Nutrition And Toxicity of Cassava
Cassava is a vegetable that is a staple ingredient of many diets worldwide. It is a good source of nutrients, but people should avoid eating it raw.
Raw cassava contains cyanide, which is toxic to ingest, so it is vital to prepare it correctly. In the United States, people grind cassava down to make tapioca, which they eat as a pudding or use as a thickening agent.
Cassava is a root vegetable. It is the underground part of the cassava shrub, which has the Latin name Manihot esculenta. Like potatoes and yams, it is a tuber crop. Cassava roots have a similar shape to sweet potatoes.
People can also eat the leaves of the cassava plant. Humans living along the banks of the Amazon River in South America grew and consumed cassava hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus first voyaged there.
Today, more than 80 million throughout the tropics grow cassava, and it is a primary component of the diet of more than 800 million people around the world. It is popular because it is a hardy crop that is resistant to drought and does not require much fertilizer, although it is vulnerable to bacterial and viral diseases.
People prepare and eat cassava in various ways in different parts of the world, with baking and boiling being the most common methods. In some places, people ferment cassava before using it.
It is essential to peel cassava and never eat it raw. It contains dangerous levels of cyanide unless a person cooks it thoroughly before eating it.
Dishes that people can make using cassava include:
- bread, which can contain cassava flour only, or both cassava and wheat flour
- French fries
- mashed cassava
- cassava chips
- cassava bread soaked in coconut milk
- cassava cake
- cassava in coconut sauce
- yuca con mojo, a Cuban dish that combines cassava with a sauce comprising citrus juices, garlic, onion, cilantro, cumin, and oregano
In addition to eating cassava, people also use it for:
- making tapioca, which is a common dessert food
- making starch and flour products, which people can use to make gluten-free bread
- feeding animals
- making medications, fabrics, paper, and building materials, such as plywood
Scientists may eventually be able to replace high-fructose corn syrup with cassava starch. Researchers are also hoping that cassava could be a source of the alcohol that manufacturers use to make polystyrene, PVC, and other industrial products.