Cassava is grown for its enlarged starch-filled roots, which contains nearly the maximum theoretical concentration of starch on a dry weight basis among food crops. Fresh roots contain about 30% starch and very little protein. Roots are prepared much like potato. They can be peeled and boiled, baked, or fried. It is not recommended to eat cassava uncooked, because of potentially toxic concentrations of cyanogenic glucosides that are reduced to innocuous levels through cooking. In traditional settings of the Americas, roots are grated and the sap is extracted through squeezing or pressing. The cassava is then further dried over a fire to make a meal or fermented and cooked. The meal can then be rehydrated with water or added to soups or stews. In Africa, roots are processed in several different ways. They may be first fermented in water. Then they are either sun-dried for storage or grated and made into a dough that is cooked. Alcoholic beverages can be made from the roots.
Young tender leaves can be used as a potherb, containing high levels of protein (8-10% F.W.). Prepared in a similar manner as spinach, care should be taken to eliminate toxic compounds during the cooking process. One clone with variegated leaves is planted as an ornamental.
Cassava originated in Brazil and Paraguay. Today it has been given the status of a cultigen with no wild forms of this species being known.
Cassava is a perennial woody shrub, grown as an annual. Cassava is a major source of low cost carbohydrates for populations in the humid tropics. The largest producer of cassava is Brazil, followed by Thailand, Nigeria, Zaire and Indonesia. Production in Africa and Asia continues to increase, while that in Latin America has remained relatively level over the past 30 years. Thailand is the main exporter of cassava with most of it going to Europe. It was carried to Africa by Portuguese traders from the Americas. It is a staple food in many parts for western and central Africa and is found throughout the humid tropics. The world market for cassava starch and meal is limited, due to the abundance of substitutes.
Most cassava is harvested by hand, lifting the lower part of stem and pulling the roots out of the ground, then removing them from the base of the plant by hand. The upper parts of the stems with the leaves are removed before harvest. Levers and ropes can be used to assist harvesting. A mechanical harvester has been developed in Brazil. It grabs onto the stem and lifts the roots from the ground. Care must be taken during the harvesting process to minimize damage to the roots, as this greatly reduces shelf life. During the harvesting process, the cuttings for the next crop are selected. These must be kept in a protected location to prevent desiccation.
The shelf life of cassava is only a few days unless the roots receive special treatment. Removing the leaves two weeks before harvest lengthens the shelf life to two weeks. Dipping the roots in paraffin or a wax or storing them in plastic bags reduces the incidence of vascular streaking and extends the shelf life to three or four weeks. Roots can be peeled and frozen. Traditional methods include packing the roots in moist mulch to extend shelf life.
Dried roots can be milled into flour. Maize may be added during the milling process to add protein to the flour. The flour can be use for baking breads. Typically, cassava flour may be used as partial substitute for wheat flour in making bread. Bread made wholly from cassava has been marketed in the U.S.A. to meet the needs of people with allergies to wheat flour.
Fresh roots can be sliced thinly and deep fried to make a product similar to potato chips. They can be cut into larger spear-like pieces and processed into a product similar to french fires.
Roots can be peeled, grated and washed with water to extract the starch which can be used to make breads, crackers, pasta and pearls of tapioca.
Unpeeled roots can be grated and dried for use as animal feed. The leaves can add protein to animal feed.
Industrial uses where cassava is used in the processing procedures or manufacture of products include paper-making, textiles,