Cassava, a resilient crop that is a staple food in developing countries. What are its benefits and pitfalls?

Cassava is one of the most cultivated crops after wheat, rice and maize and provides the most carbohydrates and energy of any food crop.

Want to know more about it?

For example, what are its health benefits and risks?

What does it have to do with tapioca?

Or how to use it in the kitchen?

You will find all this and much more in our article!

What exactly is cassava?

Cassava is a genus of plants from the tuber family that originates from South America. One of its representatives is the edible cassava, which is known mainly for its starch-rich root tubers, which are widely consumed around the world and are the main source of calories and carbohydrates for people in many countries. It is also called cassava or yuca. The taste of cassava root is mild, earthy, sweet and nutty, with a hint of bitterness. You can eat it whole, grated, or ground into flour and used in bread and cookies. Cassava root is also used to make tapioca, a type of starch. Cassava has a brown, fibrous skin and snow-white flesh.

Cassava root.

Health benefits of consuming cassava

Cassava has many health benefits such as:

Contains resistant starch

Cassava is high in resistant starch, which has properties similar to those of soluble fiber. Eating foods high in resistant starch can benefit our health in several ways. First, resistant starch nourishes the beneficial bacteria in our gut and can help reduce inflammation and promote digestive health.

Second, resistant starch has been studied for its ability to improve metabolic health and reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. These benefits are likely related to improved blood sugar management, increased feelings of fullness, and reduced appetite.

It is worth noting that processed cassava products such as tapioca tend to contain less resistant starch than cooked cassava root. Interestingly, cooling the cooked cassava root can further increase its resistant starch content.

It is a good source of vitamin C

Cassava contains a generous dose of vitamin C – about 20% of the recommended daily dose in 100 grams. Vitamin C plays a key role in many aspects of health, including immunity. In fact, research shows that vitamin C can help protect against oxidative stress and support the function of immune cells in our body. Vitamin C also protects against skin damage and stimulates the production of collagen, a type of protein found in our bodies, in our bones, skin, muscles and joints.

Side effects of consuming cassava

Although there are some advantages to including cassava in your diet, there are also disadvantages to consider.

It has a high calorie content

Cassava contains 191 calories in 100 grams, which is a lot compared to other root vegetables. By comparison, the same serving size of sweet potatoes has 90 calories, while the same amount of carrots has 35 calories. Due to its high calorie content, it is an important staple crop in many countries. However, keep in mind that consuming more calories than you burn can contribute to weight gain over time. For this reason, it is best to enjoy cassava in moderation as part of a balanced diet. In general, try to stick to about 1/3–1/2 cup (73–113 grams) per serving.

May be harmful if eaten raw

Cassava can be dangerous if eaten raw, in large quantities, or if improperly prepared. Raw cassava contains chemicals called cyanogenic glycosides. If you eat them, they can release cyanide into your body. Regular consumption of cyanogenic glycosides or consuming them in large quantities increases the risk of cyanide poisoning.

Cyanide poisoning is associated with thyroid and nerve dysfunction, paralysis, organ damage, and even death. Since protein helps the body get rid of cyanide, those with overall poor nutritional status and low protein intake are more likely to experience these effects. Soaking and cooking cassava reduces the content of these harmful chemicals.

Its processed versions may be lower in nutrients

By processing cassava by peeling, chopping and cooking, the content of vitamins, minerals, fiber and resistant starch is significantly reduced. However, the root must be boiled before consumption to avoid side effects. Some older studies have found that cooking cassava root preserves more nutrients compared to other cooking methods such as frying.

The exception is vitamin C, which is sensitive to heat and easily leaches into water. In addition, it is worth noting that some popular, processed forms of cassava, including tapioca and garri, have limited nutritional value. For example, tapioca pearls are high in calories but lack fiber and other important micronutrients. Therefore, it is best to stick to less processed varieties of cassava whenever possible and opt for cooked meals to maximize the nutritional value.

Nutritional values of cassava

In the following table, look at the comparison of the nutritional values of different types of boiled root vegetables, including cassava in 100 grams.

Nutritional values Cassava
Energy 191 calories 43 kcal 86 kcal 68 kcal 91 kcal
Fats 3 g 0.3 g 0.1 g 3 g 2.8 g
Carbohydrates 40 g 10 g 20 g 9.6 g 16 g
Sugars 1.8 g 4.9 g 0.9 g 1.7 g 4.7 g
Fiber 1.9 g 2.9 g 2 g 1.9 g 3.5 g
Proteins 1.4 g 1 g 1.7 g 1.6 g 1.3 g

Vitamins and minerals in cassava

Also look at the amount of minerals and vitamins that 100 grams of different types of cooked root vegetables contain.

Vitamins and minerals Cassava
Vitamin A 13.00 mcg 824.00 mcg 0.00 mcg 12.00 mcg 11.00 mcg
Vitamin B1 0.082 mg 0.062 mg 0.098 mg 0.047 mg 0.080 mg
Vitamin B2 0.048 mg 0.057 mg 0.019 mg 0.060 mg 0.050 mg
Vitamin B3 0.845 mg 0.970 mg 1,312 mg 0.693 mg 0.701 mg
Vitamin B6 0.100 mg 0.129 mg 0.269 mg 0.172 mg 0.106 mg
Vitamin B9 24.00 mcg 17.00 mcg 9.00 mcg 7.00 mcg 56.00 mcg
Vitamin C 18.2 mg 5.2 mg 7.4 mg 7.1 mg 12.6 mg
Vitamin E 0.52 mg 0.68 mg 0.01 mg 0.69 mg 1.26 mg
Vitamin K 4.5 mcg 13.7 mcg 2.2 mcg 45.2 mcg 3.3 mcg
Calcium 17.00 mg 34.00 mg 8.00 mg 45.00 mg 36.00 mg
Copper 0.10 mg 0.05 mg 0.17 mg 0.07 mg 0.13 mg
Iron 0.28 mg 0.31 mg 0.31 mg 0.73 mg 0.56 mg
Magnesium 22.00 mg 12.00 mg 20.00 mg 21.00 mg 28.00 mg
Phosphorus 28.00 mg 36.00 mg 40.00 mg 120.00 mg 67.00 mg
Selenium 0.70 mcg 0.10 mcg 0.30 mcg 0.70 mcg 1.70 mcg
Potassium 282.00 mg 332.00 mg 328.00 mg 313.00 mg 356.00 mg
Sodium 146.00 mg 192.00 mg 241.00 mg 235.00 mg 132.00 mg
Zinc 0.36 mg 0.25 mg 0.27 mg 0.34 mg 0.25 mg

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Where to buy cassava and how to store it?

You can get cassava either online or at a Makro store. You can buy tapioca in any health food store, in e-shops or in the healthy food section of a larger supermarket.

Unpeeled cassava should be stored in a cool, dry place such as a pantry. Once you peel cassava, it will last up to a month in the fridge if you put it in water, changing the water every two days. You can also freeze it for several months.

How to use cassava in the kitchen?

It is important to properly prepare cassava to avoid its potential side effects. And how to do that?

  • Peel him. The cassava root bark contains most of the cyanide-producing compounds, so it’s a good idea to dispose of it before cooking and eating the vegetable.
  • Get it wet. Soaking cassava in water for 48-60 hours before cooking will help reduce the harmful chemicals.
  • Cook him. Since raw cassava contains harmful chemicals, it is essential to thoroughly cook, fry or bake it before consumption.
  • Combine it with protein. Eating protein along with cassava can be beneficial as this macronutrient helps rid your body of toxic cyanide.

How to properly peel cassava?

Since the skin of cassava is more like a peel than a potato skin, it is best to use a knife instead of a vegetable peeler. Cut off both ends of the cassava and then cut it into about four pieces. One by one, place each piece on a cutting board (cut side down) and use a knife to remove the cut skin from the top down (this technique is similar to peeling a pineapple). Rotate the piece of cassava and continue to cut off the skin. Quarter each piece and remove the woody core like a pineapple.

And what can you prepare from cassava?

Cassava is incredibly versatile. It can be boiled, baked, stewed, grilled, fried, mashed into a puree, you can use it to make fries and chips or add it to stewed meat, omelets or soups. It is most often mashed, sprinkled with salt, pepper and lime juice and served with meat. It can be used to make dough for empanadas and tamales, as well as tapioca, which thickens puddings, or it can be ground into flour, which is then used in grain-free bread, cookies, tortillas and pancakes.

Try our recipes for gluten-free cookies , which not only celiacs will enjoy!

Cassava fries on a plate with a bowl of dip.

How are cassava flour and tapioca different from each other?

Both cassava flour and tapioca have many of the same properties, but there are a few differences between them. And which ones are they?

Characteristics Tapioca Cassava flour
Production The cassava root is grated and rinsed, leaving behind the starchy water. When this water evaporates, a white residue is left behind, which is tapioca. It is processed from the whole blanched cassava root and then dried and ground into a fine textured flour.
Taste No flavor. Soft, nutty.
Use It is suitable where you want to keep the original taste of your recipe, you just need to thicken it.
It is mainly used in puddings, cakes and soups.
It enhances the texture of food and adds a delicate and delicious flavor to recipes.
It’s a great gluten-free substitute for wheat flour that you can use to make tortillas, cookies, waffles, pizza, and more.
Health benefits It has less nutrients than cassava flour.
It is an excellent source of calcium and iron.
It contains more fiber and thus supports the digestive system, controls blood sugar and lowers cholesterol.
It also has a higher content of protein, minerals and vitamin C.
A collage of two photos - the first is a bowl of tapioca flour with a spoonful of tapioca next to it, and the second is a bowl of cassava flour.

You can safely use both processed cassava products without any pre-cooking. Plus, they’re far more nutritious than gluten-containing flours, making them popular alternatives in the fitness community.

Cassava flour can usually be used in recipes that call for tapioca. However, it is best suited for baking. Tapioca, on the other hand, is less versatile due to its lack of fiber, so it won’t work as well as cassava flour in baking.

You can also find tapioca pearls in stores, which are most often used to make tapioca pudding or bubble tea. Before use, it is soaked in cold water for several hours, only then is it cooked.

Cultivation of cassava

Cassava is a perennial plant with showy, almost palmate (fan-shaped) leaves that resemble castor plant leaves, but are divided into five to nine lobes. The fleshy roots of cassava look similar to dahlia tubers, and there are different varieties of cassava that range from low herbs to shrubs and even unbranched trees. Some are adapted to dry areas of alkaline soil and others to acidic mud banks along rivers.

As its Amazonian origin suggests, cassava grows well in tropical and subtropical climates, but is incredibly adaptable. One of the world’s most drought-resistant crops, it can withstand various harsh conditions and thrives even in poor-quality soils. Durability and adaptability have made cassava a predominant food source throughout the developing world, and today it helps feed more than 800 million people in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Nigeria, Thailand, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are its biggest producers.

Here, you can only try to grow cassava in a heated greenhouse. You can get seeds online, but you can also grow adult tubers.

The history of cassava

Evidence suggests that cassava originated in Brazil, where it was grown, processed and used to make bread and porridge. It then spread to Central America and the Caribbean in pre-Columbian times. When the Portuguese imported slaves from Africa around 1550, they used cassava in flour form as a supply for their crew, and soon after began growing it along the coast of West Africa. The Portuguese then introduced cassava to the whole of Central and East Africa, to Madagascar, Ceylon, India and Indonesia. Cassava was probably first brought to Asia by the Spanish during their occupation of the Philippines. In all these regions, people have incorporated cassava into their cuisine.

Today, cassava is the primary source of calories in tropical regions around the world and the sixth most important crop in the world.

Brazil still remains the largest single producer of cassava, accounting for 86 percent of Latin American production.

Milan & Ondra

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