, in a state of dormancy, for a tree to fall and sunlight to reach it, when it starts growing again. Capuchin monkeys have been reported to open Brazil nuts using a stone as an anvil.
Despite their name, the most significant exporter of Brazil nuts is not Brazil but Bolivia, where they are called nuez de Brasil. In Brazil, these nuts are called castanhas-do-pará (literally "chestnuts from Pará"), but Acreans call them castanhas-do-acre instead. Indigenous names include juvia in the Orinoco area.
In the United States Brazil nuts were, until the 1960s, known by the epithet "nigger toes," though the term fell out of favor as public use of the racial slur became increasingly unacceptable. They can be seen being sold in a market under this name in a scene from the 1922 Stan Laurel film The Pest.
Around 20,000 tons of Brazil nuts are harvested each year, of which Bolivia accounts for about 50%, Brazil 40%, and Peru 10% (2000 estimates). In 1980, annual production was around 40,000 tons per year from Brazil alone, and in 1970, Brazil harvested a reported 104,487 tons of nuts.
Effects of harvesting
Brazil nuts for international trade can come from wild collection rather than from plantations. This has been advanced as a model for generating income from a tropical forest without destroying it. The nuts are gathered by migrant workers known as castanheiros.
Analysis of tree ages in areas that are harvested show that moderate and intense gathering takes so many seeds, not enough are left to replace older trees as they die. Sites with light gathering activities had many young trees, while sites with intense gathering practices had hardly any young trees.
Statistical tests were done to determine what environmental factors could be contributing to the lack of younger trees. The most consistent effect was found to be the level of gathering activity at a particular site. A computer model predicting the size of trees where people picked all the nuts matched the tree size data gathered from physical sites that had heavy harvesting.
Upon harvesting and collecting the ripened cases that fall off the trees harvesters have to be cautious because they are easily heavy enough to kill a person. Fatal accidents are not uncommon among collectors – they stop work at once if the wind suddenly strengthens, because this can cause a bombardment.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||2,743 kJ (656 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||7.5 g|
|Aspartic acid||1.346 g|
|Glutamic acid||3.147 g|
|Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Brazil nuts are 18% protein, 13% carbohydrates, and 69% fat by weight, and 91% of their calories come from fat. The fat breakdown is roughly 25% saturated, 41% monounsaturated, and 34% polyunsaturated. Due to their high polyunsaturated fat content, primarily omega-6 fatty acids, shelled Brazil nuts soon become rancid.
Nutritionally, Brazil nuts are a good source of some vitamins and minerals. A cup (133 grams) of Brazil nuts contains the vitamins thiamin (0.8 mg—55% DV) and vitamin E (7.6 mg—38% DV); minerals calcium (213 mg—21% DV), magnesium (500 mg—125% DV), phosphorus (946 mg—96% DV), copper (2.3 mg—116% DV), and manganese (1.6 mg—81%). Brazil nuts are perhaps the richest dietary source of selenium; 28 g (1 oz, 6–8 nuts) can contain as much as 544 µg. This is 10 times the adult U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances, more even than the Tolerable Upper Intake Level, although the amount of selenium within batches of nuts varies greatly. Brazil nuts and their oil are mainly used as a food in the Unites States. Brazil nut oil is clear yellowish oil with a pleasant, sweet smell and taste. It makes a wonderful light oil for salad dressing.
Recent research suggests that proper selenium intake is correlated with a reduced risk of both breast cancer and prostate cancer. This has led some health commentators and nutritionists to recommend the consumption of Brazil nuts as a protective measure. However, these findings are inconclusive. Other investigations into the effects of selenium on prostate cancer have also been inconclusive.
Brazil nuts have one of the highest concentrations of phytic acid at 2 to 6% of dry weight. Phytic acid can prevent absorption of some nutrients, mainly iron, but is also a subject of research and possibly confers health benefits.
Despite the possible health benefits of the nut, the European Union has imposed strict regulations on the import from Brazil of Brazil nuts in their shells, as the shells have been found to contain high levels of aflatoxins, which can lead to liver cancer.
Brazil nuts contain small amounts of radium. Although the amount of radium, a radioactive element, is very small, about 1–7 nCi/g (40–260 Bq/kg), and most of it is not retained by the body, this is 1000 times higher than in other foods. According to Oak Ridge Associated Universities, this is not because of elevated levels of radium in the soil, but due to "the very extensive root system of the tree."
In the United Kingdom, Brazil nuts are the second most common cause of nut allergic reactions. There has been one known, published and confirmed case of an allergic reaction to Brazil nuts resulting from sexual transmission.
Brazil nut oil is often used in soaps, shampoos, and hair conditioning/repair products in South America, and this use is beginning to catch on in the United States as well. It is also known by its wonderful hair conditioner, bringing shine, silkness, and softness to hair and renewing dry, lifeless hair and split ends. Brazil nut oil in skin creams helps lubricates and moistures the skin, provides antioxidant benefits with its high selenium content, helps prevents dryness, and leaves skin soft, smooth, and hydrate.
As well as its food use, Brazil nut oil is also used as a lubricant in clocks, for making artists' paints, and in the cosmetics industry. Engravings in Brazil nut shells were supposedly used as decorative jewelery by the indigenous tribes in Bolivia, although no examples still exist. Because of its hardness, Brazil nut shell has often been pulverized and used as an abrasive to polish softer materials such as metals and even ceramics (in the same way as jeweler's rouge is used). A high luster could be acquired by a final application of carnauba wax, only produced in north-eastern Brazil.
The lumber from Brazil nut trees (not to be confused with Brazilwood) is of excellent quality, but logging the trees is prohibited by law in all three producing countries (Brazil, Bolivia and Peru). Illegal extraction of timber and land clearances present a continuing threat.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bertholletia excelsa.|
- Americas Regional Workshop (Conservation & Sustainable Management of Trees, Costa Rica, November 1996) (1998). Bertholletia excelsa. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 9 May 2006. Listed as Vulnerable (VU A1acd+2 cd v2.3)
- Peres, C.A. et al. (2003). "Demographic threats to the sustainability of Brazil nut exploitation". Science 302 (December 19): 2112–2114. doi:10.1126/science.1091698. PMID 14684819. (Overharvesting of Brazil nuts as threat to regeneration.)
- Brazil nuts, nutrition, nuts and nut recipes
- New York Botanical Gardens Brazil Nuts Page
- Brazil nuts' path to preservation, BBC News.
- Intensive harvests 'threaten Brazil nut tree future'
- Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa), The Encyclopedia of Earth