How Did Brazil Nuts Get Their Name?

People calling Brazil nuts by different names

Brazil nuts got their name because Brazil is one of the places where this nut was first seen. Portuguese and Spanish explorers found them in the 16th century, in the Amazon forest, and used them as a food source. The name Brazil nut can be a bit of a misnomer, as they are native to other countries as well, such as Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, and the Guianas.

People used different names to refer to Brazil nuts depending on the time period and country. Early records date back to the 16th century. But it is known that indigenous people in the Amazon forest have been consuming them long before that, and they surely had their own names for them. 

Let’s examine all the known names used to identify Brazil nuts in the present and past.

The First European Mention of Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts were first mentioned in European records in 1569. A Spanish officer called Juan Alvarez Maldonaldo and his tired and starving troops rested near the Madre de Dios River, in Peru.

Upon hearing about the nuts from the Cayanpuxes Indians, Maldonado ordered his troops to collect the nuts and feed on them. The first name they gave them was “almendras de Los Andes“, which translates as “almonds of the Andes”.

This is very relevant information. It shows us that the first name wasn’t Brazil nuts. It also shows that the first place where, according to records, they were first found by Europeans wasn’t even Brazil.

So Why the Name Brazil Nuts?

If Europeans spotted didn’t first spot them in Brazil, why does the name include that country?

Very likely, the name Brazil nut was one of the many names that stuck after they started exporting it to other countries, especially in Europe. Because of the high amounts exported from Brazil, that name became the most commonly used. But it’s not the only one, as we will see.

How Did Indigenous Tribes in the Amazon Call Brazil Nuts?

When it comes to indigenous tribes, the amount of written records for Brazil nuts is not as abundant as for other groups. This is because most words were passed down orally from generation to generation, and some are lost forever.

Fortunately, a term for Brazil nut survived and is still used by some communities. I am talking about the word “Juvia”, which was used in the Orinoco area of the Amazon.

How Are Brazil Nuts Called in Brazil?

Brazil nuts are commonly known as “castanha do Pará” in Brazil. It’s usually translated to English as “nut from Pará”, but a more literal translation would be “chestnut from Pará”. That’s because Pará is the state where most of the Brazil nuts come from in this country. It’s one of the Brazilian states with the highest percentage of Amazon forest area.

In the state of Acre, people call it “castanha do Acre“, which means “chestnut from Acre”.

Here are other names that refer to Brazil nuts in Portuguese. They are not as widely used but are worth mentioning:

  • Castanha do Brasil (chestnut from Brazil)
  • Noz do Brasil (walnut from Brazil)
  • Castanha da Amzônia (chestnut from Amazon)
  • Castanha verdadeira (real chestnut)
  • Castanha mansa (tame chestnut)
  • Noz Amazônica (Amazonian walnut)
  • Noz Boliviana (Bolivian walnut)
  • Castanha do Maranhão (chestnut from Maranhão)

Brazil Nuts in Spanish

Except for Bolivia, most Spanish-speaking countries call it “nuez de Brasil“. It’s translated as Brazil nut, or Brazil walnut if you prefer a literal translation.

In Bolivia, many people refer to Brazil nuts as “castaña“, which means chestnut. A fair number of Bolivians also call it “almendra“, which means almond. 

Other words used in Spanish speaking countries

There are other Spanish words used to refer to Brazil nuts in South America. These are the ones I found during my research, followed by their respective translations.

  • Castaña boliviana (Bolivian chestnut)
  • Castaña amazónica (Amazonian chestnut)
  • Castaña del Brasil (chestnut from Brazil)
  • Castaña de Pará (chestnut from Pará)
  • Castaña del Beni (chestnut from Beni)
  • Nuez amazónica (Amazonian walnut)
  • Nuez del Brasil (walnut from Brazil)
  • Coquito de Brasil (small coconut from Brazil)
  • Avellana del Brasil (hazelnut from Brazil)

The Different Names for Brazil Nuts in the Us

Brazil nuts arrived in the US in the early 19th century and were called Brazil nuts from the beginning. Although there isn’t such a variety of names in English, it’s worth mentioning that another popular name appeared.

The racist side of Brazil nuts in the USA

Late in the 19th century, many Americans, especially the middle and lower classes, started saying “n***** toes” instead of Brazil nuts. This happened mainly in the south of the country.

Sadly, it became a common name, and some people even used that word without realizing how racist it was. Some Americans from northern states are shocked when they hear it for the first time; I know I was.

Brazil nuts vs. Brazil walnuts

Even though it’s not that common, some people may say Brazilian walnuts in English. These are the same as Brazil nuts.

Very likely, this happens because of the translations from other languages. Portuguese and Spanish have “noz do Brasil” and “nuez de Brasil“, respectively. In fact, in European Portuguese and European Spanish, that’s how everyone says Brazil nuts. My point is that “noz” and “nuez” literally mean walnut. Therefore, when translating it, some people may call it Brazil walnut.

Considering that no species of walnuts are known as Bazil walnut, it’s safe to assume this is just another literal translation from Portuguese and Spanish. These are the languages of the countries where the Brazil nut comes from, in the Amazon forest.

Conclusion

The Brazil nut got its name from one of the countries where explorers found them in significant amounts: Brazil. But truth be told, it wasn’t even the first country where they spotted them. It’s just the name that stuck when the nuts started being exported from Brazil. As we have discussed, this nut has been called by many different names depending on the place and time.

Also, If you are a language nerd like I am, you may have noticed how literal I was in my translations. I do know that in this context, both “castanha” and “noz” are translated as “nut”. For example, “castanha do Pará” and “noz do Brasil” can both be translated as “nut from Pará” and nut from Brazil”. I just used the literal translation for you to know what those words really mean. Also, I wanted you to know which particular nuts are used to refer to Brazil nuts in those languages.

I hope you liked this post. It sure gave me a great time researching such an interesting topic.

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