Manihot esculenta: Tapioca, Casava

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Common name: Tapioca, Cassava, Manioc

Tapioca or Cassava used to be part of the staple diet of lower and middle income groups of people in Kerala, India. It’s the third largest source of carbohydrates after rice and maize. Tapioca is mainly eaten in boiled form, but is also deep fried to make yummy tapioca chips. It contains very little protein, but has small amounts of calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin C.

There are bitter and sweet varieties of tapioca, both containing some amount of toxins in the form of cyanide. Unless prepared properly, this can lead to cyanide poisoning.

Tapioca is drought-resistant and can be grown in very basic soil conditions, giving good yield. Tapioca is primarily grown and eaten in the African continent, where it’s a staple food for over 800 million people.

Tapioca is used to produce alcoholic beverages and to make starch, biofuel and livestock feed. Tapioca harvesting is the most wonderful part, where you pull out the stem, and a huge bunch of tubers surface, about 15-25 in each root depending on the growing conditions.

Propagation is by cutting the stem and storing them till the next planting season, when it can be planted again to produce a new crop.

Photo Courtesy: Club of Mozambique, Paulsy Willy

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