Uses & Economic Importance of Cassava (Manihot Esculenta)

The History of Cassava

The cultivation and domestication of wild cassava subspecies started in Brazil about 10,000 BC. Then around 6000 BC, cassava pollen spread to the Gulf of Mexico as was proved by findings at the San Andrés archaeological site. While Cassava (Manihot esculenta) was undoubtedly originated in Paraguay and Brazil, the first proof of cassava cultivation was discovered at a 1,400-year-old Maya site in El Salvador. It was also discovered that the cassava can survive in hot climates and nutrient-poor soils. It was then accepted as a staple food of the Caribbean and South American.

Cassava and maize were introduced or brought to Africa by the Portuguese traders from Brazil. Now both have become the major staple food crops in most African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Togo, as many traditional African dishes are made with maize or cassava.

The Different Names of Cassava

The Botanical Name of Cassava is Manihot esculenta. Cassava is called by different names in different countries. While cassava in a country is the same in another country, the names of cassava in other countries are listed as follow:

  • Africa: (English) – cassava
  • Africa: (French) – manioc, maniocs
  • Africa: (Lingala) – pondu
  • Africa: (Swahili) – mogo, mihogo
  • Brazil: mandioca, aipim, macaxeira
  • China: 木薯, mushu
  • Ghana: bankye
  • Haiti: kassar
  • Holland: cassave
  • India: कसावा, sagudana, sabudana, kappa
  • Indonesia: Singkong, ubi kettella, kaspe, ubi kayu
  • Japan: キャッサバ, kyassaba
  • Latin America: yuca, ramu, monioca, boba
  • Malaysia: ubi kayu
  • Nigeria: apku, ege, ugburu
  • Paraguay: mandió
  • Phillipines: balanghoy, kamomteng kahoy, kasaba, gawgaw
  • Polynesia: manioke, tapioka, manioka
  • Sri Lanka – Maniok
  • Thailand: มันสำปะหลัง, man sampalang, mansapparrang, มันสำปะหลัง
  • USA: Cassava, cassavas
  • Vietnam: cŭ sắn, Khoaí mì, bȏt nǎng
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The economic importance of cassava in the world today is not farfetched. Now, cassava is one of the most important root crops in the tropics, and its usage is of great significance in the tropical world.

Culinary Uses of Cassava

Cassava can be consumed in different ways. The boiled root tastes similar to potato and is a great side for meat dishes or in soups. In many countries, cassava is handled similarly to potatoes, meaning they are eaten as mash, fried or boiled.

In Africa, cassava “mash”, fufu, is widely consumed by pounding and sieving cassava to make flour which is then put into hot water. This is a particularly popular food in Nigeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cassava is also used to make gari, a kind of cassava porridge, which is a white flour made from fermented cassava tubers. The flour can be added to cold water and milk and seasoned to taste.

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In Latin America, cassava is mostly fried and offered as “yuca frita” as a side dish. In Panama, yuca is used in Sancocho, a chicken soup.  Carimañola is a Panamanian dish that is a stuffed cassava fritter. It is normally stuffed with cheese, meat or chicken and then fried.

In the west, cassava is widely used in the form of tapioca, which is a flavorless, starchy ingredient used as a thickening agent in foods. It is gluten-free and therefore used in many gluten-free foods. Tapioca is also used to make tapioca pudding and used to make gluten-free bread. Tapioca is also the main ingredient in the popular Bubble Tea, a Taiwanese Drink that is has a tea base and includes tapioca pearls.

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Industrial Uses of Cassava

  1. Animal Feed:  There is a rapidly growing demand for cassava pellets for the use of animal feed as it provides many a lot of calories to animals. Cassava pellets are easier to transport and pack and easier for animals to consume than whole cassavas.
  2. Ethanol: Ethanol is produced by fermenting and distilling cassava. Ethanol has various industrial uses: It can be mixed with petrol or used on its own as a transport fuel. It can also be used as a base for alcoholic beverages. Lastly, ethanol can be utilized as industrial alcohol, which is important in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry.
  3. Flour:  Cassava Flour offers several benefits: It is completely gluten-free and can be used as a substitute for wheat flour.
  4. Starch: Cassava starch can be extracted from cassava roots to form which are used by the food industry, but is also used by the paper and textile industry, as well as an adhesive in glass, mineral wool and clay.

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