Press ESC or click the X to close this window

Cooking with Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are tasty, nutritious, versatile and quite modestly priced.  Like all nuts they’re a good source of protein and they contain plenty of fibre, iron, calcium and linoleic acid too.

What’s more, a report published in the British Medical Journal concluded that Brazil nuts are a rich source of vital trace elements zinc and, at least where the trees have grown in selenium-rich soil, of the all-important selenium too.  Selenium in the diet seems to be  able to prevent the symptoms of vitamin E deficiency, probably scientists think, because it has a fundamental role in cell maintenance.  And a few scientists have tentatively suggested that low selenium intake may pre-dispose some people to cancer.

The most up-to-date report concludes that Brazil nuts have hitherto been an undervalued food which can help to keep you youthful and healthy. That is why almost every newspaper and magazine article published about diet and health in the last couple of years has advocated the consumption of more Brazil nuts. What a good idea. Much nicer than swallowing a selenium supplement.

The Brazil nut, with its dark brown three-sided shell, is a single seed of the huge fruit of Bertholletia excelsa, native to the Amazonian rain forest.  The tree is 150 feet tall and the trunk can be six feet in diameter. There are no branches on the last 50 feet or so of trunk and you need grappling irons to climb it.

Each fruit contains up to two dozen seeds packed tightly, like chocolates in a box, into a hard case the size of a rugby ball and which weighs about 2kg. Fruits fall with the force of cannon balls when ripe and are generally gathered from the ground by collectors who need protective head gear.  A mature tree yields about 250-500kg  of Brazil nuts in a season. Native Brazilians have gathered them for centuries for their food value and for their oil.

Of course, you can buy Brazils to grace the fireside nut bowl alongside the traditional nutcrackers at Christmas in the time-honoured Victorian manner. They’ve been popular in Britain, in fact, since they were first imported in 1633, after when knowledge of them – and samples – quickly spread to other parts of the world on trading ships.  What began as a South American food soon became an internationally known commodity.

The best way, however, to buy Brazils today for use in recipes is not in their shells so you have the time-consuming and clumsy job of attacking them with nut-crackers, but ready-shelled in bags from health or wholefood shops. (Avoid the smaller supermarket packets which are generally more expensive.)  The broken nuts are fine for cooking – and cheaper – although, because of their high fat content, Brazils do go rancid fairly quickly, especially if they’re not whole.  Use them up within a couple of months or keep an eye on the ‘best by’ date.

Notwithstanding their South American origins Brazils blend well with the flavours of most world cuisines.  You can put them in spicy Asian dishes or pop a few into delicate Chinese recipes. They mix happily with the garlicky tomato flavours of the Mediterranean or the grain based dishes of Africa too.

Add them to muesli just as they are.  Use them grated, chopped or ground in low-fat cake, biscuit and dessert recipes.  Brazils are quite sweet-tasting and including them may mean you can cut down the amount of sugar you use in a sweet recipe.

For savoury use Brazils are often nicer toasted and, if you wish, very lightly salted.  It really brings out their lovely flavour.  Spread the nuts onto a metal tray and put under a moderate grill for a few moments, shaking from time to time.  Let them brown lightly.  Sprinkle with a little seasalt while still hot.

Toasted Brazil nuts are a useful protein addition to rice dishes such as pilaffs and risottos. They give an interesting flavour and texture too. You can add them to salads or just eat a pile of them with vegetables to add protein and flavour to a meal.

They make, moreover, a good peanut-butter type of spread if you grind the toasted Brazils with a little oil and a dab of crushed garlic until you get a spreadable consistency.  Try it in a sandwich made of fresh wholemeal bread and sliced tomato.  For a change the same spread is good on a jacket potato as an alternative to margarine or butter too.

These main meal ideas are some of my favourite, tasty ways of increasing family Brazil nut consumption.  Each recipe will feed 2-4 people.  Happy and healthy dining!

Brazil stuffed peppers

1 large pepper – any colour – per person

250g Brazil nuts, ground or finely chopped

125g vegetable suet

125g wholemeal breadcrumbs

60g sun-dried tomatoes, broken into small pieces

1 teaspoonful  mixed herbs

1 small onion, peeled and grated

seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg beaten

150ml  boiling water or vegetable stock

Slice each pepper laterally into two halves from stalk down.  Discard seeds and pith.  Drop halves into a large pan of salted boiling water and cook for five minutes.  Lift out with tongs, shake drips off and arrange par-cooked pepper ‘shells’ in a flat, greased, oven-proof dish.

Put Brazil nuts, suet, crumbs, herbs tomatoes, onion and seasoning into a bowl and mix well.  Add hot stock or water and mix.  Stir in beaten egg.

Divide stuffing evenly amongst the pepper halves.  Bake for about 30 minutes in a moderate oven until stuffing is slightly crisp.

Serve with tomato or creamy cheese sauce and plenty of colourful vegetables.

Brazil burgers

I medium onion,  peeled and finely chopped

30ml sunflower oil

I  rounded tablespoonful  of packet soup mix (vegetable, celery or mushroom)

1 level teaspoonful dried thyme

2 level tablespoonful milk powder or soya flour

1 egg, beaten

50g desiccated coconut

2 level teaspoonful yeast extract

150ml  water

250g Brazil nuts, ground or finely chopped

125g wholemeal soft bread crumbs

seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

sunflower oil for frying

In a saucepan, soften onions in oil.  Add soup mix, yeast extract and water. Stir over heat to make thick sauce.  Add all other ingredients except desiccated coconut.  Mix thoroughly to form a paste which can be handled. Leave it to stand for a few minutes.  Add a little flour if it’s too soft or more egg if it’s too stiff.

Mould into burger shapes with wet hands.  Roll burgers in desiccated coconut. Fry gently in oil until brown on both sides.

Serve with a green vegetable such as broccoli, new potatoes or pasta and a good gravy or tomato sauce.

Brazil Bolognese

250g chopped Brazil nuts

400g jar of a good quality tomato-based pasta sauce or:

1kg fresh ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tablespoonful olive oil

2 level teaspoonsful dried oregano

seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

wholewheat spaghetti for serving.

To make your own sauce, soften the onions in the olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add the tomatoes, herbs and seasoning.  Cook for about 3/4 hour over a low heat until slushy and thick.  Stir in the Brazil nuts and reheat.

If you’re using bought sauce simply stir the Brazil nuts into it and heat through gently in a saucepan or microwave.

Serve Brazil Bolognese piled onto cooked spaghetti with Parmesan cheese to hand.  A big green salad is a good accompaniment.

Brazil nut roast with peach stuffing

250g Brazil nuts, ground

125g wholemeal bread crumbs

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

150ml  water

4 tomatoes, skinned and chopped

1 tablespoonful sunflower oil

2 eggs beaten

1 level teaspoonful dried herbs

seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

175g ready-to-eat dried peaches, finely chopped

175g oz soft white breadcrumbs

1/4 teaspoonful mixed spice

dash fresh lemon juice

25g sunflower margarine

Make the stuffing first.  Mix peaches with white crumbs, spice, margarine, lemon juice and seasoning.  Add enough beaten egg to bind.  Set aside.


Sauté onion and tomatoes in oil until soft. Add nuts, crumbs, herbs and seasoning with the water.  Mix well and add remains of egg.

Place half of nut ‘meat’ in the bottom of a well greased and lined loaf tin. Spread the stuffing mixture on top and finish with remains of nut mixture.

Bake for about 45 minutes in a moderate oven until top feels firm.

Serve turned out as the centre piece on a platter surrounded by roast potatoes and parsnips.  A good gravy and selection of other hot vegetables go well with it too.

Tagliatelli with Brazils

Enough tagliatielli  – wholemeal, verdi or plain –  for number of diners, cooked for five minutes in lightly salted boiling water, drained and rinsed.

I large onion, sliced

100 g  mushrooms, sliced

200g Brazil nuts

Small jar of green pesto sauce

50g best olive oil

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Fry the onion gently until softening. Add mushroom and nuts.  Fry together for a few more minutes until beginning to brown. Add pesto.  Add cooked tagliatelli and heat through, stirring to mix everything thoroughly together.  Serve with grated parmesan and a large green salad.

Dahl with fried onions and Brazils

200g spilt red lentils

1 litre water

good pinch ground turmeric

8 ml ground cumin

2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped

pinch salt

2-3 green chillies

25ml chopped coriander leaves

50ml vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 large onions finely sliced

140 g  broken Brazil nuts

Bring lentils to boil in measured volume of water – this is important because the best dahl is quite runny in consistency. Skim off any scum that forms during cooking.  Add spices with tomatoes and cook gently in pan for about 40 minutes.  Add  salt, chillies and coriander leaves.  Meanwhile fry the onions and garlic with the Brazils in hot oil in a frying pan.  Stir cooked onion mixture into lentils and serve hot with rice or Indian bread such as nan.

Brazil nut couscous

250g wholewheat couscous

50g best Australian sultanas

I medium size aubergine, diced

2 large onions, roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

I red pepper, deseeded and sliced

2 tablespoonsful sunflower oil

150g button mushrooms

1 teaspoonful grated fresh ginger

I teaspoonful coriander seed, lightly crushed

2 tomatoes. skinned and rough chopped

seasalt  and freshly ground black pepper

175g broken Brazil nuts and a few whole ones, all  pre-toasted

Soak the couscous with salt and sultanas in enough boiling water to cover with a head space of about 2cm.  Leave to stand for a few minutes until all the water is absorbed.

Meanwhile fry onion and garlic in the oil in a large frying pan for about five minutes.  Add the spices, pepper, mushrooms, diced aubergines with ginger and coriander seed.  Fry until everything is tender, stirring frequently to prevent it sticking.  Add the chopped Brazil nuts with the couscous, chopped tomatoes and black pepper to taste.  Stir over heat until thoroughly mixed and hot.  Serve straight from pan with whole Brazil nuts arranged on top.

Seasoned yogurt – just stir some favourite herbs and spices and/or a bit of chopped cucumber into plain yoghurt – goes well with this.

Mixed grain and Brazil nut pudding

30ml sunflower oil

100g finely chopped onion

clove garlic, crushed

100g carrot, diced

I rib celery, chopped

75g long grain brown rice

about 850ml vegetable stock

75g red lentils

50g flaked millet

25g cornmeal

1 teaspoonful dried sage

1 teaspoonful celery seeds

15ml soya sauce

100g finely chopped Brazil nuts

50g soft wholewheat breadcrumbs

seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauté onion, garlic, carrot and celery in oil in a large saucepan until onion is transparent.  Add rice and half the stock. Simmer for 15 minutes.  Add lentils and half the remaining stock.  Cook for a further 15 minutes.  Then add millet, cornmeal, sage, celery seeds and soya sauce with all the remaining stock and simmer gently for a further 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat. Add all the remaining ingredients.  Mix thoroughly and season.

Pack into a greased pudding basin.  Cover.  Cook for 5 minutes in microwave on full power or steam in a pan of water on stove for about an hour.

Serve with a rich vegetarian gravy and a green vegetable such as broccoli or  Brussels  sprouts.

Brazil stirfry

1 large onion, sliced

12 baby sweet corn

250g beansprouts, rinsed over the sink in a colander with boiling  water

1 medium courgette, finely sliced

1 medium carrot, finely sliced

3 or 4 mushrooms, wiped and sliced

250g white cabbage, finely shredded

150g Brazil nut pieces

75ml  sesame oil

Heat the oil in the base of a large frying pan or wok, keeping the heat up fairly high and stirring continuously.   Cook the onions alone for a few minutes first. Then add all other ingredients except the beansprouts.  Sir and fry for 5 -10 minutes until vegetables are softening but still crisp.  Add beansprouts and  stir briefly over heat just until everything is hot.

Serve straight from pan with noodles and Chinese sweet and sour sauce.





Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
More posts by Susan Elkin