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Other Names

Manihot esculenta

French : manioc


Cassava is the source of tapioca and Brazilian arrowroot

Also known as "manioc," from the South American Tupi language, cassava (from the Taino word "casavi") is a bush grown from a rhizome, originating in South America, where arrowroot, or cassava starch, is produced.

Cassava has been grown in the Amazon basin since at least 2500 BC. It is a staple foodstuff for many peoples. Amazonian Indians were eating it before the arrival of the Portuguese. It was the latter who introduced the plant to Europe and Africa, from which it spread to Asia. In Amazonia, cassava is grated and the pulp is fermented, pressed and dried. It is formed into flatbreads called "cassave." Roasted, it becomes Guyanese "couac" or Brazilian "farinha." In Africa, it is made into semolina like "gari" or "attieke," or pastes like "foufou" or "chikwangue."

By washing the pulp and decanting the juice, the starch is extracted. Dried, grilled and pressed, it becomes tapioca. This product was introduced into Europe in the 18th century and gave its name to the Tipiak company, an early importer of tapioca.

Today cassava is widely grown and harvested in tropical regions. It is usually the starchy roots that are eaten, although the leaves are used in Africa, Asia and northern Brazil (to make maniçoba). In northern and northeastern Brazil, the word "flour" (farinha in Portuguese) refers primarily to cassava flour, not wheat flour. However, cassava flour doesn't look like wheat flour: it looks more like a somewhat coarse dry semolina ranging in color from bright yellow to white to gray. These days cassava is eaten in many countries in the same way as wheat, corn, rice and potatoes.


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