CASSAVA: ORIGINS OF TAPIOCA

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WHAT IS CASSAVA

That’s right! Tapioca is a product of the cassava plant. What on earth is cassava, you ask? Cassava plants are tall tropical bushes of spiny stems and broad green leaves of three or more lobes. Yes, they make interesting garden plants but that’s not what makes them most desired. The most fascinating and beneficial parts of the cassava plant are its’ roots. Beneath the soil surface, cassava plants produce a collection of thick, nutrient-dense, starchy roots up to a meter in length that make for healthy, tasty dishes.

 

CASSAVA & JAMAICAN HISTORY

Most of you are probably aware that I’m Jamaican by birth. I was an adult when I moved away. Hence, I’ve always tried to keep the traditional recipes and foods passed down to my through generations of preservation very close. Cassava is one such food. Cassava has been rooted in Jamaican history since before the British. It was a major part of the diet of the Arawaks who once called the former Xamaica home. In fact, it was their main crop. They’d bake it into bread then it was usually paired with fish as they relied heavily on fishing as a people.

 

Over the years, Jamaica has preserved a version of this Arawak cassava bread we now call bammy. Bammy is essentially cassava that’s been pounded and dehydrated then shaped into thin, flat cakes like a flatbread. These bammy cakes are later soaked in a mixture of your choosing (usually involving coconut milk) before they’re baked, fried, or roasted. It seems there are other ways to marry cassava and coconut. A delicious cassava pudding is also made with the two as main ingredients and is sometimes referred to as cassava cake. You can find this easy and rewarding recipe here.

 

CASSAVA & I

I was an adult when I discovered that tapioca – a custard flavor I always enjoyed – was a product of something growing in our family home this whole time. I mean, cassava and I are woven together. I grew up on bammy. Most Jamaicans at home will tell you nothing different. Cassava cake, however, was a much rarer delicacy, much like sweet potato pone – a pudding made from the Jamaican sweet potato. Cassava cake was only likely to be encountered on special occasions like birthdays, parties, weddings and Chritmastime. The thing that’s become a favorite for our household of late is cassava porridge – yet another way to marry cassava and coconut milk. You’ll find there are many ways to incorporate cassava into your diet. You can find some great ideas in our list of recipes.

 

GROWING CASSAVA PLANTS

Now, you know here at My Exotic Secrets, we tend to focus on making tropical and exotic plants that were formerly deemed out of reach available to you in your own space wherever you are in the world. We’re placing paradise at your fingertips. This sometimes means designing, executing and sharing creative ideas wherein tropical plants can double as useful and ornamental in a small space, especially in colder regions. Passiflora, sapote and dragonfruit are some of my favorite examples of this. Cassava, however, is not.

 

Unlike sweet potato (Ipomoea) and yam (Dioscorea) plants – great root plants for potting, cassava cannot be tamed and should not be grown in a small space if you’re expecting a good yield. This means any pot under 20 gallons is out the window. In fact, it’s ideal to not limit the roots capacity to grow at all. Therefore, it’d be best to plant your cassava directly in the ground and watch it thrive.

 

PLANTING

You’ll want to give them lots of space, leaving four feet between each plant. They love loose, loamy soil with proper drainage. Waterlogging is a bad idea with cassava. Never leave standing water on your cassava roots or you’ll be sorely disappointed. Ensure your cassava plants will get lots of warmth too. They’re not very forgiving when it comes to cold. Cassava is truly a tropical and it isn’t willing to compromise. Sorry guys – this one has limits and it isn’t going to negotiate with me. Nonetheless, if you’re blessed with the ideal conditions in your area, it is definitely worth the investment. Interestingly, I was once part of an online forum in which someone shared their experience of growing coconut plants indoors – a feat I would have formerly thought unyielding. It turns out I was wrong. Maybe there is hope for those of us cassava lovers who live in frosty or extreme climatic conditions. Regardless, I never want to set you up for disappointment. If you brave those waters and are successful I’d love to hear your story and I’m sure other kindred hearts would too.

 

CASSAVA HEALTH BENEFITS

Cassava is a good source of vitamins, minerals and dietary support like fiber, calcium, magnesium, saponins, phosphorus, manganese, iron, potassium and zinc. These minerals are necessary for proper development, growth and function of your body’s tissues. This helps protect the formation and preservation of bones and teeth, connective tissue and sex hormones. Cassava also promotes digestion, healthy weight loss and lasting satiety. It can even lower your blood sugar and the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

 

With 38 grams of carbohydrates per 100-gram serving, cassava is a good energy source for individuals who engage in strenuous physical activities. Cassava is also gluten-free so it’s a good substitute for oats, barley and wheat. If you’ve been diagnosed with celiac, tapioca or cassava flour is your new best friend. I shared a cassava cake square with a friend with celiac a few weeks back and she loved it!

 

USES

Because it’s so starchy, cassava is very versatile. You can use your yucca root as is or you can use cassava or tapioca flour. This makes it great for baking cakes, cookies, bread, and other pastries. You can make fries, have it steamed and mashed or just steamed. You can also try cassava porridge, punch, milkshake, ice-cream, custard or stew. Add it to your soups for a smooth, creamy flavor and texture. Remember, you can substitute other starchy requirements in your recipes with cassava. Experiment and discover but always remember to have fun! Enjoy!

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