On of the favorite nuts of Cuzco is the Brazil nut. It grows on a tree that can reach some 50 meters tall. The tree is found in Peru’s jungle since it favors hot lands. People regularly harvest it in regions like Puerto Maldonado, Playa Alta, Colorado, Planchón and Alegría, among others.
The tree is greatly appreciated since its wood is very hard and useful for building rural bridges on which cars and trucks can pass and for building bodywork on flatbed trucks. The tree’s crown has a diameter of approximately 8 – 10 meters.
But the wood is not all that makes the tree appreciated. Its fruit, called castaña in Spanish, holds the famous Brazil nuts. The various nuts are bundled into a larger shell that might remind you of the coconut. People harvest the fruit of the tree between December and February, which is the rainy season.
The way the nuts are harvested is curious and laborious.
During December through February the fierce winds and rains of the season make the mature fruit fall naturally. Because of the height in which they grow they fall with a lot of force. This causes them to hit the ground hard and be buried some 25-30 centimeters deep.
People say that during the rainy season they do not go near the Brazil nut trees because they are dangerous. Each fruit weighs some one to two kilos, about two to five pounds. If one were to fall on a person it could easily kill them.
Once all the fruit have fallen, the harvest begins. The harvesters dig down 25 to 30 centimeters into the dirt under the trees in order to find the Brazil nuts. Once dug up, the composite fruit is gathered and carried in what are called barricas. These are baskets made from tamiche, a vine called “the forest rope”. The baskets are carried on the back; a strap made from the forest rope goes across their forehead and another one attaches to their waist in order to keep balance and lighten the load.
The fruit is carried up to a kilometer away where a group of men and women gather. They begin to split the fruit open with their machetes. With the long knife’s point they strike the middle of the fruit, splitting it in two. In this way they extract all the nuts that are inside the fruit.
They do this work in the forest in order to lighten the weight of the nuts for transport. The shell stays there and only the nuts continue to be transported.
But the work is not finished yet. The nuts still have to be transported to the shellers in the city of Puerto Maldonado and there the work continues. The smaller shells have to be peeled from each nut.
Once peeled, they are separated into three categories. The best quality of nuts is destined for export. The second best is distributed to Perú´s internal market while the lowest quality is for local people to consume.
The Brazil nut is used for food, especially in the making of delicious desserts such as cakes, candies, and pastries. The nuts are known for their high nutritional value, amount of calories, and natural vitamins. From this fruit is extracted Brazil nut oil, aceite de castaña as it is called in Peru.
Because of the great properties and benefits of the Brazil nut tree it will continue to grow in the Peruvian jungle and be harvested for many generations into the future.