Cassava is a crop for everyone

Cassava is a woody shrub native to South America with a tuberous root providing the third largest source of starch carbohydrates in the tropics.  The plant was introduced to Africa from Brazil in the 1500’s by Portuguese traders, and has since become a staple crop on the continent.  Tolerant of poor soil, varying altitudes, and little moisture, Cassava is a perennial grown as a crop in sup-tropical China, India, Thailand and other parts of Asia. 

Uses of cassava are found around the globe.
Growing from 3 feet to a less common 13 feet in height, this relative of Spurge contains cyanogenic glucosides which can create the toxic compound, cyanide, if eaten without proper preparation.  Although Cassava has differing levels between the bitter and sweet varieties, the plant must be soaked in water, rinsed, baked or dried prior to consumption.  There are some concerns that drying and crushing the leaves still releases dangerous gases for those in proximity.
The leaves are harvested prior to maturity, cooked and eaten as a vegetable mainly in Africa and parts of the Pacific.  Many uses of cassava require that the root be shredded or ground into a flour, and it can be considered a potato substitute in most cooking.  Being gluten free, there has been a growing demand for the flour by Western cultures where gluten intolerance is a growing concern.  Tapioca pearls are made from this flour and have been a staple in kitchens for years in the EU, UK, and the USA.  A Japanese inventor uses cassava for a wind break and can harvest a few roots at a time, grate them, place in water to let the starch settle, and then use the starch to make a pancake.

Pounded and combined with other root vegetables, various cultures have uses for cassava root either boiled, in bread, fried, with spices in cakes, as dough stuffed with various fillings, puddings,  fermented and used as an alcoholic beverage, or boiled and coated with sugar.  Regional names for these dishes vary   Fufu may be one of the most basic of recipes, made by simply boiling the cassava root, pounding it into a dough, and then pinching pieces off to enjoy with a bowl of soup.
Uses for cassava include medicinally for headaches and irritable bowel syndrome, while the European Economic Community is incorporated cassava chips, pellets, and meal into animal feed.  Properly prepared, Cassava is a food source for the entire planet.

Written by Staff Writer

August 2012

For other articles about cassava, click here