Does anybody actually like Brazil nuts?


Brazil nuts are perhaps best known for floating to the top of a jar of mixed nuts. According to Wikipedia,¹ the reason for the phenomenon is not well understood.

At least in my house, the reason for the phenomenon is quite clear: Brazil nuts float to the top because nobody in my house likes Brazil nuts. When you reach in and grab a handful of nuts, you toss the Brazil nuts back into the jar, which is why they end up on top.

A few months ago, I asked "Does anybody actually like Brazil nuts?" A lot of people agreed with my opinion of them, but there was a notable dissenter: Larry Osterman. There is now a symbiotic relationship between my family and Larry Osterman. Every so often, I will skim off the Brazil nuts and bring them to Larry. Both sides win: We get rid of the annoying Brazil nuts, and Larry gets a small bag of Brazil nuts.

¹ Translation: I could just as well be making this up.

Comments (44)
  1. Pierre B. says:

    No newspaper, no magazine. No TV show. No radio programme, no leaflet, no water-cooler conversation. Very few books. Not even encyclopedia. Oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you what I'm talking about. They're called references and provide backups for claims. Wikipedia has them. Edit history, too, is pretty-much wiki-only. Internet wiki-hating meme lacks both incidentally.

    Will people once stop the FUD? I tend to color my perception of people by their understanding of what is at work in Wikipedia. One notch down, I guess.

    [You must be new here. -Raymond]
  2. Matt Fisher says:

    To me, the most interesting thing about Brazil nuts is what is usually left off of the nutrition label – they have 780% of your recommended daily value of selenium per 1-ounce serving ods.od.nih.gov/…/selenium.asp</a”>1.

    Nothing else is even close – tuna is at a measly 95% for 3 ounces.

  3. laonianren says:

    I do!  Brazil nuts are best wrapped in chocolate, but they are pretty good on their own.  Their worst feature is the impenetrable shell.

  4. Graham Clark says:

    I love Brazil nuts! They're the first ones I go for. Send 'em this way.

  5. Programmerman says:

    The effect is real. I use it to get quarters out of my change jar for parking meters.

  6. Matt Ryan says:

    Nope – they have the texture and taste I'd expect from a bar of soap.  That's why I make my own nut mix.

  7. MItaly says:

    @Matt Fisher: so they would have been great to use in Evolution; I wonder why the director chose to go with that shampoo nonsense…

  8. MWF says:

    @Matt Fisher:

    And Brazil Nuts are among the most radioactive foods.

  9. Nathan_works says:

    Heck, I remember a Mr. Wizard show on this .. It was a quick/easy way to find, hmm, a metal washer in a bowl of uncooked rice, or something similar.  Shake it gently, and the heavy things "float" to the tip.

  10. Anon says:

    Doesn't everyone do this, to get the "whole" chips or popcorn or whatever to the top of the bowl/bag?

  11. Maurits says:

    On the one hand, if Raymond made something up, a lot of people would believe him (he is Raymond Chen, after all.)

    But the slam at Wikipedia seems undeserved.  Wikipedia page cites a Wired article:

    http://www.wired.com/…/sandgrains

    Which in turn cites expert Heinrich Jaeger of the University of Chicago, and a NASA technical report:

    ntrs.nasa.gov/…/20050198938_2005199185.pdf

    [I thought the point of a blog was that I didn't have to do any research. -Raymond]
  12. Nawak says:

    Putting back food that you have touched with your hands is not hygienic and rude… and since that's the lot of all the food that you have to grab in a jar or bowl, I tend to be picky with appetizers!

  13. Ray Shuman says:

    Conversation as a bunch of us were loafi^H^H^H^H^Hconferencing at the admin's candy dish of jellybeans:

    Someone: Why do they make licorice jellybeans?

    Someone else: Yeah, none of us like them. We're all picking past them.

    Me: I love licorice jelly beans.

    Another someone, as she ate the last non-black bean: But you haven't been eating them either!

    Me: That's right. Now the rest of them are mine.

  14. Chris Lineker says:

    Nawak: you are assuming the nuts have been shelled already.

  15. Krisztián Pintér says:

    i love brazil nuts. plus you can scare friends with it. while eating, you can tell that these nuts have carcinogen shells, high level of radioactive radium, and 66% fat content. cute.

  16. DWalker59 says:

    Raymond, I like your "Translation"…  Occasionally I remind people that they can find lots of information on the Internet, and some of it is actually true.

  17. Andrew from Vancouver says:

    I'm a big fan of Brazil nuts and Macadamias. They don't last around my house, the bowl of mixed nuts ends up being a bowl of peanuts.

    I am familiar with the Wiki link, the effect has been shaken to my surface for years. Memory is a funny thing, but I think I first read about it Scientific American in the late 1980s, when a researcher was credited with defining the math that let him describe the action of small potato chips moving to the bottom of the bag.

  18. Timothy Byrd says:

    I'm still trying to figure out the winner won here.  Was it the subtlely of Raymond's sense of humor or Pierre representing teh IQ of teh intertubes?

  19. George says:

    @Nathan_works: as I remember the research on it, it's the bulky things and not the "heavy" things. A washer should be denser than the dry rice it displaces, so somewhere in there is a buoyancy coefficient that relates density to relative sizes. I doubt a washer-size chunk of burnt-out neutron star would float to the top.

  20. John says:

    Wow.  I guess some people just don't have a sense of humor.  Get a life, people.

  21. JMThomas says:

    I just edited the Wiki article to add citations, and state the correct(-ed) conclusion from one reference.  I didn't do this to mess up your blog article, Raymond.  I just wanted to let people know this "urban lore" was overcome by events a decade ago.

    And it also goes to support your minor point about Wiki and "no effort" research…

  22. Alexandre, from Brazil says:

    I really like them. Over here it's called "Castanha-do-Pará", meaning "Para's Nut". "Pará" is one of our 26 States.

    @Pierre

    "The Wikipedia is serious business"

  23. MS says:

    I suppose one standard might be whether or not they've tried turning it into booze.  Most nuts have (peanuts, hazelnuts, macadamia, and even walnuts), but I cannot find brazil nut liquor.  And that's the first thing people try to do is turn something into booze!

    And yes, nitpickers, I know peanuts are technically a legume and not a tree nut.

  24. manyirons says:

    I like to light them on fire.  They burn for a long time.

  25. John Muller says:

    Altoids (the mint) are great fun to burn, they make a wooshing noise. Don't try it indoors.

  26. Ace says:

    I *love* Brazil nuts (when shelled and still fresh).  Of course, my wife hates them.  So, if you have any spare nuts, send them to my office instead of my house. :)

  27. Paul Miller says:

    I kind of like them. My wife forced me to eat them while trying for our second child, because they are known to improve fertility. They seemed to help. Unfortunately, I forgot this aspect of them when we discovered we were going to have a third child – shortly after I found a bag of them. Oh well.

  28. Alex says:

    The reason the brazil nuts "float" to the top is that they are the largest nuts in the jar (generally) and the rest of the nuts can more easily compact themselves below it when the jar is shaken thus forcing it to lie on top of the smaller nuts.  Repeat ad naseum until it is on top.

  29. Maurits says:

    Of course you don't have to do any research to blog, but your "According to Wikipedia (Translation: I could just as well be making this up)" could be viewed as a criticism of Wikipedia (especially since you work for a company that, until recently, made a competing product: en.wikipedia.org/…/Encarta )

    I don't know if you *meant* this as a criticism of Wikipedia (as a whole.)  If so, you're entitled to your opinion, but in this case the facts don't seem to back you up (I suppose the references could have been added some time after you created the blog post.)

    [It was whimsical way of acknowledging that I did no research whatsoever. I should've learned my lesson and not wasted time trying to set up a story. -Raymond]
  30. Anonymous Coward says:

    Okay, thanks to Alexandre I now know why I've been calling these things paránuts all this time. Whatever the name, I like them, just not in the quantities in which they occur in nutmixes. Are they cheap or something?

  31. David says:

    Are you *nuts*? (Zaltzman-esque pun intended).

    I *love* Brazilian nuts, or 'castanhas do Pará' (Pará hazelnuts) as they call them down here in Brazil. Mind you, they need to meet a certain specifications regarding crunchiness and shelf time, because the older they get the bitter the aftertaste, and who likes soggy nuts anyways?

    And the explanation as to why they float up in the package/jar is simple: nuts inherently know their awesomeness levels and re-arrange themselves. That's why soggy peanuts are *always* at bottom, and Brazilian nuts on top. Raisins are oblivious to that simple stratification criteria, and that's why they appear to be randomly mixed at all levels. True story!

  32. gonk says:

    I agree with laonianren.

  33. Worf says:

    @CatCube – you've just ecperienced the editor effect. And it's probably one of the biggest problems with Wikipedia – articles get reverted because the edit doesn't reflect what the editor thinks is the truth, even if the edit was done by the world leading expert in the field, if it doesn;t jive with the editor's view of the subject, it's reverted.

    Wikipedia's just a modern manifestation of world political systems. It starts out equal, then others start viewing themselves as more equal than others and so on.

  34. CatCube says:

    Hey, I spend hours and hours on Wikipedia, and I'll flat out say that anybody who uses it as a source for something important is out of their mind.  It's a great resource for learning just enough to be dangerous or a place to start learning about something, but just like every other aggregation of humans, you're going to get people who push nonsense into positions of power.  My own experience was something as stupid as trying to get the article on Bagram Airfield (the US's main logistical base in northern Afghanistan) named correctly.  It currently lives at Bagram Air Base, which somehow took hold.  Despite a bunch of us who served at the place from several different services pointing out that Army facility naming rules and the garrisoning unit's webpage–which would be the *authoritative* source–called it Bagram Airfield, some of the administrators clung to the belief that because a Google search turns up more hits for Bagram Air Base that must be even more correct.  The most frustrating part is that Wiki can automatically forward from the wrong name to the right one so there's no conceivable reason to leave it at the wrong place.  I dunno, everybody who knew what they were talking about eventually gave up on it.  It's in the discussion page if anybody actually cares.

    But Penny Arcade put it best: "I wasn't aware they thought they were making a real encyclopedia for big people…I don't have time to babysit the internet."  (Lots and lots of words cut out between those two sentence fragments)  Penny Arcade, while funny, can be profane at times so I won't post a direct link.  You can Bing it up and find the newspost from December 16, 2005 for the source.

  35. Uncle says:

    Whoa, people. Now Wikipedia sucks and you forgot all about Vista?

  36. MItaly says:

    [ ★ And the explanation as to why they float up in the package/jar is simple: nuts inherently know their awesomeness levels and re-arrange themselves. That's why soggy peanuts are *always* at bottom, and Brazilian nuts on top. Raisins are oblivious to that simple stratification criteria, and that's why they appear to be randomly mixed at all levels. True story! ]

    In the domain of those who hate them, I think instead that the explanation is even easier: you hate them, but they are the easiest to pick, and they block you from taking the ones you like.

    This is just a specific case of Murphy's law: in facts, the disposition of the nuts in the jar is inherently something that can go wrong, and the result you get is not what you'd like (all Brazilian nuts on the bottom, or, even better, in Larry's jar). This situation comply with Murphy's enunciate "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong"*, so the "Brazil nut effect" can be rewritten simply as a corollary of Murphy's Law, q.e.d.

  37. The Brain says:

    The Vista article on Wikipedia sucks (at least when viewed on Vista)!

    That should keep the little squirts happy.

  38. Mephane says:

    There's actually a very simple explanation:

    The when the jar is being shaken, the some smaller particles can "fall" through the gaps between the larger ones, but for obvious reasons this does not work the other way round.

    Funny fact a lot of people don't know: The same jar volume filled with small particles (of the same density) has a higher mass than one with large particles, as the amount of gaps, i.e. air, is higher the larger the particles. Thus, the center of mass of our jar of nuts also moves down when shaken.

  39. Mc says:

    I have a similar arrangement with Turkish Delight chocolates,  I love them but it turns out quite a few families don't and I recieve small bags of them after Christmas.

  40. Engywuck says:

    well, if the larger ones tend to go to the top there's an easy way to get rid of them if you don't like them: swap bottom and top on the (closed) jar, shake for some time, swap again. voila. All paranuts on the bottom (as long as you don't shake too much again, of course…)

  41. Alexandr Grigoriev says:

    "The same jar volume filled with small particles (of the same density) has a higher mass than one with large particles, as the amount of gaps, i.e. air, is higher the larger the particles."

    If particles of similar size are all gathered together, ratio of air per volume is the same for a given shape, no matter what size. It's only when gaps are filled with smaller particles, you'll have less air.

  42. Timothy Byrd says:

    Uncle: "Whoa, people. Now Wikipedia sucks and you forgot all about Vista?"

    Vista's been replaced by Windows 7.  Wikipedia hasn't been replaced by something better, yet.

  43. Xazzy says:

    Once visited a friend's place.  Their cute six year old daughter took us to the lounge and sat us down while the friend was readying herself.  The little girl even offered us a bowl of almonds.

    Finally the mother arrived and looked at the bowl in horror.  Where's the chocolate, she asked?  Apparently she had sucked all the chocolate off the chocolate almonds and we'd been given the remainder…

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