Last year, we wrote a post called 8 foods that grow in a surprising way, about the unexpected ways in which some common foods grow and where they originated from. It was quite popular. And it changed my life. No longer can I simply eat a meal… I now question everything on my plate; imagine the ways in which it might grow and where, and then research it thoroughly afterwards… I find I am eating alone a lot these days.
Anyway, I thought I’d do a follow-up, so you can also further regale your friends and family at meal times! Check back here each day this week for a new food!
Originates from… well, Brazil!
While you’re gobbling down your chocolate brazils (the only way to consume brazil nuts, in my opinion), consider how that tasty morsel came to be in your mouth. Well, I can tell you it is a very delicate process! So remember to be grateful to the huge but sensitive brazil nut tree.
The brazil nut tree is the giant of the Amazon rainforest, standing up to 160 feet tall with a diameter of up to 6.5 feet wide. It can produce up to 250 pounds of nuts a year each. The nuts grow in cannonball-like pods that weigh up to five pounds each. Inside each pod is around 26 seeds, or brazil nuts. This isn’t how I imagined they grew! It’s like a nut, within a nut, within a nut! These pods fall from near the top of the tree to the forest floor at around 50 miles an hour (please, spare a thought for the poor guys that have to rummage around finding and collecting these pods; it’s a dangerous job!)
For many years, scientists were confused – why would Mother Nature put the seeds of a plant in such hard pod? What animal has jaws big and strong enough to crack open the pod and spread the seeds? How is the plant actually reproducing? Enter this little guy:
He is an agouti! He has a sweet face but jaws like a workman’s chisel! And he loves a nut! He cracks open the pod, has a few for dinner, then buries the rest for another time. But sometimes he forgets about them (don’t judge, we’ve all got a tin of something from 1999 in the back of the cupboard). Left alone, the seeds can lay dormant for years until conditions are right from them to start growing.
Another creature that helps the tree to reproduce is the bee, but not just any bee… The orchid bee, unsurprisingly, is dependent on a certain kind of orchid to survive because the males need its scent to attract females. The orchid bee also happens to be the only bee that is able to drink the nectar of the brazil nut flower (and therefore pollinate it). This is because the bee has to be strong enough to kind of lift up the hood of the flower to get to its nectar.
So, if there are no orchids in the forest then there are no bees, and no brazil nuts. This is why brazil nuts cannot be farmed effectively; the orchids are so sensitive that any disruption to their habitat causes them to die. So the nuts are harvested by simply foraging for them on the forest floor!
Photo credits: Quadell, mauroguanandi, Lior Golgher, brian.gratwicke and Jacob Rus