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All about cassava

Understanding Spices

What is cassava?

Cassava, also known as manioc or yuca, is a root vegetable and the underground part of the cassava shrub. Native to South America, it’s also widely grown in over 80 countries throughout the tropics. Cassava is a main component of the diet of over 800 million people around the world.

cassava crisps

Cassava has a brown, fibrous skin with a white flesh that turns yellow and slightly translucent when cooked. Cassava has to be cooked before consuming, as its raw form contains prussic acid which can cause cyanide poisoning. Once cooked, cassava has a subtle, slightly earthy and nutty taste.

Uses of cassava

Cassava is a very versatile ingredient and can be used in a similar way to how you would use potatoes – boiled, baked, steamed, fried, grilled, mashed or added to stews. In Cuba, it’s used to make yuca con mojo, which is cassava cooked in a sauce of citrus juices, garlic, onion, coriander, cumin and oregano. It’s also used to make cassareep, the juice of the bitter cassava, which is a key ingredient in Guyanese pepperpot. In Jamaica, cassava used to make bammy, a thick bread made with cassava flour.

raw cassava

The root can also be used to make gluten-free flour by peeling back the bark, dehydrating and then grinding the root. The flour has a neutral taste and fine texture, making it an ideal baking option for those with dietary restrictions.

Cassava can also be used to make tapioca, a starch extracted from the cassava root. It’s used as a thickening agent in dishes like soups, stews and gravies, as well as adding moisture to baked goods. Tapioca can also be made into pearls which are frequently used in desserts and drinks like boba or bubble tea.

In some countries such as Indonesia and Sierra Leona, cassava leaves are used as a vegetable in curries and stir fries. The leaves are a great source of protein, minerals and vitamins.

cassava leaves

In the UK, depending where you live, you may find cassava in the fresh produce section of supermarkets. Otherwise, check out your nearest Caribbean or Asia market. Ready to start cooking with cassava? Here are some recipes to get you started:

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