You probably best know the Brazil nut from being that curiously large, rock-like nut that always seems to impossibly float to the top of the mixed nuts bowl. You may have attempted to crack it with those antiquated nutcrackers and, after struggling for thirty seconds, decided to move on to easier prey, like those poor, innocent hazelnuts.
(There's actually a reason why Brazil nuts always end up on top of the mixed nuts, it's a process called granular convection, also known as the “Brazil nut effect.”)
It's possible that you've never even sampled a Brazil nut, which is unfortunate, as they're tasty, nutritious, and amazingly versatile.
The Brazil nut comes, unsurprisingly, from the Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) and is native to not only Brazil but much of South America. Curiously, Bolivia, not Brazil, is the largest exporter of Brazil nuts, but to the best of my knowledge, there is no movement afoot to rename it the Bolivia nut.
Brazil nuts are highly nutritious, rich in thiamin, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, omega-6 fatty acids, and especially selenium. An essential micronutrient, selenium is a component of the unusual amino acids selenocysteine and selenomethionine. Selenium also plays a role in the functioning of the thyroid gland and in every cell that uses thyroid hormone, and supports the immune system.*
They're good by themselmves, but what else can you do with Brazil nuts? Brazil nut oil can be found in specialty oil stores, noted for a mild flavor and rich in linoleic and oleic unsaturated fatty acids; it's a good substitute for olive oil when cooking or in salad dressings. They can also be substituted for other nuts, such as hazelnuts, pistachios, and walnuts, in cooking applications.
One particular application I like calls for using Brazil nuts to make a pesto that boosts the flavor and health benefits of roasted broccoli:
Roasted Broccoli with Brazil Nut Pesto Recipe
1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup Brazil nuts, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 pounds broccoli, large stems discarded, cut into 4-inch-long florets
Preheat the oven to 500°. In a mini food processor, combine the parsley with the Brazil nuts, water, tarragon, garlic and lemon zest and pulse to a coarse paste. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the Parmesan and process to a slightly smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper.
On two large, rimmed baking sheets, toss the broccoli florets with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and spread in an even layer. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the broccoli in the center of the oven for 8 minutes. Switch the baking sheets and continue to roast for about 8 minutes longer, or until the broccoli is browned and crisp-tender. Transfer the broccoli to a platter, drizzle the pesto on top and serve.
* It should be noted that while selenium is an important nutrient, too much selenium can be detrimental to your health. 400mcg per day is the recommended upper dosage. The amount of selenium in Brazil nuts can vary based on environment and geography, so we recommend, as in all things, moderation when consuming Brazil nuts.
Dave Meddish, Live Superfoods