For centuries, Brazil nut trees have grown wild in the Amazon forest of South America. Many indigenous tribes, like the Yanomami, used the nuts to supplement their diets, and the oil and husks for a variety of other purposes. The Portuguese and the Spanish introduced Brazil nuts to Europe in the 1500s, when the nuts were used for expeditionary rations and sent back with other New World discoveries. The Spanish called them “almendras de los Andes” – almonds of the Andes. It was a German botanist-explorer, Alexander von Humboldt, who upon returning from a five year expedition collecting and cataloging thousands of plants in the late eighteenth century gave the nuts their name, Bertholletia excelsa, after his friend the chemist Claude Louis Berthollet.
One of the tallest trees in the tropical jungle, the Brazil nut tree grows to 165 feet tall, begins to bear fruit at 30 years old and may live 500 to 800 years. Brazil nuts are actually the seed of the tree. They grow in 4 to 6 pound pods about the size of a man’s hand. One pod contains up to 30 seeds or nuts. Collectors must wait until the pods drop to the ground to gather them – a hazardous occupation since the force of a pod hitting the ground could kill a man. Once collected, the castaneros convey the nuts by river or road to processors. The nuts remain a kind of currency, traded for food and manufactured goods. The Brazil nut industry is one of the few means of sustainable development available for the Amazon Basin. All Brazil nuts are natural; efforts to cultivate Brazil nuts in plantations have never been successful.
Nutritionally, Brazil nuts are a good nutrient dense fuel for the body. While they have the highest fat content of all nuts, over half of the fats are monounsaturated, and they are noted for their omega-3 fatty acid content as well. They are an exceptional source of selenium, at levels more than 250 times most foods. Selenium may deter both prostate and ovarian cancer. Additionally they provide a good source of protein, calcium and magnesium.
Also being an herbal medicine, Brazil nuts are a rich source of Vitamin E, lecithin, and the anti-oxidant mineral selenium, which can enhance circulation, fight arthritis and also protect against cataracts. It is believed in the Brazilian folk medicine that the husks of the Brazil nut pods were used to make a tea considered to be a good remedy for stomach-aches. A decoction of the tree’s bark can be drunk as a treatment for various liver diseases. The indigenous people of the Amazon rain forest also applied the oil from the nut to treat some skin conditions.
For crepe batter
1 ¼ cup cold water
4 ounces unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 ounces Brazil nut flour
1 ounce Chestnut honey
1 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Pinch of salt
16 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
8 marrons glaces, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons clarified unsalted butter or more as needed
5 tablespoons Chestnut honey, divided
Sift together the flours and salt in a separate bowl breaking up any lumps. Combine the flours, eggs, honey and melted butter in a blender jar. Cover and blend at highest speed for 1 minute. Scape down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed and blend for 2 to 3 seconds more. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Heat a heavy cast-iron skillet or crêpe pan over moderately high heat. Brush with about tablespoon of clarified butter or oil. Take pan off heat and, holding the handle of the pan, pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the middle of the pan. Tilt the pan in all directions to so that batter evenly coats the bottom of the pan. Return to heat and cook for 30 to 60 seconds until lightly browned. Turn and cook on the other side an additional 30 seconds. Cool on a rack before stacking on a plate. Add more butter or oil as needed and repeat with remaining batter. Spread crêpes with two heaping tablespoon of ricotta filling. Roll jelly-roll style or fold in half.
*Crêpes can be kept in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve. They can also be made in advance and reheated before using or frozen. If frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator then reheat in a 300 degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Makes 8-10 crêpes.