(Manihot esculenta or M. utilissima— Family Euphorbiaceae)
Cassava, Manioc/mandioca (Brazilian), Yuca, Tapioca
Cassava is second only to the sweet potato in importance, supplying over 500 million people with their daily food.
It is the only member of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae) that provides food.
A few other relatives are the candlenut, which provides a type of varnish, another provides rubber, and another supplies tallow for tanning.
Native to Central or South America, cassava has been used since prehistoric times. Although Brazil and Indonesia are the principal producing countries, cassava has become an important commodity in many tropical countries. It is marketed mainly in the form of flour, but it can also be eaten as a vegetable or processed into a wide range of other products.
(pronounced YOO-ka and not yuck-a) is usually sold in the English world as cassava. Both words come from the Taino (Arawak), an indigenous people of the Orinoco Basin, who settled in the Lesser and Greater Antilles in pre-Columbian times.
The name refers to the plant and its roots, while cacabi (which became cassava) refers to the bread made from it. The word manioc comes from mandioca of the Tupi language spoken in the Brazilian Amazon and which gave it its botanical name.
The Portuguese took the crop to West Africa, from where it quickly spread to other parts of the world, reaching Sri Lanka in 1786, India in 1794, and Java by 1835.
Today, Thailand is the major producer of tapioca, a processed form of cassava.
Cassava is believed to have been cultivated since at least 2500 BC. It is unknown as a wild plant and may have originated in equatorial South America in the Andean foothills, the Amazon basin, or regions of savannah vegetation.
The earliest archaeological records are from coastal Peru and date from 1000 BCE.
These tubers contain a highly toxic cyanide, which is removed by cooking. Therefore, they should never be eaten raw.
Accounts tell of starving European explorers eating raw cassava and dying at the very moment they thought sustenance had been found. The indigenous Indians used this poison to tip their arrows and blowdarts. Arawak Indians committed suicide by biting into uncooked tubers rather than be tortured by the Conquistadors.
The two substances which react together to produce the deadly poison are a glycoside and an enzyme, forming prussic acid. However, through persistent selection, this danger has been gradually reduced.
The reaction begins slowly as the tubers are uprooted and speeds up when they are cut or peeled and exposed to air. According to crop researchers from the University of Florida, prussic acid is freely soluble in water and driven off by heat, so the ancients learned how to minimize the effects through various soakings and heating processes.
It was the American Indians who bred the two main types of cassava. The bitter has a high quantity of the acid, while the sweet is lower, and found mainly in the skin.
Nearly all tapioca is made from the bitter type. Although cassava can contain toxins, this does not seem to be true of the cultivars brought into the US from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
Only in Africa and Brazil do they grow the high-cyanide types for their special almondy flavour and consequently, only there have they learned how to prepare them properly.
The plant is tall, branched, with toxic latex being present in all parts. The stems become woody with age. The leaves are long, with five to nine lobes. The swollen tubers are cylindrical or tapering to form a cluster just below the soil surface.
They have a bark-like covering and flesh as hard and white as coconut. There are well over 100 different forms, mainly of white and yellow varieties and with almost as many local names, including the Brazilian nandeeba and macapera.
The average weight of the tubers is between eleven and twenty-two pounds. The leaves are a popular green vegetable which safe to eat.
Cassava can remain in the ground for as long as three years without deteriorating, thus being a reserve against starvation.
The tubers are high in carbohydrates (starch), but low in protein. Therefore, in regions where cassava is the predominant food, malnutrition is common; but, if supplemented with a good source of protein, cassava becomes one of the best root vegetables to use.
The starch of the fresh root is equivalent to about one-third that found in rice and half of that found in bread.
Processed in a variety of ways includes various kinds of flour. Farinha in Brazil and gari in Africa are used to make flat breads and other starchy foods.
Cassava is generally eaten mashed or boiled as a vegetable or made into dumplings and cakes.
It can also be mixed with coconut and a sweetener to make biscuits.
Cassava’s unique flavour is essential to the West Indian dish called pepperpot. In Africa, an estimated 82 million tonnes of manioc are produced each year, mainly for the national dish of fufu. The fresh root is washed, peeled, boiled, and pounded with a wooden pestle to make this favoured treat.
Chunks can also be boiled, drained, cooled, and pounded into dough, shaped into egg-sized balls and added to soups and stews. Roots of the sweet form can be roasted like sweet potatoes, baked, or fried in slices.
In Brazil, a superior variety called mandiba is ground extra fine and then pressed. This was the beginning of the modern tapioca process.
In the Western diet, these round, “tapioca” pellets are used to make a special pudding of the same name. According to many a child, the end result of this milk pudding hovers between looking like a multitude of fish eyes or frog spawn.
Tapioca is a term derived from the Tupi-Guarani languages of South America in which the word tipioca referred to the starch produced from the cassava root. The Spanish and Portuguese adapted this name, which was later adopted by the English as tapioca.
The starch is extracted by washing, peeling, and grinding the roots to a fine pulp, which is then passed over a series of screens to remove root fibers. In some processes, it may be further refined in settling basins or centrifuges.
The moist, starchy mass is dried during which time, it will form small, uneven, milky white balls known as pearl tapioca.
High grade tapioca has a brilliant white colour and used like starch acquired from other sources. The tapioca balls swell and thicken the liquid in which it is cooked.
Special cooking, grinding, and screening methods are used to produce the instant. Pearl tapioca requires longer soaking and yields larger lumps than the instant.