Brazil nuts are hard to grow and are also hard to crack. Because efforts to grow Brazil nut trees on plantations have failed, the nut is truly a special treat. The trees grow only in the Amazon and reach heights of up to 200 feet. They produce pods with 10 to 25 nuts per pod, and the falling pods carry such momentum that, to avoid injury, harvesting occurs only after all the pods have fallen.
Brazil nuts are widely available with or without a shell. They are found in canisters of mixed nuts and sold in bulk at supermarkets, but there are also speciality websites where you can order them directly from South America. Buying Brazil nuts helps to protect Amazonian ecosystems because the trees only grow in healthy forests. Purchasing the nuts encourages the farmers to protect their environment.
The most efficient way to penetrate the thick three-sided shell of a Brazil nut is to soak the nuts you intend to crack for up to 12 hours prior to eating. There are two methods for this that are equally effective. You can soak the nuts in a bowl of cold water overnight or, if you want to decrease the soaking time, bring a pot of water to a rapid boil and add the nuts and boil for five minutes. Transfer the nuts to a bowl of cool water and leave to soak until soft. This takes three to four hours.
No matter how long you soak the nuts, you're going to need a nutcracker to penetrate the shells. In the wild, the agouti is the only animal that has teeth strong enough to crack them. If you do not have a nutcracker, using a hammer will suffice; however, there is a higher risk of injury to your hand and it is not advised. Holding the nutcracker with your dominant hand and the nut between your thumb and index finger of the opposite hand, squeeze the nutcracker over the top third of the nut to take off the tip. Once the tip is removed, use your fingers to peel the rest of the shell off. Brazil nuts should be white or silver. If they are at all yellow, discard them. This means that they have acquired mould and will cause illness if ingested.