What is Cassava?

Latin American and Caribbean people use Cassava in most of their cuisines as an essential ingredient. We can’t consume it in raw form as it is poisonous. Therefore, it is mashed or pressed before eating. Cassava is also known as Yuca and is used for cooking chips and bread.

What is Cassava?

What is Cassava?

Cassava is a root vegetable that is mostly used in developing countries. It has a brown, fibrous outer skin and a white inner flesh. It is almost 2 inches wide and 8 inches long. People also use the following terms for Cassava:

  • Yuca
  • Mandioca
  • Manioc
  • Casabe
  • Tapioca

2 cassava tubers on a wooden background

People mistakenly spell it as yucca; however, yucca is something else – an ornamental plant. It is native to the tropical areas of America and Brazil.

It’s widely grown in the Caribbean and Latin America and is an essential root vegetable in their cuisines. Before the arrival of Columbus, Cassava was the vital diet of the Carib, Arawak, and Taino population, mostly in bread. Since it was so stapled for the culture, people admired it.

People living in islands still eat Cassava, where it is piled high at produce markets. Is Cassava toxic? Yes, it can be poisonous if consumed in raw form.

One must peel cassava before consuming it, and it varies in price, ranging from 6-10 times greater than russet potatoes.

 The Cassava’s flesh is white in raw form but turns yellow and a bit translucent after being cooked. It tastes sweet and chewy. 

Cassava consists of essential nutrients and resistant starch and has numerous health benefits. On the other hand, it can have dangerous effects if consumed raw or in excessive amounts. This article answers, ‘what is cassava?’, ‘is cassava toxic?’ Its uses, varieties, and nutrition.

I hope this article would have helped you get your answer to ‘what is cassava?’. Let’s now focus on Cassava varieties

Cassava Varieties

We can find two cassava varieties – one is sweet, and the other is bitter. Both cassava varieties consist of prussic acid (hydrocyanic acid), which can result in cyanide poisoning.

Is cassava toxic? Cassava can be poisonous; therefore, never consume it in raw form. However, thorough cooking and mashing can remove their toxicity. 

Bitter cassava isn’t available in U.S. stores. However, sweet cassava can be found in American markets – frozen or fresh.

Bitter cassava is processed and turned into safe edible flours and starches, which then are used to make bread, cakes, or pastries.

Cassava meal is called farine on the French-influenced islands – a shorter term for farine de manioc.

cassava tubers on a wooden board

Cassava Uses

Cassava uses depends. It can either be used as meat or juice. Remember to peel cassava before using it. Its skin consists of high concentrations of hydrocyanic acid, as well as a bitter taste and fibrous.

Its outer part is more like a bark than a potato; therefore, it’s better to use a paring knife than a vegetable peeler.

Both the ends of cassava must be cut and sliced into four pieces. One at a time put the cassava on the cutting board in a way that the cut-side is down.

Use a paring knife and start cutting from the top of the skin to the bottom to remove it. Try not to take off excess white flesh.

Cassava Nutrition and benefits

Cassava nutrition is higher in protein than white potatoes but has twice the number of calories. While cassava provides vitamins and minerals, the amounts are low and don’t give many benefits.

It also contains antinutrients – compounds that inhibit vitamin and mineral absorption.

Here are 3.5 ounces of boiled cassava nutrients:

  • Calories: 112
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Carbs: 27g
  • Calcium: 2% RDI
  • Thiamine: 20% RDI
  • Riboflavin: 2% RDI
  • Phosphorus: 5% RDI

Small amounts of iron, vitamin C, and niacin are also found in boiled cassava. The average cassava nutrition is unremarkable.

It does provide some fiber, minerals, and vitamins, but the amounts are minimal. Many other root vegetables can provide more than cassava nutrition, such as sweet potatoes and beets.  

cutting cassava on a cutting board with a silver knife

Can Processing Yuca reduce its Nutritional Value?

Peeling, chopping, and cooking cassava can significantly reduce its nutritional value. This happens because a lot of minerals, fibers, resistance starch, and vitamins are destroyed by processing.

Therefore, tapioca and garri are more popular forms of cassava, having minimal nutritional value.

For instance, 1 ounce of tapioca pearls offers your nothing but a few minerals and calories.

Boiling cassava root is a cooking method that holds on to most nutrients, except Vitamin C. It is sensitive to heat and easily leached into the water.

Benefits of Cassava

Cassava is rich in calories, iron, and carbohydrates. It is an excellent source of energy. Adding cassava to your diet can have many positive effects on health. Let’s consider some of the essential health benefits of cassava:

1. A rich source of Calories

3.5 ounce (100g) Cassava consists of 112 calories, which is relatively higher than other root vegetables. This high-calorie count makes cassava a vital crop for developing countries.

However, this increased amount of calories can do more harm than good to the general public.

Consuming high-calorie foods can lead to weight gain and obesity; therefore, eat cassava in moderate and reasonable portions.

2. A cure for Migraine

Vitamin B2 and Riboflavin are present in tubers, which help to cure headaches and migraines. Consuming cassava can help lower constant migraine attacks.

Take 60g of cassava leaves and soak them in water for 2 hours. Later, make the juice out of those soaked leaves. This helps reduce the severity of your migraine.

3. A digestive health booster

Since cassava is rich in dietary fiber, it helps to improve the functions of the body. The insoluble fiber present in cassava helps boost your digestive system and absorbs the poisons present in your intestine. It also lowers inflammation in the digestive tract. 

4. A treatment for Diarrhea

The antioxidant nature of cassava roots can benefit flaccid stools. People suffering from diarrhea should boil the rots in water for an hour and consume them. This allows them to eliminate the bacteria that can cause stomach issues and lower the symptoms of diarrhea. 

5. A vision enhancer

One of the main benefits of cassava is that it improves your eye health. Intake of controlled yuca can help provide vitamins and minerals needed by the body. The presence of Vitamin A helps improve your vision and prevent blindness.

6. A wound healer

The whole cassava plant – its leaves, stems, and roots help to treat and cure wounds. Cassava roots prevent infection in wounds and promote speed healing. 

7. A cure for fever

Cassava is proved beneficial in treating mild fever. Boiled cassava leaves can help relieve fever. One can make potions and drink them to reduce body temperature.

8. A worm Cleaner

Cassava consumption relieves nematode lice present in your stomach and intestines. Cassava roots help in removing worms in the intestine and assist.

9. An appetite booster

Cassava contains carbohydrates and fiber that are beneficial for regaining your appetite. Due to emotional or physical reasons, people who feel weak or have no appetite should add a few cassava pieces to their diet.

10. An energy booster

Since cassava is a significant source of carbohydrates, edible tubers are immensely beneficial in immediately boosting your energy. This helps the brain function properly and supplies energy.

Remember to cook cassava properly before eating, or else it can cause acute poisoning due to cyanide content’s natural presence in the raw form. If not cooked properly, tubers rich in carbohydrates can lead to paralysis or even death.

Potential Side effects of Cassava

Besides having numerous benefits, cassava can also put your health at risk. This is especially true if consumed in raw form or is undercooked.

This can lead to cyanide poisoning. Cassava consists of cyanogenic glycosides – a sugar molecule. These cyanogenic glycosides are transformed into cyanide when consumed.

Cooking allows reducing the cyanogenic content in the roots to acceptable levels. Improper undercooking can lead to a higher risk of poisoning. Due to the smaller body size, risks are greater in children.

Symptoms of cyanide poisoning are:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness

In severe cases, the symptoms might include:

  • Seizures
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Loss of consciousness

Yuca can also affect the thyroid functioning, mainly during pregnancy – not to levels considered threatening. Phytoestrogens present in cassava can be transferred through breast milk; therefore, it must not be eaten during breastfeeding.

peeled cassava on cutting board

How to cook Cassava?

Cassava’s root is gluten, nut-free, and gluten, allowing people with allergies to consume it. Here are some steps to guide you on how to cook cassava:

1. Selecting and Storing Yuca

Cassava can be found in grocery stores and the Caribbean and Latin food markets. Its root is covered in wax, preserving the outer skin as it travels.

Go for the ones that are firm and spotless. Its roots should consist of a clean, fresh scent and white inner part when cut. The best possible way to check if the cassava roots are still fresh or not is by breaking off the end.

Discard it if you see any black specks, discoloration, or lines. Rotten or decaying cassava has a rancid smell and soft brown spots.

Store the unpeeled cassava in a cool, dry place. It lasts there for a week. Once you peel it off, the cassava can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.

Cover it water when in the refrigerator and change the water every two days. You can freeze it for up to three months.

2. Preparing Cassava

Before consuming, cassava must be peeled, cut, and cooked. Due to its hard outer skin, yuca must be peeled with a knife rather than a vegetable peeler.

Before peeling, wash the cassava and cut its ends. Peeling cassava is easier when it’s in pieces; therefore, cut it in 3-4 equal pieces. Make it stand the root up on its end and slice vertically along the edges until you completely take off the skin.

Cooking Cassava

Cassava can be used in a variety of foods due to its mild taste and starchy consistency. It is usually fried to make French fries.

We can also consume it similar to mashed potatoes, combined with butter, roasted garlic, grated cheese, or topped with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Cassava flatbread is a common Caribbean cassava recipe for casabe. It is also used in yuca con mojo – a Cuban cassava dish in garlic sauce.

Boiling Yuca

You can boil cassava in the following ways:

  • Put the peeled and cut yuca in a pot, pour cold water, add a little salt, and bring it to boil.
  • Simmer until tender.
  • Drain well.

Frying Yuca

You can fry cassava by the following steps:

  • Pour 2 inches of vegetable oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan at a temperature of 350 F.
  • Add yuca to the hot oil one by one. Remember not to overcrowd the pan.
  • Fry till yuca turns golden brown.
  • Take them out on paper towels, with the help of a spoon, for the absorption of extra oil.

Other Yuca Recipes To Prepare

  1. Bammy
  2. Yuca With Garlic Sauce
  3. Cassava Dumplings
  4. Jamaican Cassava Pone

Other Vegetables And Fruits 

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Michelle Blackwood, RN

Hi, I’m Michelle, I’m the voice, content creator and photographer behind Healthier Steps. I share vegan and gluten-free recipes because of past health issues. My goal is to help you make healthier choices and show you how healthy eating is easy and delicious.

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