Tapioca occupies much the same position in the diet as potatoes
Photo: K. K. Mustafah
Cooking tapioca is essential because the plant contains cyanide compounds that are poisonous when not neutralised by heat.
THE WORD `tapioca' is derived from the Tupi Indian name for the residue of the liquid expressed from grated cassava tubers.
When Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of Hispaniola in 1492, the native Arawak people served him bread made of cassava.
Cassava is native to Brazil and Paraguay and was a common food in the Americas for nearly 5000 years before Columbus ever saw it. Spanish vessels took cassava to Spain, along with other New World crops like tomato, potato, chillies and pineapple.
Linked to slavery
The Portuguese bought slaves in West Africa with cassava from their Brazilian colonies, and the leftover unsold crop fed the slaves on ships headed for North America.
During World War II, cassava became important as a famine crop around the world, especially where rice was scarce.
Today, cassava tubers occupy much the same position in the diet as potatoes. The starchy tubers are edible boiled, fried and baked. The meal, added to stews and soups, increases thickness and carbohydrate content.
The flour is a partial substitute for wheat in bread making. Adding maize flour improves the protein profile of the mixture. Bread made wholly from cassava is a boon for those allergic to the gluten in wheat flour.
In South America, traditional methods produce farinah, edible cassava flour that thickens soups and is the basis for porridge. Gari, an African preparation made from fermented tubers, has similar uses as farinah. Casaba is a large round Caribbean flatbread made from ground meal. In Indonesia, gapleks are chips made from dried slices of cassava root. Powdered gapleks are a common ingredient in bread, cakes, biscuits and noodles.
Tapioca macaroni, developed by Indian scientists, contains groundnut meal and semolina in addition to cassava flour.
Cooking is the same as for food grains, but the macaroni is twice as nutritious as rice and the protein content matches wheat.
Cassava contains very little protein and by itself is not a balanced food. The leaves, however, are rich in protein. The poor often consume cassava root in excess because it gives a feeling of satiety, and many end up with protein and vitamin deficiency.
One hundred gm of peeled tubers contains nearly 130 calories; tapioca flour contains nearly 310 calories per 100 gm. Apart from starch, the only nutrients in cassava are small amounts of Vitamins B and C.
Cooking cassava is essential because the plant contains cyanide compounds that are poisonous when not neutralised by heat.
The tubers are an ideal source of alcohol because they are so rich in fermentable starch. Cassava starch is also useful in glue, cardboard and textile industries.
There are no valid medicinal uses of the cassava plant.
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