Cassava, also called yuca, mogo, manioc, mandioca, tapioca and kamoting kahoy, a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family) native to South America, is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy, tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates.
It differs from the similarly-spelled yucca, an unrelated fruit-bearing shrub in the Asparagaceae family. Cassava, when dried to a starchy, powdery (or pearly) extract is called tapioca, while its fermented, flaky version is named garri. Refer to Tapioca Flour.
Cassava is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics. Cassava is a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for around 500 million people. Cassava is one of the most drought-tolerant crops, capable of growing on marginal soils. Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava.
Cassava root is a good source of carbohydrates, but a poor source of protein. A predominantly cassava root diet can cause protein-energy malnutrition.
Cassava is classified as sweet or bitter. Like other roots and tubers, Cassava contains anti-nutrition factors and toxins. It must be properly prepared before consumption. Improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication and goiters, and may even cause ataxia or partial paralysis. Nevertheless, farmers often prefer the bitter varieties because they deter pests, animals, and thieves. The more-toxic varieties of Cassava are a fall-back resource (a “food security crop”) in times of famine in some places.
The cassava root is long and tapered, with a firm, homogeneous flesh encased in a detachable rind, about 1mm thick, rough and brown on the outside. Commercial varieties can be 5 to 10 cm in diameter at the top, and around 15 cm to 30 cm long. A woody cordon runs along the root’s axis. The flesh can be chalk-white or yellowish. Cassava roots are very rich in starch, and contain significant amounts of calcium (50 mg/100g), phosphorus (40 mg/100g) and vitamin C (25 mg/100g). However, they are poor in protein and other nutrients. In contrast, cassava leaves are a good source of protein (rich in lysine), but deficient in the amino acid methionine and possibly tryptophan.
Cassava-based dishes are widely consumed wherever the plant is cultivated; some have regional, national, or ethnic importance. Cassava must be cooked properly to detoxify it before it is eaten.
Cassava can be cooked in various ways. The soft-boiled root has a delicate flavour and can replace boiled potatoes in many uses: as an accompaniment for meat dishes, or made into purées, dumplings, soups, stews, gravies, etc. This plant is used in cholent, in some households, as well. Deep fried (after boiling or steaming), it can replace fried potatoes, with a distinctive flavour. In Brazil, detoxified manioc is ground and cooked to a dry, often hard or crunchy meal which is used as a condiment, toasted in butter, or eaten alone as a side dish.
Fufu, eba and tapioca
Fufu is made from the starchy cassava-root flour. Tapioca (or fecula), essentially a flavourless, starchy ingredient produced from treated and dried cassava (manioc) root, is used in cooking. It is similar to sago and is commonly used to make milky pudding similar to rice pudding. Boba tapioca pearls are made from cassava root. It is also used in cereals for which several tribes in South America have used it extensively. It is also used in making cassava cake, a popular pastry. Cassava is used in making eba, a popular food in Nigeria.
Gari is a creamy-white, granular flour with a slightly sour, fermented flavour from fermented, gelatinised fresh cassava tubers. Gari soakings is a delicacy in Ghana that cost less than $AUD1. One can simply soak gari in cold water, add a bit of sugar and roasted groundnut (peanut) to taste, and add whatever quantity of evaporated milk one desires. Gari soakings prepared with coconut water may taste better.
The leaves can be pounded to a fine chaff and cooked as a palaver sauce (as is done in Liberia and Sierra Leone), usually with palm oil, but other vegetable oils can also be used. Palaver sauces contain meat and fish, as well. The leaf chaff must be washed several times to remove the bitterness.
Cassava in Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the leaves are finely cut and boiled and are called mpondu in Lingala, sombe in Swahili or sakasaka in Kikongo. The cassava root flour is also used to make a cassava bread by boiling flour until it is a thick, rubbery ball (bukari in Swahili or luku in Kikongo). The flour is also made into a paste and fermented before boiling after wrapping in banana or other forest leaves. This fermented state is called chikwangue in French or kwanga or nkwanga in Lingala and Kikongo. This last form has a long shelf life and is a preferred food to take on long trips where refrigeration is not possible.
Tapai, getuk and krupuk
In Indonesia, cassava is an important food. It can be cooked by frying or boiling, or processed by fermentation to make tapai and getuk cake, while the starch is made into krupuk crackers. In time of famine or food shortage, cassava is used to replace rice. In 2011, modified cassava flour became common, and some instant noodle producers have used it silently, especially for low-end instant noodles as a part substitute of pricey flour.
The juice of the bitter cassava, boiled to the consistency of thick syrup and flavoured with spices, is called cassareep. It is used as a basis for various sauces and as a culinary flavouring, principally in tropical countries. It is exported chiefly from Guyana, where it started as a traditional recipe with its origins in Amerindian practices.
Farinha de mandioca
In Brazil, a crunchy meal called farinha de mandioca (“manioc flour”) of varying coarseness is produced for use as a condiment, a base for farofa, or a stand-alone side dish. Detoxified manioc roots are ground to a pulp called a massa and squeezed with a device called a tipiti to dry it out (the liquid produced by this may be collected and dried to produce tapioca, locally known as polvilho). The dried massa is then toasted over a large copper stove to produce the dried meal. This process varies regionally and by manioc species, and may include additional steps of re-soaking, dying and re-toasting the flour. Manioc agriculture and refinement to farinha is a major economic activity in the Western Amazon.
Farinha de mandioca and tapioca are the most important caloric staples of the Indigenous peoples of Brazil which already practiced agriculture when Europeans colonized the country, so for Brazilians manioc would be included in its equivalent of the North American three sister crops or the Mesoamerican milpa.
Cassava was also used to make alcoholic beverages. The English explorer and naturalist Charles Waterton reported in Wanderings in South America (1836) that the natives of Guyana used cassava to make liquor, which they abandoned when rum became available. Hamilton Rice, in 1913, also remarked on liquor being made from cassava in the Brazilian rainforest. The Wapishana peoples of Guyana use cassava to produce a fermented alcoholic beverage called parakari. The production of parakari involves a complicated process with thirty different stages, and the use of a sophisticated fermentation technology. The fermentation of parakari involves the use of an amylolytic mold (Rhizopus), and it is the only known fermented drink to be produced by the indigenous peoples of the Americas that involves the use of an amylolytic process.
The native tribes from all over Brazil used made alcoholic beverages made from this native root. These beverages were known by many different names, being most well known as Kasiri and Cauim. In the 16th century Jean de Léry’s published a book named “Voyage to the land of Brazil, otherwise called America” in which it has an account on how the Tupynambas used to make the beverage.
The Tiriós and Erwarhoyanas, indian tribes from northern Brazil and Surinam, make a beverage called sakurá with the sweet manioc variety of cassava, yuca. The same beverage is made by the Jivaro in Ecuador and Peru (the Shuara, Achuara, Aguaruna and Mayna people); they call it nijimanche. As Michael Harner describes it:
The sweet manioc beer (nihamanci or nijiamanchi), is prepared by first peeling and washing the tubers in the stream near the garden. Then the water and manioc are brought to the house, where the tubers are cut up and put in a pot to boil. … The manioc is then mashed and stirred to a soft consistency with the aid of a special wooden paddle. While the woman stirs the mash, she chews handfuls of and spits them back into the pot, a process that may take half an hour or longer. After the mash has been prepared, it is transferred to a beer storage jar and left to ferment. … The resultant liquid tastes somewhat like a pleasingly alcoholic buttermilk and is most refreshing. The Jivaros consider it to be far superior to plain water, which they drink only in emergencies.