In Latin American and Africa, the cassava root is a traditionally cultivated vegetable for their daily diet. Apart from these two continents, the root vegetable is also used in a number of countries as a treat. Additionally, it is treated to produce tapioca, a starch commonly used in different cuisines throughout the world. Because of how in demand it is, dried cassava is now available in a number of specialty stores.
Scientifically, cassava is called Manihot esculenta. Its other common names include manioc, mandioca, yuca, tapioca, or simply manihot. The cassava root is considered as a starchy tuber that belongs to the spurge family of plants that frequent the South American region. With its nutty flavor and sweet crunchy taste, it is a popular ingredient for indigenous individuals from different parts of Asia, Africa, and South America.
Like other tropical roots such as potatoes, yam, taro, and plantains, the cassava is rich in starch. Despite being used in a number of diets, the cassava root is really not that nutritious. As a matter of fact, the root crop can be highly toxic due to its cyanide content. Because of this, it needs to be carefully handled and treated before the dish can be prepared for consumption. The more nutritious part of the cassava plant is its leaves, which contain more protein and nutritional value.
Where Does it Grow?
Since cassavas are perennial plants, they grow best under tropical, fertile, moist, and well-drained soils. In cultivation fields, their cut-stem sections are typically planted like sugarcanes. When they are full grown, they reach a height of between 2 to 4 meters. After 8 to 10 months of planting, the long, globular roots grow in a radial pattern downwards into the soil up to a depth of 2 to 4 feet.
Normally, each of these tubers has a weight of one to several plants. Depending on its cultivar type, they could also feature a gray-brown color with a woody and rough textured skin on the outside. Meanwhile, its interior flesh has a white starchy meat that can only be consumed after it has been properly cooked.
Types of Cassava
Generally, there are two types of cassava—the bitter cassava and the sweet cassava. Comparing between the two, the bitter cassava contains a higher level of cyanide compared to the sweet variety. When preparing bitter cassava, it should be left out in the sun so that its cyanide can be dispersed before it is consumed. It can also be grated and soaked so it can be safe to consume. Once the cyanide has been eliminated, the root can be ground into a flour, processed for tapioca extract or kept whole. The sweet cassava variety, on the other hand, can easily be peeled and prepared like a typical root vegetable.
Health Benefits of Cassava
There are plenty of individuals who opt to go for cassava instead of eating potatoes. The reason behind this is because they feel like it is a healthier alternative. Here are some of the health benefits you can get when you consume cassava:
• Cassava contains almost twice the number of calories than potatoes. This calorie content mainly comes from its sucrose. Because of this, the cassava is a more preferred choice by those who are trying to lower their caloric intake.
• Compared to cereals and pulses, cassava has very low fat and protein content. Yet it still has more protein over yam, plantains, potatoes, and the like.
• Yuca leaves can be an excellent source of vitamin K and dietary proteins. By consuming this, you can help build bone mass and promote osteotrophic activity in your bones. This has also been known to help treat Alzheimer’s disease since the neuronal damage to the brain is limited.
• Cassava is gluten-free, which means it is the perfect choice for healthy diets. It is also useful in preparing food for patients with celiac disease.
• Cassava is a major source of important minerals such as copper, iron, zinc, manganese and magnesium. It also contains an adequate amount of potassium, which is important in helping regulate blood pressure and heart rate.
• It contains valuable B vitamins such as riboflavin, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), thiamin, folates, and pantothenic acid.
Buying Guide for Cassava
Thankfully, the demand for cassava has helped lead the root crop to be readily available in markets throughout the world. In the US, yucca is cleaned, processed, and readily available in the markets. These are usually imported from Central America and have been waxed to create a bright, shiny appearance.
When you’re buying cassava, make sure that you avoid old stocks. This is because they don’t contain that much flavor and are actually less appetizing. Avoid buying tubers that have cuts and breaks on their skin. You should also avoid those with soft spots, blemishes, and mold.
Once you have bought fresh cassava roots, you need to store them in room temperature within 5-7 days. If you purchased peeled and cut sections, they should be placed in cold water and stored in a refrigerator. You may store this up to three days only.
Cassava should never be eaten raw. This is because it contains small quantities of cyanogenic glycosides, particularly hydroxycyanic acid, which could be toxic. The effect of this is that the cyanide compounds will interfere with cellular metabolism as it inhibits cytochrome-oxidase enzymes inside the body. Some of the symptoms associated with cyanide poisoning caused by eating raw cassava include:
• Stomach pains
To assure that you are eating cassava properly, it is best to peel the crop and cook it so it can be safe for consumption. This will help assure you that the cyanide from the cassava has been completely removed.
There are plenty of ways to prepare cassava. Some eat it like it were potatoes—boiling it and eating it with butter. If you would like to have a healthy diet, you can start consuming cassavas instead of potatoes. This way, you can consume lesser calories yet already be full for a longer period of time.