Cognitive Daily

One of the things that motivated Nora and me to conduct the Casual Friday nuts study was our intense ambivalence toward the Brazil nut. It’s so much bigger than the other nuts that it tends to dominate any mixture, even when present in small quantities. And, to our palate, it just doesn’t taste good. It seems to be there only to waste space. As Jonah Lehrer put it in his comment on our original survey, “I’ve long believed that nobody actually likes Brazil nuts.”

Indeed, it was the lowest-rated nut of any nut in our survey, as you can see in this graph of the ratings:

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With an average rating of 2.21 on a scale of 0 to 5, there’s not much love for the Brazil nut. The rating was significantly lower than the rating for any other nut.

So why do the nut companies even bother with the Brazil nut? Well, it turns out that not everyone hates the Brazil nut. Take a look at this graph breaking down the ratings:

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While most readers rated the Brazil nut as a 2 or below, over 10 percent gave it the highest rating, and nearly a quarter of our readers gave it a 4 or 5. So we can’t say that no one likes the Brazil nut — 63 of our 616 survey respondents say they like it very much.

There were even 15 survey respondents who rated the Brazil nut higher than all other nuts. But still, this represents just 2 percent of our respondents. This hardly seems enough to justify including 16 percent Brazil nuts in the store-brand can of mixed nuts, or even 7 percent Brazil nuts in the “Deluxe” can.

Taking a look at the data from the other direction, we can ask another question. Is there anyone who likes Brazil nuts and doesn’t like any other nut? In other words, how many people might not find any nuts at all that they like if Brazil nuts were removed from the mix?

The answer is — according to our data — none. Among respondents rating Brazil nuts a 4 or 5, none rated all the other nuts a 2 or less. In fact, none rated all the others a 3 or less. Just 24 respondents who rated Brazil nuts 4 or 5 rated all the others 4 or less. This small group, under four percent of our total, appears to represent those who would be disappointed by the elimination of Brazil nuts from mixed nuts. And of these, only three say that mixed nuts are their favorite thing to eat at parties.

So while we can’t say that no one likes Brazil nuts, it’s quite clear that Brazil nuts are over-represented, even in “Deluxe” mixtures of nuts.

Comments

  1. #1 Gordon Worley
    June 21, 2008

    How strange. And I don’t think Brazil nuts are that cheap since they have to be grown wild and harvested from the jungle by picking them up off the ground. Certainly peanuts are cheaper, as are likely several of the other nuts, so I don’t think they are being included as filler.

    Instead, I suspect that the nut companies simply haven’t done enough market research to find out what nut mix is right. The people deciding on how many of which nuts are just acting on what they perceive to be people’s nut preferences.

    Or maybe the guy in charge of deciding happens to love Brazil nuts.

    Or, just maybe, it’s a conspiracy to subsidize agriculture in Latin America. ;-)

  2. #2 Daniel Ting
    June 21, 2008

    That’s interesting. Brazil nuts are known for their high selenium content, and I thought people would start eating more of them for health reasons. Even more surprisingly Brazil nut trees are (I think) considered endangered…

  3. #3 Bruce
    June 21, 2008

    I, for one, really enjoy Brazil nuts. I also absolutely hate peanuts. So I was simultaneously excited and dismayed to read that your store brand had such a high proportion of each.

    I’d be interested in seeing data on Brazil vs. peanut preference. My initial instinct is that those who prefer Brazils would generally rate peanuts lower than those who don’t.

  4. #4 Sherry
    June 21, 2008

    I have always liked Brazil nuts, but became more fond of them once I moved to Brazil, and had access to Brazil nuts that were very fresh. When fresh, they have a creamy texture and taste. The Brazil nuts in ‘fancy’ nut mixes that one buys in the U.S. are very often stale or rancid, and oversalted (the same applies to most cashews that we get up here), so it is easy for me to understand why people do not highly rate their taste and texture.
    I also understand that the oils in these nuts are quite healthy. I would recommend that people give these nuts another chance, and that importers/packagers be honest about not selling nuts that are old.

  5. #5 Art
    June 21, 2008

    I like Brazil nuts. I think the taste and texture are good. Visually, with their vaguely toe-like shape and odd exterior they are visually interesting. In mixed unshelled nuts Brazil nut are an entertaining challenge to open. This useful as it slows consumption and allows the hunger receptors to catch up to the amounts of food consumed. That, and it is just fun to fiddle at opening the tough Brazil nut shells without damaging the meat.

    As I understand it, from a person in the snack food industry, in mixed nuts it is peanuts that are the filler. As the other nuts go up in price the proportion of peanuts increases to maintain volume.

  6. #6 Greta
    June 21, 2008

    Yes, according to nutritional facts, a serving (1 oz.) of Brazil nuts has 780% the “daily value” of selenium.

    “Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential to good health but required only in small amounts [1,2]. Selenium is incorporated into proteins to make selenoproteins, which are important antioxidant enzymes. The antioxidant properties of selenoproteins help prevent cellular damage from free radicals. Free radicals are natural by-products of oxygen metabolism that may contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease [2,3]. Other selenoproteins help regulate thyroid function and play a role in the immune system [4-7].”
    Source: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/selenium.asp

    (We veg*ns are nuts about nuts.)

  7. #7 Nick
    June 21, 2008

    I really, really hate Brazil nuts. I don’t know what it is about them, but the texture just seems kind of ‘off’ when I bite into them, and they taste funny too.

    I think Brazil nuts should be replaced by hazelnuts in any and all situations! >:(

  8. #8 Colin
    June 21, 2008

    No, brazil nuts are definetly my favorite nut. Almonds are a close second though, and the kind I eat more often. Losing brazil nuts would make me sad.

  9. #9 Loki
    June 21, 2008

    Considering what #6 had to say, it seems good to have SOME brazil nuts in the mix for good health. And, it seems good to have other kinds to balance the flavors. I love the texture of Brazil nuts: they pop apart when you bite in. So I think the amount in the mixed nuts is just about right. I hunt for them, and save one for last. But then, like Monk, I try not to step on the cracks.

  10. #10 themadlolscientist
    June 21, 2008

    Brazils are my favorite too. Most of the time, I fish through the can and eat all the Brazils first. When I was a kid, my dad and I used to fight over them.

    As for the selenium, you don’t need much of it in your diet, and your body has trouble eliminating the excess. There have been cases of selenium poisoning in people who ate too many Brazils. Not fun.

    My other favorite is macadamias. I could eat them all day, but they’re a rare treat because they’re so expensive.

  11. #11 Andre
    June 21, 2008

    Here in Brazil the Brazil nuts aren`t very popular either. People prefer the cashew, that is also natural from Brazil and is actually a fruit.

  12. #12 Lord
    June 21, 2008

    I am surprised cashews rated so high. They are definitely my least favorite nut. I am even surprised pecans and walnuts fall below almonds, though perhaps this is due to casual eating as opposed to bakery usage.

  13. #13 Bodhi
    June 21, 2008

    Brazils are a favorite of mine. They have a creamy texture and they’re tasty. Peanuts are soooo boring. Pecans and walnuts are the ones that taste funny. The skin has an unpleasant bitterness.

  14. #14 The Neurocritic
    June 21, 2008

    I’m with Nick. I really, really hate Brazil nuts.

  15. #15 Donn
    June 21, 2008

    I never actually thought OTHER people hated Brazil nuts. I knew that I didn’t like them, nor did my friends, but I thought WE were the weird ones!

  16. #16 Samantha Vimes
    June 21, 2008

    Give me ALL the brazil nuts!

    They are my absolute favorite.

  17. #17 Kameron Kilchrist
    June 21, 2008

    i’ve gotta say that in mixed nuts mixes, almonds and cashews are my favorite, but i really enjoy pecans, but only when not in a mixed nut blend… they shouldn’t be salted.

  18. #18 Joseph Hertzlinger
    June 21, 2008

    Brazil nuts concentrate radium. Since I’ve wanted to glow in the dark ever since reading The Stars My Destination

  19. #19 Jude
    June 22, 2008

    I didn’t have a strong opinion about Brazil nuts one way or the other until the day I gave a small portion of one to my 3-year-old and he displayed extreme distress–an inability to breathe well followed by a rash. Further testing revealed that Brazil nuts and pecans are the two nuts that can kill him.

  20. #20 Size
    June 22, 2008

    Remember you were talking about nuts at parties – maybe the idea is that the people who hate Brazil nuts will leave them in the bowl, and the 16% who really love them will pick up the slack and leave more of the other nuts. Isn’t that the basis of sharing?

  21. #21 cb
    June 22, 2008

    whoops, i just saw your photo of the nuts and i based my rating of brazil nuts (which was low) upon the mistaken idea that brazil nuts are filberts. i don’t like brazil nuts, either though, so i suppose the data i submitted is still good. :)

    was there any significance between the kinds of nuts people liked and the frequency with which they eat nuts?

    i ask because i have my preferences (cashews, almonds) but don’t like nuts in general. thus, i don’t buy them often. i wonder if fanatical nut-lovers have a stronger preference for brazil nuts.

    just a thought.

    p.s. i agree with the brazil nut lovers, though–peanuts suck.

  22. #22 Chick Byrd
    June 23, 2008

    Brazil nuts are fascinating. I remember avoiding them as a child, then finally trying them again because they were just so huge and different. It is true that they are better unsalted, in their shell. What is really cool is how your teeth leave grooves in them. And what other nut can you eat in multiple bites? There really is nothing like the Brazil nut.

  23. #23 Mike
    June 23, 2008

    If you think you hate Brazil nuts, try them raw. They taste quite different that way, and you might like them quite a bit better…

  24. #24 Eric
    June 23, 2008

    I grew up loving roasted nuts in the Autumn. In my household, Brazils were the favorite. I still love them and buy more of them than any others. However, in a typical can of “mixed nuts”, they taste too raw and are one of my least favorites. The opposite happens for pecans and walnuts. This type of phenomenon may be influencing the results of the study.

  25. #25 AnĂ­bal
    June 24, 2008

    I love Brazil nuts, they are the best. Buy them raw, add some salt (not too much) and it is the best with beer.
    Just to make some clarification, they are not “grown wild and harvested from the jungle by picking them up off the ground”, they part of a fruit that is very common in Brazil north-east, and very tasty too.

  26. #26 johnbpt
    June 27, 2008

    The only thing good about Brazil nuts is that they burn like candles. Try it — just light on the narrower end. Very cool!

  27. #27 SocraticGadfly
    July 5, 2008

    Where’s pistachios?

  28. #28 DidjiBren
    July 13, 2008

    Add to all of this the fact that I am allergic to Brazil nuts, to the extent that if they are present in a nut mix, and I avoid eating them, my fingers still tingle for several hours afterword…I hate the stupid things.

  29. #29 Torsten Borg
    September 13, 2008

    Some years ago I was in Sao Paolo and at the end of the visit my client invited me to have lunch with him and his family (radiant wife and exquisite daughter by the way). We had all kinds of excellent meat and drinks and to finish off we were served a delicious cake. During coffee and avec I got the impression they were all looking funny at me…when they finally left me at my hotel I was itching terribly in my hands so I quickly got up to my room. When I looked in the mirror I got a chock because I looked like a monster, my whole face was swollen and now my foot soles started to itch even more than the hands. It took several hours to get rid of it (and I was very scared). So no thanks, no Brazilian nuts for me.

  30. #30 boomy
    September 19, 2008

    I wish I had seen this survey in time to could get my vote counted. I love Brazil nuts, and if anything feel that they are under represented in mixed nut packs. I live in the UK, though — perhaps they do the mixes different here. I’ll stock up next time I am in North America.

  31. #31 louise
    March 17, 2009

    Hi, I just have to say that i went to a SCIO and she ask me to eat one Brazil nut every day, it is excellent for your health. I do not dislike them but they are full of selenium. Thanks