(Manibot esculenta) Also known as
manioc or yuca, a large tuber used as a staple in the Pacific. Native to
tropical America, it is thought to have been introduced to the tropics
of Asia by the Portuguese in the 17th century. There are different
varieties of cassava. The long, fairly even-shaped tubers, 5-10 cm in
diameter, have dark brown rough skin and hard white flesh.
There are two distinct kinds of cassava and
they are 'bitter' (M.utilissima) and 'sweet' (M.palmata).
Both have hydrocyanic acid in the juice of the roots, with the 'bitter'
type containing a higher percentage. For safety, they should all be
cooked thoroughly before eating as hydrocyanic acid is volatile and
driven off by cooking. The tubers are relished by people the world over
with perfect safety once cooked and drained.
The 'sweet' variety of cassava is used
mainly as a source of starch. In order to produce granulated tapioca the
roots are grated, thoroughly washed, pressed through fine meshes and
heated. The tuber contains very little in food value apart from starch,
which is a source of concern to nutritionists in countries where this is
a staple food. It has very low fat and protein content, consequently
fat-soluble vitamins A and D are lacking, but does contain vitamin C. A
staple in much of the Pacific, its use is supplemented with greens, meat
and seafood, fat and legumes.
In countries with a preference for pungent
foods, cassava or manioc tubers are well boiled until tender in salted
water and drained, and serve with fresh grated coconut and an
accompaniment made with pounded chilies, onions, lime juice and salt.
Grated fresh cassava is a popular ingredient
in the Pacific islands, and is now available in Western markets. It may
be already packaged in 1 kg plastic bags sold by weight from the pile of
snowy white, finely grated cassava. Eagerly awaited by customers, it
never last long. It is made into cakes and dumplings dear to the hearts
and taste buds of those brought up with them, though the texture is not
fluffy and light as are Western cakes, but rather glutinous and solid.
Purchasing and storing : Look over
the tubers and make sure the skin is unbroken, that there are no moldy
spots and that the smell is fresh. The tubers will keep, in a basket or
cupboard protected from light, for up to 10 days. Frozen cassava, peeled
and cut into convenient lengths, is sold in plastic packets. Grated
cassava will keep in the refrigerator for 5 or 6 days.
Preparation : If you purchase the
whole fresh tuber, don't try to peel it with a vegetable peeler as you
might a potato. The skin is too tough for that. Scrub the tubers, then
cut into short sections about 5 cm long. With a sharp knife slit the
skin and its underlying layer along the length of the section, slip the
blade underneath, lift up one end and pull both layers away from the
flesh. The outer skin is like the rough bark of a tree. The under layer
is smooth and leathery, pink on the outer surface and creamy white on
the inside next to the yam. Any tubers which smell strongly of almonds
should be avoided as they may be poisonous.