The Brazil nut is the fruit of a tree that originated in the Amazonian jungle - primarily of Brazil. The Brazil-nut tree can grow to be 250 feet high with a trunk 3 to 7 feet in diameter. It grows wild in the tropical forests of the Amazon region, Guyana, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador; attempts to cultivate it elsewhere have generally been unsuccessful. It does not begin to produce nuts in significant quantities until after 12 to 15 years.
The oblong Brazil nut has a crunchy yellowish kernel that tastes like coconut and is covered with a thin layer of brownish skin. The kernel is enclosed in a rough, hard; fibrous shell that is reddish brown in colour and measures ? to 1 inch in diameter; the shell has three irregularly shaped sides, resembling an orange segment. From 12 to 20 Brazil nuts are crammed inside a coconut-like capsule that measures 3 to 8 inches in diameter and weighs 2 to 4 ? pounds. Like orange segments, the nuts are held in place by a fibrous substance; this becomes increasingly dry as the fruit ripens and breaks open, revealing the nuts inside the capsule when it falls to the ground.
Brazil nuts are harvested only in good weather. Workers comb through the forest, gathering nuts that have fallen to the ground. Brazil-nut trees are too tall to climb, and they cannot be shaken because the nut-bearing capsules are too heavy. On windy or rainy days, the workers do not venture into the forest because the capsules can cause fatal injuries when they fall from the trees; in fact, they fall with such force that they dig into the ground. The workers spend the days after the harvest opening the fruit with machetes or axes.
Brazil nuts are difficult to shell; producers soak them for 24 hours in huge vats of water, then boil them for 3 to 5 minutes before straining them. The nuts can then be opened using manually operated machines; this is a delicate operation because the irregularly shaped nuts can be easily damaged. After shelling, the kernels are dried down to a moisture content, which enables them to be effectively stored.