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Cassava nutrition facts

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. Its sweet, chewy underground tuber is one of the popular edible root-vegetables. Indigenous people of many parts of Africa, Asia and South American continents used it as staple food source since 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).

yuca or cassava root 
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. Completely grown plant reaches to a height of about 2-4 m. Under the cultivation fields, its cut-stem sections are planted just as in the case of sugarcanes. After about 8-10 months of plantation; long, globular roots or tubers grow in a radial pattern downwards deep into the soil from the bottom end of stem upto 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.

Health benefits of Cassava

  • 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 complex carbohydrate sources.

  • Cassava is very low in fats and protein than in cereals and pulses. Nonetheless, it has more protein than that of other tropical food sources like yam, potato, plantains, etc.

  • As in other roots and tubers, cassava too is free from gluten. Gluten-free starch is 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 bone mass building by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bones. It also has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.

  • Cassava is a moderate source of 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 important minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese for many inhabitants in the tropical belts. In addition, 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.

Selection and storage

cassava field
cassava and taro
Cassava plantation.
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 around the seasons. Buy well-formed, hard, cylindrical tuber that is heavy for its size. Cleaned, and processed yuca available in the US markets which generally imported from the Central America 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 inside the refrigerator for upto three days.

Preparation and serving methods

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 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:

In order to make yuca safe to eat, boil the cut sections in water until tender with sea salt added for about 10-15 minutes. Drain and discard the water before using boiled cassava in various cooking recipes.

fried cassava root and fish
Fried yuca cubes with fish, a Brazilian delicacy. Photo courtesy: Jorge Andrade
cassava chips
Cassava chips.
Photo courtesy: Marita

  • Cassava tubers are popular 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 snack.

  • Starch rich yuca (manioc) pulp is sieved to prepare white pearls (topioca-starch), popular as sabudana in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The pearls used in sweet pudding, savory fritters, sabudana-kichri, 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 is then savored with stews.

  • Cassava chips, and flakes are also widely eaten as a snack.

Safety profile

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). It is 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 consumption of monotonous cassava diet may result in chronic illness like tropical ataxic neuropathy (TAN) and diabetic mellitus, especially among rural and tribal inhabitants who are engaged in processing and consumption of exclusively cassava products. (Medical disclaimer).

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Further resources:

1.Cassava- A guide to sustainable production-FAO. (Link opens in new window).

2. USDA National Nutrient Database.

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