Cassava — nutrition, precautions and cooking tips

cassava tubers
Cassava is one of the more common and quite flavorful starchy tubers here in the Philippines. It is perhaps one of the more common ingredient in desserts. Cassava cake, cassava pudding, pitche-pitche and suman cassava are some of the more popular desserts which make use of cassava.

Cassava traces its origins to South American forests but have since charmed the world with its chewy, tasty and mildly sweet flavor. Today, cassava is a staple in many parts of Asia and Africa.

Other names of cassava:

  • tapioca
  • yuca
  • manioc
  • manihot
  • mandioca (Brazil)


Scientific name: Manihot esculenta


Nutritional profile

High in fiber
The fiber content of cassava is even higher than that of legumes.

Rich in calories and carbohydrates
Cassava has double the calories of potatoes. In fact, among the tropical starchy tubers and roots, cassava has one of the highest caloric values. A 100-gram piece of cassava root gives 160 calories! The calories are mainly from carbohydrates such as sugars. About 69% of the sugars are sucrose while 16% come from amylose.

Source of proteins
Compared to cereals and pulses (beans and legumes), cassava has a lower protein content. However, compared to other tropical foods such as yam and potato, cassava has more protein.

Gluten-free
Cassava offers a gluten-free starch and is therefore of value to those with Celiac disease or those who are gluten-intolerant.

Moderate source of B-vitamins
Whole cassava is classed as a moderate source of the important B vitamins such as folates, thiamin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid and riboflavin.

Rich in minerals
Cassava is one of the chief sources of valuable minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium, manganese and copper. It is also an adequate supply of potassium which helps keep a healthy blood pressure.

Parts of the cassava and their uses

  • Aside from the starchy tubers or roots which are primarily used for food, other parts of the cassava plant have additional applications.
  • Cassava starch is run through a sieve to make tapioca pearls.
  • Cassava flour can be made into a variety of bread, cookies, cakes and puddings.
  • Cassava chips and flakes are also now widely available and are scrumptious.
  • Young and tender leaves of the cassava plant are good sources of Vitamin K which plays a critical role in bone mass building. Vitamin K has also been found to limit neuronal damage in the brain which could potentially help in the management of Alzheimer’s Disease.


Precautions:

Never eat cassava raw as it contains a form of cyanide called cyanogenic glycoside compounds such as linamarin and methyllinamarin. Linamarin converts to HCN or hydrocyanic acid which can cause acute poisoning manifested by any or several of these symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, headache and even death. These toxic compounds are removed by peeling and the processes involved in cooking such as washing, soaking and cooking in salt and coconut milk.

Anti-nutrients are present in cassava. These interfere with the digestion and uptake of nutrients. These antinutrients include the above-mentioned cyanide compounds as well as phytates and nitrates. Nitrates may get converted to nitrosamines which could cause stomach cancer while phytates bind with some minerals, preventing their absorption into the body. Other antinutrients include oxalates and saponins.

A diet which consists solely of a monotonous streak of cassava may cause Tropical Ataxic Neuropathy (TAN) as well as diabetes mellitus. I guess we just are never designed to eat the same food over and over again. Variety is the way.

Tips

  • You can spot fresh cassava because it is hard, dense (heavy for its size).
  • Avoid buying old cassava as it loses flavor and texture.
  • Do not buy cassava that has soft and moldy spots or breaks and cuts in the skin.
  • To store cassava, peel and cut them into pieces, submerge in a container filled with cold water and refrigerate. This will keep for up to 3 days.


Conclusion

  • Do not go on a predominantly cassava diet for a long time as it has some pretty toxic components and antinutrients. Do not use it as staple.
  • Cassava may be a good source of fiber, energy, B vitamins and minerals but again, occasional consumption is the recommendation.
  • If you do eat cassava, make sure it is well-peeled and cooked.

References:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2009.00077.x/full

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