Living the WELL Life

The Amazon-Saving Wonders of Brazil Nuts

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

When was the last time you had some Brazil nuts? They are the big dark nuts that are shaped like a section of an orange and are difficult to crack. Yet oftentimes, the hardest nuts to crack reap the greatest rewards—and Brazil nuts are no exception!

In addition to offering enjoyment and nutrition, Brazil nuts are wild harvested in a unique manner that helps save Amazon rainforest. Tropical deforestation accounts for roughly 17 percent of global carbon emissions, factoring heavily into global warming. Despite the very best efforts of conservation groups and environmental policy makers, the world still loses more than 80,000 acre of tropical rainforests each day, according to figures from As we become more aware of how our consumer choices affect the world, incorporating some rainforest-saving choices into our daily round is s simple way to help a very serious problem—and in this case a delicious and nutritious way too! Enjoy Brazil nuts on cereals, salads and pastas, in baked goods or as a snack knowing you are helping the Amazon rainforest with every bite.

So here's the scoop. Brazil nut trees have a unique distinction that makes them important to the preservation of the Amazon rainforest: they flourish only in the Amazon’s untouched rainforest. Thanks to a particular bee combined with soil content issues, attempts to cultivate Brazil nut trees on plantations have largely failed with only a few exceptions. Brazil nut trees just happen to be dependent on large-bodied orchid bees for pollination. While the orchid bees pollinate Brazil nut trees, the insects are mostly reliant on the pollen of orchids that grow almost exclusively in the rainforest. Hence, disturbed forests that lack orchids also lack orchid bees. Additionally, orchid bees do not “behave” (excuse the pun)—they are nonsocial or semi-social—in other words, humans cannot manipulate them to pollinate certain crops by transporting beehives from one plantation to the next. Basically, if you want to harvest Brazil nuts, you can only do it in healthy tropical Amazon rainforest. That’s the great news. A thriving Brazil nut trade keeps significant areas of the Amazon rainforest intact!

Currently, the Brazil nut is a highly valuable food source with profitable European and North American markets. Roughly 100,000 workers depend on revenue related to Brazil nut extraction, either directly or indirectly. Thus, they have a vested interest in preserving the forest where Brazil nut trees flourish. Harvesters have been called “guardians of the forest” and indeed they are. As Brazil nut trees lives for 500 to 1,000 years, several generations can reap the benefits of sustainably harvested Brazil nuts with no harm to the rainforest. Harvesters are hard-working people who gather the Brazil nut tree pods from the forest floor and open them with a machete, filling sacks with up to 175 pounds of nuts, which they carry on their backs!

Brazil nuts are considered the most viable non-timber forest product in the Amazon, and they are the only wild-harvested tree nut in the world. Bolivia is the top exporter ahead of Brazil, followed by Peru. These nuts are also harvested and exported on a much smaller scale from Venezuela, eastern Colombia, Guyana and French Guiana. Buying Brazil nuts helps to preserve the Amazon rainforest spanning all of these countries.

The Peruvian government lends areas of forest that are dense with Brazil nut trees as concessions to local harvesters who manage them under contracts with the Peruvian forest service. Many harvesters receive help from a nonprofit organization called the Amazon Conservation Association through the Brazil Nut Program, which provides harvesters in the Madre de Dios river area with the latest innovations for sustainable extraction. The Peruvian harvesters sell the nuts to local shelling factories, which export the product overseas. This activity accounts for more than half the yearly income for thousands of families in the Amazon and protects several million acres of forest from destruction. In fact, Peru’s sustainable standard for Brazil nut extraction was recognized by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)—the first FSC accolade for an NTFP.

As long as Brazil nut exports remain a viable market and provide income to harvesters, the rainforest will escape pillaging by damaging avenues of economic survival, like panning for gold, logging, slash-and-burn agriculture or cattle ranching.

Here's how you can help. Go to the market, buy some Brazil nuts and eat ‘em up. Keep a regular supply in your home. Simply buying and consuming Brazil nuts (or Brazil nut oil) on a consistent basis will help preserve the Amazon rainforest by contributing to demand. Consumer power at its best!

You can find Brazil nuts and Brazil nut oil products at most supermarkets and larger health retailers and online. Buy organic whenever possible, as this is more likely to ensure the nuts are sustainably harvested.

Rich in selenium, copper, magnesium, fiber, vitamin E, amino acids and essential fatty acids, Brazil nuts are one of the few nuts to have enough amino acids to make a complete protein. One nut contains 780 percent of the U.S. recommended daily allowance of selenium—a powerful antioxidant that is believed to help protect against breast and prostate cancers.

Enjoying these nutritious, rainforest-saving nuts is easy. Try roasting them. Enjoy them whole or chop and sprinkle them on salad, pasta, plain yogurt with honey or oatmeal. Buy them in a nut mix to enjoy at holiday time. Add them in place of walnuts in any of your favorite baking recipes—cookies, breads and holiday fudge. Brazil nut oil is excellent for salad dressings, adding a delicious nutty flavor. You can cook with it too!

Known for its restorative properties, Brazil nut oil is also great rubbed into your skin or hair. Bath and body products from the Body Shop and Burt’s Bees both carry products with Brazil nut oil (from sustainable sources too!).

For the Amazon's sake, we could all go a little nuts for Brazil nuts. Go nuts and save the rainforest at the same time!


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