Cassava grows in South America, Central America, Africa and the West Indies (Guadeloupe archipelago). Some of the common names include manioc, or mandioca in Brazil, manihot, tapioca and yuca. The scientific name is Manihot esculenta (Crantz).
The roots are tuberous with yellowish- white flesh and brown bark and are between 30 and 50 cm long and 5 to 10 cm large. Each tuber weighs between 2 and 5 kg. Cassava roots are very rich in starch and contain significant amounts of calcium (50 mg/100g), phosphorus (40 mg/100g) and vitamin C (25 mg/100g). However, they are poor in protein and other nutrients. In contrast, cassava leaves that are broad are a good source of protein.
There are two varieties of cassava:
- Sweet cassava, the roots and leaves of this variety are directly consumable
- Bitter Cassava, the most widely cultivated because its yield is higher; it is non-consumable without pre-treatment because it is toxic.
Cassava can be eaten in several ways:
- Cassava tubers are popular ingredients in fries, stew-fries, soups, and savoury dishes all over the tropic regions.
- In general, cassava sections are fried in oil until brown and crisp and served with salt, and pepper seasoning in many Caribbean islands as snack.
- Starch rich yuca (manioc) pulp is sieved to prepare white pearls (topioca-starch), popular as sabudana in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The pearls used in sweet pudding, savoury fritters, sabudana-kichri, papad, etc.
- Cassava flour is also used to make bread, cake, cookies, etc. in several Caribbean islands.
- In Nigeria and Ghana, cassava flour is used along with yams to make fufu (polenta), which is then savoured with stews.
- Cassava chips and flakes are also widely eaten as a snack.