Cassava is an essential drought-resistant crop used in tropical diets in indigenous Caribbean cuisine. In addition, farmers worldwide consider this tuberous vegetable as a blessing in disguise during food shortages. Cassava’s contribution to food security makes it highly demanded food and suitable for several other uses.
You can do just about anything with cassava. Customarily, cassava is an excellent substitution for potatoes due to its similar taste and texture. However, the results are exceptional when served as a side dish or a snack. Today, technology has introduced fortified cassava to step up its game as a more nutritious choice. With a history of being cultivated hundreds of years before the Christopher Columbus voyage, cassava is now a staple for 500 million people.
Indeed, enriched cassava varieties help alleviate malnutrition and are commercially valuable for starch-based products. However, the cassava roots provide relatively less nutritional benefits despite being a primary carbohydrate source. Moreover, you must consume cassava in moderation as it contains certain antinutrients that may stimulate adverse health effects. Nevertheless, cassava leaves and roots are a valuable food source for developing countries.
What is Cassava?
Cassava, scientifically known as Manihot esculenta, is a starchy root vegetable that belongs to the Euphorbiaceae plant family. Native to South America, cassava is a perennial plant with multiple regional names such as Brazilian arrowroot, manioc, or yuca. It’s predominantly grown in Nigeria, Thailand, Brazil, and Indonesia. Cassava grew in most of Tanzania, and its harvest takes place during the dry season.
Although the consumption of sweet cassava is more common, bitter varieties are also available in the market. You can usually store them in their shredded or un-shredded form. You can interchangeably use fresh or frozen cassava. The mature cassava plant’s roots are extensive, while the addition of leaves into the staple diet is minimal.
The nutritional composition of cassava roots and leaves depends on the harvest period, age of the plant, and geographic location. In addition, the proximate mineral composition of cassava roots is significantly different from leaves’. For example, 100grams of roots provides 176 mg of calcium while the leaves provide 708 mg.
The south zone of Brazil is home to both wild subspecies and domesticated cassava. People include them in numerous ethnic and national dishes to reflect diversity and versatility. In the sixteenth century, Portuguese traders introduced cassava to Africa to replace native African crops. Furthermore, cassava cultivation was introduced in parts of Kerala, a South Indian state, to substitute rice. However, its popularity rose majorly in Vietnam, Thailand, and Tanzania.
Comparative Analysis of Cassava
Cassava and Tapioca
Tapioca is made from cassava starch. From a nutritional standpoint, tapioca falls behind cassava. It is devoid of gluten and is not rich in minerals, vitamins, fatty acids, or proteins. The only similarity between these two would be the high carbohydrate ratio. The extraction of Tapioca from the cassava plant goes through a series of washing and pulping processes. The remains are starchy liquids that you obtain from squeezing the extracted wet pulp of cassava. After the water evaporates from the starchy liquid, Tapioca flour remains.
Cassava and Sweet Potato
Cassava and the sweet potato come under the class of tuberous root vegetables but do not share standard features and are not related. Therefore, their marketing is as different tubers. The varieties of sweet potatoes range from being firm with golden skin to a soft, copper-coloured appearance. The use of sweet potatoes is displaced mainly by introducing cassava since the latter contains niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamin C. However, cassava supplies a higher amount of food energy in kilocalories than sweet potatoes.
The calorific value per 100grams of cassava serving is 86% more than sweet potatoes. It also possesses higher fat content. At the same time, sweet potatoes contain more water content, protein, dietary fibre, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Therefore, sweet potatoes are a better nutritious choice than cassava.
Cassava and Potato
Cassava is famous as a nutritious substitute for potatoes. Both vegetables are starchy staple crops with similar tastes. However, they differ significantly in terms of appearance and nutritional value. The water densities, magnesium, and copper value are similar in cassava and potatoes. Nonetheless, cassava contains five times more folate, vitamin B2, and vitamin A. It also provides eighteen times more vitamin E. Moreover, cassava chips have less fat than potato chips. It helps in reducing cholesterol levels.
Compared to potatoes, cassava roots provide higher carbs, protein, and calories. But, aside from these facts, cassava and potatoes are nutritionally very similar. These similarities are in the glycemic index, minerals, fibre, and macronutrients.
Nutritional Properties of Cassava
Cassava possesses multiple benefits in terms of health impact and nutrition. It is a nutrient-dense replacement in the snack aisles of both Western and Asian markets.
Cassava: Nutritional Values
The following nutrients are present in 100 grams of cooked cassava:
- Calories: 191
- Fibre: 2 grams
- Carbohydrates: 40 grams
- Fat: 3 grams
- Protein: 1.5 grams
- Monounsaturated Fat: 0.908 grams
- Sodium: 205 milligrams
- Sugars: 1.67 grams
- Dietary Fibre: 1.8 grams
Cassava roots are particularly rich in vitamins. The proximate vitamins and minerals present in cassava.
Cassava: Nutritional Facts
Cassava possesses a high glycemic index value. The estimated GI is equivalent to 94 in cooked cassava. Therefore, it is processed to reduce the overall glycemic index to suit the needs of diabetic patients. For example, commercial derivatives of cassava contain a lower GI value of 46. However, cassava in its natural state has a high glycemic index. The high glycemic index in raw cassava is due to its abundance of starch.
Cassava has nearly twice the calories per 100 grams compared to other tuber vegetables. It is a tropical root crop with the highest calorific value.
Cassava leans more towards the acidic pH range. It exhibits a pH of 4.8 and tends to retain its acidity in raw, semi-processed and processed forms.
Uric acid is present in cassava leaves. The moderate amount of purine present in the leaves undergoes metabolism. This metabolic process releases uric acid as the end product. As a result, the extraction of cassava shows uric acid content.
Cassava is higher in carbohydrates. The amount of carbs in cassava makes it a reliable energy source. Peeled and boiled cassava roots provide nearly 30 grams of carbs per 100 grams.
Health Benefits of Cassava
1. Rich in Vitamin C
Cassava is rich in vitamin C. 100 grams of cassava can provide 20.6 milligrams of vitamin C. It makes up for 20% of the Daily Value (DV). Studies shows that vitamin C supports the immune cells by preventing oxidative stress. It is well known as a miraculous ingredient in skincare products. For example, vitamin C has proven benefits in collagen production. As we age, our skin is prone to losing firmness and youthfulness. We start to show signs of wrinkles, fine lines, and dullness. It is due to decreased collagen production. Vitamin C serves as a vital cofactor in collagen synthesis, which helps to slow down the ageing process.
Cassava’s vitamin C helps fight free radicals. Research shows that vitamin C exhibits antioxidant properties—these properties aid in repairing damaged cells and stimulate skin rejuvenation. People can combine the cassava roots and leaves to obtain the maximum effects of vitamin C.
2. Resistant Starch
Cassava is a good source of resistant starch that mimics soluble fibre properties. Consuming an adequate amount of resistant starch improves blood sugar control and supports gut health. In addition, studies suggest that the resistant starch present in cassava nurtures beneficial gut bacteria.
Cassava starch converts into butyrate fatty acid during digestion, reducing colon inflammation and boosting its defence mechanisms. A healthy gut and colon bring down the risk of colorectal cancer.
3. Serves as Energy Fuel
Cassava is dense in carbohydrates. Therefore, it makes a good fuel source for athletes who require high carbs. Consuming cooked cassava after training can be carb-loading and restores the spent energy. Thus, it is a better choice for people looking for a recovery meal after high-intensity exercises. The complex carbohydrate chain ensures consistent energy supply as well.
4. Protection Against Liver Cancer
Cassava supplies a healthy amount of magnesium. An investigative study shows that consuming higher magnesium levels reduces the chances of developing liver cancer. In addition, magnesium intake may prevent steatosis and steatohepatitis progression. These two conditions are progenitors for liver cancer. Thus, adding cassava to the diet ensures a good supply of magnesium.
5. Low in Sugar
Cassava is relatively low in sugar. One hundred grams of raw cassava contains only about 1.7 grams of sugar. Boiled cassava also has similar sugar levels. Only 1.3 grams of sugar is present in 100 grams of cooked cassava root. However, no defined scientific evidence supports its use in a diabetic diet. There is an opinion that cassava’s low sugar value does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Cassava can be a good root vegetable for blood sugar management if you combine the benefits of low sugar and resistant starch. Nonetheless, there is still a debate on this claim.
6. Repairs Kidney Damage
Elevated creatine can cause kidney damage and failure. Cassava leaf extract brings down the creatinine levels in the serum. It also reduces the toxicity in kidney nephrons—the high levels of carotenoids in cassava aid in restoring kidney function. However, a cassava-based diet may not be ideal for renal dysfunction. Cassava contains cyanide-based compounds that may elevate urea levels in the body. Therefore, it is not suitable for people with renal defects.
Ways to Use Cassava
Cassava: Preparatory Methods
Raw cassava is poisonous as it contains hydrocyanic acid, cyanogenic glycosides, and other cyanide components. However, you can prepare cassava roots by peeling and cooking to remove these harmful compounds. Some serving tips for cassava are:
- Use a paring knife to peel off the skin until the white flesh is visible. Trim away any remaining skins or strings and immediately place them under cool water to prevent brownish discolouration.
- Boil the cut pieces of cassava to make it safe for human consumption. Boiling for about 10-15 minutes in salted water will make the roots tender and safe.
- Cassava roots can be waxed to increase their shelf life and eliminate the toxicity present in their skin.
- Baking and boiling are the standard preparation methods for cassava. It can be fried after a thorough cleaning and boiling to remove the natural toxins.
Recipes Using Cassava
1. Cassava Cake
- Preparation time: 2 hours
- Serves: 24 equal square pieces
- Cassava (grated) : 14 ounce
- Sweetened condensed milk: 12 ounce
- Evaporated milk: 1 can
- Coconut milk: 1 can
- Sugar : 3 cups
- Eggs (full): 3
- Egg whites: 1
- Coconut (grated): 1 cup
- Egg yolks (For topping) : 3
- Preheat the oven to 325° F.
- Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
- Pour the mixture into a large greased rectangular pan.
- Bake for approximately 30 minutes until the top layer loses its liquidity.
- Mix the topping ingredients and evenly spread them on the cake. After that, bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes.
- Slice the cakes into equal squares after cooling completely.
2. Cassava Chips
- Preparation time: 35-40 minutes
- Serves: 4
- Cassava (sliced thinly in circles): 1 kg
- Salt: to season as per taste
- Vegetable oil: 250 ml
- Fill the deep-fryer with one-third full of vegetable oil and heat to 200°C.
- Deep-fry the sliced cassava chips in batches. Take from the flame after reaching a golden appearance and crisp texture.
- Drain the excess oil on a paper towel.
- Season with salt and serve.
Cassava: Potential Side Effects and Things to Remember
Cassava roots contain methyl-linamarin, linamarin, and other toxic cyanogenic glycoside compounds. The linamarin converts into a poisonous hydrocyanic acid. Hence, consuming raw and undercooked cassava may lead to cyanide poisoning. It leads to headaches, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and even death. In addition, the substantially higher cyanide content in cassava’s skin and outer peels stands as a life-threatening downside.
Tropical Ataxic Neuropathy
Following a monotonous cassava diet leads to a chronic illness called tropical ataxic neuropathy. It is a category of diseases that leads to disability and spinal ataxia. In addition, poorly prepared and processed cassava retains its natural toxins and triggers chronic conditions.
The high calorific value of cassava leads to unwanted weight gain and impacts cardiovascular health. Compared to other root vegetables, cassava provides higher calories (nearly 191 calories per 100 grams). Long-term consumption of calorie-rich cassava triggers insulin resistance, cardiac disorders, obesity, and hyperglycemia.
The Bottom Line
Cassava is a widely cultivated tuberous vegetable in Tanzania and Asia. Despite its high calorific values, cassava is a well-known substitute for potatoes. However, cassava can be a healthier choice due to its relatively high nutrient content. The roots and leaves are the edible parts but consuming raw cassava leads to cyanide poisoning. You can minimise the natural toxin levels of cassava by peeling the skin and boiling it.
Nonetheless, it is a good source of vitamin C, carbohydrates, and resistant starch. In addition, cassava is easy to prepare and promotes good gut health. Furthermore, cassava’s drought resistance properties make it useful during food shortages.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
Q. What are the benefits of eating cassava?
A. Cassava is rich in vitamin C and resistant starch. It is beneficial for healthy gut maintenance, nurturing beneficial gut bacteria, collagen production, and boosting immunity. In addition, you can consume Cassava leaf extracts for treating kidney damage.
Q. Is cassava and tapioca the same?
A. Tapioca is extracted from the starch of cassava tuber through washing and pulping. It has limited nutritional value compared to cassava but exhibits similarities in carbohydrate levels. However, you can use both interchangeably to suit your needs.
Q. Is cassava poisonous?
A. Only raw cassava is poisonous. It contains natural toxins such as methyl-linamarin, linamarin, and other toxic cyanogenic glycoside compounds. Cooked or boiled cassava is free of these toxins and does not cause any harm to health.
Q. What are the side effects of cassava?
A. Due to the presence of natural toxins, cassava can cause cyanide poisoning. The potential side effects include headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and nerve damage. It can also trigger weight gain and cardiac disorder due to its higher calorific value.
Q. Is cassava healthier than potatoes?
A. Cassava is a more diet-conscious option than potato due to its lesser fat composition. It is also rich in vitamin A, B2, folate, and vitamin E. However, both are nutritionally very similar. Therefore, people prefer cassava chips over potato chips.
Q. Is cassava acidic or alkaline?
A. In its natural state, cassava is acidic with a pH of 4.8. However, it tends to retain its acidity even after food processing techniques.
Q. Is cassava good for the kidney?
A. Yes, cassava is good for the kidney as it repairs kidney damage and failure. In addition, clinical analysis shows that consuming cassava brings down kidney-harming creatinine levels. However, it may not be an ideal diet option for renal dysfunction since cassava raises urea content.
Q. Is cassava toxic?
A. Boiled or cooked cassava is not toxic. However, people should refrain from eating raw cassava as it contains cyanogenic glycosides. These are natural toxins present in it and can cause fatal cyanide poisoning.
Q. Is cassava good for cholesterol?
A. Cassava has high calories and carbohydrates. Therefore it is not a suitable choice for people with cholesterol. In addition, the high calorific value triggers excess fat deposition in the body. It will aggravate cholesterol.
Q. Is Cassava high in uric acid?
A. The purine in cassava leaves releases uric acid as the metabolic end product. Therefore, it would significantly increase the uric acid content.
Q. Which is healthier: Cassava or sweet potato?
A. Cassava has higher calories and lesser nutrient density than a sweet potato. At the same time, sweet potatoes are richer in proteins, fibre, calcium, water content, iron, and magnesium. Thus, sweet potatoes are better than cassava, considering their nutritional composition.
Q. Is cassava a carbohydrate?
A. No, cassava is a tuberous root vegetable. But it is a good source of carbohydrates. Cassava supplies enough of a complex carbohydrate chain as energy fuel.
Q. Is cassava high in sugar?
A. The sugar content in cassava roots equals 1.7 grams per 100 grams serving. Thus, cassava contains significantly less naturally occurring sugar. But it is not suitable for diabetic patients due to high carbs, despite having low sugar.
Q. Does cassava flour spike blood sugar?
A. Cassava flour is dense in carbohydrate values. Therefore, it could cause an insulin spike and further raise blood sugar. This is because carbs break down into simple sugars during digestion. That makes the blood sugar level gradually rise after consuming cassava flour.
Q. Is cassava suitable for babies?
A. Yes, cassava is suitable for babies. However, you should remove the natural toxins through cooking before feeding them to babies.
Q. How do you remove poison from cassava?
A. You can minimise the natural toxin levels of cassava by peeling the skin and boiling it. Boiling for about 10-15 minutes in salted water will make the roots tender and safe.
Q. What happens if you eat raw cassava?
A. Consuming raw cassava leads to cyanide poisoning. It causes nausea, headache, stomach pain, vomiting, and even death. Even poorly processed cassava roots are unsuitable to the human body.