Cassava? What is that? And why are you dedicating a post to it?
No, it is not only because I am a big fan of cassava– but also because it is the third-largest source of carbohydrates in the tropics, consumed by about half a billion people all around the globe, and capable of growing in marginal soils. This ancient vegetable root is one of the pillars of Brazilian cuisine, an occupies an honored place in many other cultures as well, including Central and South American, African, and Asian. What about in American culture? Well, believe or not, cassava has likely been more of a presence at your table than you may imagine, and with globalization, it will become even more so. Huh???
What do you think your beloved tapioca pudding is made from? When you visit the beverage kiosk at the mall and order a bubble tea, what do you think that are you consuming? Not so far from the potato shelf at the Walmart supermarket (among other chains), what do you think that long, thick, brown-skinned vegetable root is? Ah, and did you know what the main ingredient of those famous Brazilian cheese rolls (pão de queijo) served at your favorite churrascaria is? Or what ingredient is featured in many other Cuban, Puerto Rican, Filipino, or Indonesian dishes that you may dearly love?
As I mentioned, you have likely been eating cassava or dishes made with its derivatives without even realizing it. If not yet, due to the influx of immigrants to this country and the influence of their cuisines, you probably will, sooner or later. Believe me!
Moreover, with the increasing number of people in the US who have been or will be diagnosed with celiac disease, cassava and its derivatives are ideal for consumption because they are naturally gluten-free foods.
OK!!! But what is cassava?
Cassava, also known as yuca (not yucca), mandioca, aipim, macaxeira, or manioc root, is a starchy, tuberous root native to South America, which is rich in carbohydrates, calcium, and vitamin C, but deficient in protein and other nutrients. It is long and thick, and has an outer shiny brown skin with a white, firm interior. Its center contains a woody fiber (see pic below) that has to be removed after boiling or before frying the cassava.
Its roots (and leaves) are not meant to be consumed raw. In fact, they must be properly processed before consumption since they contain cyanide, which is poisonous and has been linked both to ataxia (a neurological disorder affecting the ability to walk), and chronic pancreatitis. Cassava is available fresh, frozen, or grated. In order to cook it, the root first has to be peeled (soaking briefly in water makes the peeling process much easier). Once peeled, it can either be boiled or fried for direct consumption.
Cassava is important in many cultures, including Brazilian culture. In fact, it is one of the very foundations of Brazilian cuisine, and is consumed in many traditional dishes e.g. bobó, mashed cassava, fried manioc (or manioc fries), manioc chips, manioc cake, manioc flan, manioc soup, etc.
In Brazilian cuisine, its main derivatives are tapioca pearls, tapioca, manioc flour, sour starch, and tapioca starch. These products are available online (Amazon.com), in Latin supermarkets, and some types are also available at American and Asian supermarkets.
Here are a few facts about cassava derivatives:
1) Tapioca Pearls: These are produced by passing the moist tapioca starch through a sieve under pressure, producing a spherical shape. The resulting pearls range in size from about 1 mm to 8 mm in diameter, with 2–3 mm being the most common. The pearls are used to make sagú or tapioca pudding in Brazil and other countries, and to make sweet drinks such as bubble tea in Asia. It is available at American supermarkets.
2) Granulated Tapioca (or simply Tapioca): This is also derived from the starch extracted from cassava but, in contrast to the tapioca pearls, is irregular, and its mixed “grains” vary in size. It is used to make tapioca couscous, which is basically prepared by soaking in hot milk and/or coconut milk, and then allowed to rest until soft and pliable. It is available at Amazon.com.
3) Manioc Flour: This is also known as farinha de mandioca and is used to make farofa, pirão, and vatapá. The detoxified cassava is ground to a pulp called massa and then squeezed with a device called a tipiti to extract the moisture (the liquid produced by this may be collected and dried to produce tapioca, locally known as polvilho). The dried massa is then toasted over a large copper stove to produce the manioc flour. This process varies regionally and by manioc species, and may include additional steps of re-soaking, drying and re-toasting the flour. Manioc flour is available at Brazilian Shop.com.
4) Sour Starch/Polvilho Azedo: This is a fermented starch extracted from cassava that is coarser than tapioca starch, as you can see from the photo below. It is used to make pão de queijo and also tapioca crepes. Polviho azedo is available at Amazon.com.
5) Tapioca Starch/Polvilho Doce: This is extracted from cassava, which is grated and washed, and then has the juice from its pulp squeezed out into a bucket. The starch is then extracted from the liquid that accumulates in the bucket, and subsequently dried and sifted. Unlike the sour starch, it is not fermented and has a fine texture similar to cornstarch. Polviho doce is also used to make pão de queijo, crackers, and desserts. It is available at Amazon.com.
This list of cassava derivatives is just given for illustration. Although these are the major products commercialized in Brazil, there are others in other countries (e.g. soluble tapioca starch powder, flakes and sticks, etc. in Asia).
I hope that you have enjoyed our article about cassava, and that it has helped you to become more familiar with it, and its importance throughout the world.
For dishes made from cassava and/or its byproducts, please click on the links below:
- Shrimp Bobó (Bobó de Camarão)
- Mashed Cassava (Purê de Macaxeira)
- Cassava “Lasagna” (Lasagna de Macaxeira)
- Brazilian-Style Quiche (Quiche Trio Mineiro)
- Brazilian Cheese Rolls (Pão de Queijo)
- Toasted Manioc Flour with Bacon and Vegetables (Farofa)
- Red Wine Tapioca Pudding (Sagú de Vinho)
- Tapioca Crepes with Chocolate Fudge Sauce (Tapioca with Brigadeiro Mole)
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