Cassava is one of the most prominent starchy food crops with versatile use. It is a staple in South American, Caribbean, and African cultures. In this article, you’ll learn more about the array of products and recipes you can make with this versatile root crop.
What is Cassava – Yuca – Manioc
Cassava, also known as yuca or manioc, is a very old tropical root vegetable. It is an edible starchy root tuber rich in carbohydrates like potatoes, yams, and taro root (cocoyam). It can be boiled, fried, baked, or roasted. Yuca root has a relatively mild flavor that makes it easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes.
It is consumed in various parts of the world. It is primarily grown in the tropics because it is a drought-tolerant tuber and can withstand harsh growing conditions.
It’s not only delicious when prepared simply with salt and pepper—it’s also great when roasted or fried, or used as an ingredient in soups and stews.
An important crop
Yuca, or cassava (Manihot esculenta), is an important food crop in many tropical countries. It is a tropical plant that originated in South America (probably, present-day Brazil) and was taken to Africa by the Portuguese in the 1500s. Yuca has spread all over Africa since then. Now it grows mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, East, and Central Africa, and Madagascar.
This root crop has become the source of livelihood for about 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, in fact, it’s now one of Nigeria’s top five export crops!
There are more protein, carbohydrates, and calories in yuca root than in potatoes. Therefore, athletes and individuals who are active will benefit from it. Along with rice and corn, yuca is a major source of carbohydrates in the tropics.
Potatoes have a glycemic index of 72 to 88, depending on the cooking method, whereas cassava has a GI of 46.
Cassava root is very high in carbohydrates. Nutritionally, it is a good source of dietary fiber, as well as vitamin c, thiamine, folic acid, manganese, and potassium; however, the composition of these nutrients varies with crop variety, soil conditions, climate, and other environmental factors.
Cassava can be consumed in many ways, as it has versatile uses. You can grate, steam, mash, ground it into flour for baking, cook and serve with stew, and grill it.
It can be processed into an array of edibles and non-edible products. It is rich in carbohydrates and calories. Some people ferment cassava before using it, while others process it for baking and boiling before eating.
Yuca root can be processed into flour, bread, tapioca, mashed cassava, chips, cake, starch, and gluten-free flour products like tortillas, waffles, cookies, pizza crust, and so much more.
It is also used in making non-edibles like animal feed, medications, bioethanol for fuel, manufacturing fabrics, paper, and building materials.
Is cassava toxic?
Naturally, raw cassava root is toxic because it contains cyanide, making it unsafe to eat. In addition, cassava absorbs pollutants naturally from the environment. If you eat it raw, you will likely experience cyanide poisoning, increased risk of goiter, severe paralysis, or even death.
Although cassava contains cyanide-laced hydrocyanic acid, it is nonetheless safe to eat when properly prepared.
Varieties of Cassava
There are two types of cassava – sweet and bitter. Both types have cyanide compounds, making them unsafe to eat without undergoing different processes. However, the sweet cassava has less cyanide. It requires less processing than the bitter cassava.
On the other hand, the bitter variety contains high cyanide and requires thorough processing to make it edible and safe for consumption.
What does yuca taste like?
Yuca tuber is subtly sweet, earthy, nutty, and mildly bitter. A combination of these tastes makes it neutral. So, you can cook it with bold-flavored ingredients, and it will come out well.
Ways of removing cyanide from cassava
These are some of the effective ways of removing cyanide from manioc roots.
- Drying– this can reduce the amount of cyanide concentration in these tubers. You must combine drying with other processes because drying alone may not make it safe to eat.
- Soaking – Soak the tuber in water to leach out the toxic cyanide.
- Fermenting – You can also ferment the whole tuber or grate it into pieces before drying it.
- Roasting – roasting the tubers reduces the cyanide content too.
- Boiling – You can boil it to make it safe for consumption. You may change the cooking water multiple times to leach all the cyanide.
In most cases, you must combine at least two methods to make it safe for consumption, especially when using the bitter variety.
Where to Buy Cassava
You will get yuca root in local grocery stores around. You can also get it in Latin, African, or Caribbean markets. If you don’t get raw yuca root, you can buy it frozen in the freezer section of most grocery stores.
When you are buying fresh, look out for a good and firm cassava. A good one smells fresh and is snowy white after peeling.
- Peeled Cassava – You can store peeled yuca in the freezer or refrigerate it. If you are refrigerating, keep the grated or sliced tuber in a container with water covering them. Ensure you change the water every other day to stay fresh in the refrigerator. Peeled cassava can last up to a month in your refrigerator.
- Unpeeled cassava – Store in your pantry or any other cool, dry place at home.
Some cassava recipes you can try include:
- Yuca fries are fried slices of cassava served with dipping sauce as a side dish or snack.
- Creamed and mashed cassava – like mashed potatoes, this recipe combines mashed cassava with roasted garlic, nutmeg, and milk.
- Yuca con Mojo – a typical Cuban dish. It is a combination of cooked yuca served with mojo sauce.
- Cassava cake (Bammy) – a Jamaican recipe featuring cake baked with cassava flour and soaked in coconut milk.
- Garri – this is a Nigerian meal that can be taken like cereal or made into a swallow and served with soup.
- West Africa Fufu – Cassava is also used to make fufu swallow served with any soup of your choice.
- Casabe – A Caribbean flatbread made from cassava flour.