Cassava (yuca or manioc) is a nutty flavored, starch-tuber in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae) of plants. It thought to have originated from the South-American forests. It's sweet, and chewy underground tuber is one of the traditional edible root vegetables. Indigenous people of many parts of Africa, Asia, and South American continents used it as a staple food source for centuries. Together with other tropical roots and starch-rich foods like yam, taro, plantains, potato, etc., it too is an indispensable part of carbohydrate diet for millions of inhabitants living in these regions.
Some of the common names include manioc, or mandioca in Brazil, manihot, tapioca and yuca. Scientific name: Manihot esculenta (Crantz).
|Cassava roots in a market.
Photo courtesy: Karin Dalzeil
Cassava is a perennial plant that grows best under tropical, moist, fertile, and well-drained soils. The completely grown plant reaches about 2-4 m in height. In the fields, its cut-stem sections planted into the ground to propagate just as in the case of sugarcanes. After about 8-10 months of the plantation; long, globular roots or tubers grow in a radial pattern downwards deep into the soil from the bottom end of the stem up to the depth of 2-4 feet.
Each tuber weighs one to several pounds depending upon the cultivar type and feature gray-brown, rough, woody textured skin. Its interior flesh features white, starch-rich sweet-flavored meat, that should be eaten only after cooking.
Cassava has nearly twice the calories than that of potatoes and perhaps one of the highest value calorie food for any tropical starch-rich tubers and roots. 100 g root provides 160 calories. Their calorie value mainly comes from sucrose which accounts for more than 69% of total sugars. Amylose (16-17%) is another major source of complex carbohydrates.
As in other roots and tubers, cassava also free from gluten. The gluten-free starch used in special food preparations for celiac disease patients.
Young tender cassava (yuca) leaves are a good source of dietary proteins and vitamin-K. Vitamin-K has a potential role in the bone strengthening by stimulating osteoblastic cells activity in the bones. It also has an established role in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.
Cassava carries some of the valuable B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, thiamin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin, and pantothenic acid.
Itis one of the chief sources of some essential minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese for many inhabitants in the tropical belts. Also, it has adequate amounts of potassium (271 mg per 100g or 6% of RDA). Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
Photo courtesy: treesftf.
|Taro and yuca, two common tropical starch-rich crops.
Photo courtesy: Caffe Vita.
Cassava roots can be readily available in the markets all over the seasons. Buy well-formed, firm, cylindrical tuber that is heavy for its size. Cleaned, and processed yuca, imported from the Central America is available in the US markets. It is waxed, and therefore, appears bright and shiny.
Avoid old stocks as they are out of flavor and less appetizing. Do not buy if the tubers feature cuts, breaks in the skin. Also, avoid those with mold, soft spots, and blemishes.
Fresh roots can be kept at room temperature for about 5-7 days. However, peeled and cut sections should be placed in cold water and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Cassava should never be eaten raw as the root composes small quantities of cyanogenic glycosides, especially hydroxycyanic acid. Cyanide compounds interfere with cellular metabolism by inhibiting the cytochrome oxidase enzyme inside the human body. Peeling followed by cooking ensures them safe for consumption by removing these compounds.
Cassava roots available in the USA supermarkets are waxed to help enhance their shelf life. To prepare, just wash the whole root in cold water, dry mop, and trim the ends. Cut into 2-3 inches long quarters. Using a paring knife, then peel its outer skin until you find white flesh inside. Do not use vegetable peeler since its skin is very tough. Cut away any strings running along its inner core. Yuca cut sections tend to turn brownish discoloration upon exposure to air as in potato, so place them immediately in a bowl of cold water.
Cassava is one of the common vegetables featuring in a variety of everyday traditional dishes in many Caribbean, Africa, and Asia countries. Together with other tropical roots like yam, taro, plantains, potato, etc., it too is an Integral part of the diet in these regions.
Here are some serving tips:
To make yuca safe for human consumption, boil the cut sections in salted water until tender for about 10-15 minutes. Drain and discard the water before using boiled cassava in various cooking recipes.
|Fried yuca cubes with fish, a Brazilian delicacy. Photo courtesy: Jorge Andrade|
Photo courtesy: Marita
Cassava tubers are familiar ingredients in fries, stew-fries, soups, and savory dishes all over the tropic regions.
In general, cassava sections are fried in oil until brown and crisp and served with salt, and pepper seasoning in many Caribbean islands as a snack.
Starch rich yuca (manioc) pulp is sieved to prepare white pearls (tapioca-starch), popular as sabudana in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The beads employed in sweet pudding, savory fritters, sabudana-khichri, papad, etc.
Cassava flour is also used to make bread, cake, cookies, etc. in several Caribbean islands.
In Nigeria and Ghana, cassava flour is used along with yams to make fufu (polenta), which then savored with stews.
Cassava chips and flakes are also widely eaten as a snack.
Cassava root contains natural toxic cyanogenic glycoside compounds linamarin and methyl-linamarin. Injury to tuber releases linamarase enzyme from the ruptured cells, which then converts linamarin to poisonous hydrocyanic acid (HCN). Therefore, consumption of raw cassava root results in cyanide poisoning with symptoms of vomiting, nausea, dizziness, stomach pains, headache, and death. In general, cyanide content is substantially higher in its outer part and peel. While peeling lessens the cyanide content, sun drying, and soaking followed by boiling in salt-vinegar water results in evaporation of this compound and makes it safe for human consumption.
Prolong use of monotonous cassava diet may lead to chronic illness like tropical ataxic neuropathy (TAN) and Diabetes, especially among rural and tribal inhabitants who purely engaged in processing and consumption of cassava products. (Medical disclaimer).
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1.Cassava- A guide to sustainable production-FAO. (Link opens in new window).