Cassava Leaves(Also known as Tapioca in Kerala India)
A manioc tuber
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malpighiales
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Subfamily: Crotonoideae
Tribe: Manihoteae
Genus: Manihot
Species: M. esculenta
Binomial name
Manihot esculenta

Cassava (Manihot esculenta), also called yuca or manioc, a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family) native to South America, is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. It differs from the similarly-spelled yucca, an unrelated fruit-bearing plant.

Cassava is the third largest source of food carbohydrates in the world.[1][2] Nigeria is the world's largest producer of cassava. It is classified as sweet or bitter, depending on the level of toxic cyanogenic glucosides. (However, bitter taste is not always a reliable measure.[3]) Improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication and goiters, and has been linked to ataxia or partial paralysis.[4] Nevertheless, farmers often prefer the bitter varieties because they deter pests, animals, and thieves.[5] In some locations the more toxic varieties serve as a fall-back resource (a "food security crop") in times of famine.[6]



Unprocessed cassava roots

The cassava root is long and tapered, with a firm, homogeneous flesh encased in a detachable rind, about 1mm thick, rough and brown on the outside. Commercial varieties can be 5 to 10 cm in diameter at the top, and around 15 cm to 30 cm long. A woody cordon runs along the root's axis. The flesh can be chalk-white or yellowish. Cassava roots are very rich in starch, and contain significant amounts of calcium (50 mg/100g), phosphorus (40 mg/100g) and vitamin C (25 mg/100g). However, they are poor in protein and other nutrients. In contrast, cassava leaves are a good source of protein, but lack the amino acid lysine, methionine and possibly tryptophan.[7]


Yuca. Moche Culture. 100 A.D. Larco Museum Collection.

Wild populations of M. esculenta subspecies flabellifolia, shown to be the progenitor of domesticated cassava, are centered in west-central Brazil, where it was likely first domesticated no more than 10,000 years BP.[8] By 6,600 BC, manioc pollen appears in the Gulf of Mexico lowlands, at the San Andrés archaeological site.[9] The oldest direct evidence of cassava cultivation comes from a 1,400 year old Maya site, Joya de Cerén, in El Salvador.[10] Although the species Manihot esculenta likely[weasel words] originated[citation needed] further south in Brazil and Paraguay. With its high food potential, it had become a staple food of the native populations of northern South America, southern Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean by the time of the Spanish conquest, and its cultivation was continued by the colonial Portuguese and Spanish. Forms of the modern domesticated species can be found growing in the wild in the south of Brazil. While there are several wild Manihot species, all varieties of M. esculenta are cultigens.

Cassava was a staple food for pre-Columbian peoples in the Americas, and is often portrayed in indigenous art. The Moche people often depicted yuca in their ceramics.[11]

Since being introduced by Portuguese traders from Brazil in the 16th century, maize and cassava have replaced traditional African crops as the continent’s most important staple food crops.[12] Cassava is sometimes described as the ‘bread of the tropics'.[13]

Economic impact

Cassava output in 2005

World production of cassava root was estimated to be 184 million tonnes in 2002, rising to 230 million tonnes in 2008. (FAO). The majority of production in 2002 was in Africa where 99.1 million tonnes were grown, 51.5 million tonnes were grown in Asia and 33.2 million tonnes in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nigeria is the world's largest producer of cassava. However, based on the statistics from the FAO of the United Nations, Thailand is the largest exporting country of dried cassava, with a total of 77% of world export in 2005. The second-largest exporting country is Vietnam, with 13.6%, followed by Indonesia (5.8%) and Costa Rica (2.1%). Worldwide cassava production increased by 12.5% between 1988 and 1990.[citation needed]

Cassava, together with yams (Dioscorea spp.) and sweet potatoes (Ipomea batatas) are important sources of food in the tropics. The cassava plant gives the highest yield of carbohydrates per cultivated area among crop plants, except for sugarcane and sugar beet.[14] Cassava plays a particularly important role in agriculture in developing countries—especially in sub-Saharan Africa—because it does well on poor soils and with low rainfall, and because it is a perennial that can be harvested as required. Its wide harvesting window allows it to act as a famine reserve and is invaluable in managing labor schedules. It also offers flexibility to resource-poor farmers because it serves as either a subsistence or a cash crop.[15]

Cassava in cultivation in Democratic Republic of Congo

While underground storage of cassava is advantageous for managing work schedules, it may also lead to reduced quality of the roots, sometimes leaving them unsuitable for many types of processing. In some areas, farmers have come to increasingly rely on dried cassava chips. A 1992 study (Nweke et al.) revealed about 42% of harvested cassava roots in West and East Africa are processed into dried chips and flour.[citation needed]

No continent depends as much on root and tuber crops in feeding its population as does Africa. In the humid and subhumid areas of tropical Africa, it is either a primary staple food or a secondary costaple. In Ghana, for example, cassava and yams occupy an important position the agricultural economy, and contribute about 46% of the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). Cassava accounts for a daily caloric intake of 30% in Ghana, and is grown by nearly every farming family. The importance of cassava to many Africans is epitomised in the Ewe (a language spoken in Ghana, Togo and Benin) name for the plant, agbeli, meaning "there is life." The price of cassava has risen significantly in the last half decade and lower-income people have turned to other carbohydrate-rich foods such as rice.[citation needed]

In Tamil Nadu, one of the 28 states of India, the National Highway 68 between Thalaivasal and Attur has many cassava-processing factories alongside it—indicating an abundance of it locally. Cassava is widely cultivated and eaten as a staple food in Andhra Pradesh and in Kerala.

In the subtropical region of southern China, cassava is the fifth largest crop in term of production, after rice, sweet potato, sugar cane and maize. China is also the largest export market for cassava produced in Vietnam and Thailand. Over 60% of cassava production in China is concentrated in a single province, Guangxi, averaging over seven million tons annually.


Cassava heavy cake


Cassava-based dishes are widely consumed wherever the plant is cultivated; some have regional, national, or ethnic importance.[16] Cassava must be cooked properly to detoxify it before it is eaten.

Cassava can be cooked in various ways. The soft-boiled root has a delicate flavor and can replace boiled potatoes in many uses: as an accompaniment for meat dishes, or made into purées, dumplings, soups, stews, gravies, etc. Deep fried (after boiling or steaming), it can replace fried potatoes, with a distinctive flavor. Fufu is made from the starchy cassava-root flour. Tapioca (or fecula), essentially a flavourless starchy ingredient produced from treated and dried cassava (manioc) root, is used in cooking. It is similar to sago and is commonly used to make a milky pudding similar to rice pudding. Boba tapioca pearls are made from cassava root. It is also used in cereals for which several tribes in South America have used it extensively. It is also used in making cassava cake, a popular pastry. Cassava is used in making eba, a popular food in Nigeria. Gari soakings is a delicacy in Ghana that cost less than US$1. One can simply soak gari in cold water, add a bit of sugar and roasted groundnut (peanut) to taste, and add whatever quantity of evaporated milk one desires. Gari soakings prepared with coconut water may taste better.

The juice of the bitter cassava, boiled to the consistency of thick syrup and flavored with spices, is called cassareep. It is used as a basis for various sauces and as a culinary flavoring, principally in tropical countries. It is exported chiefly from Guyana.

The leaves can be pounded to a fine chaff and cooked as a palaver sauce (as is done in Liberia and Sierra Leone), usually with palm oil, but other vegetable oils can also be used. Palaver sauces contain meat and fish as well. It is necessary to wash the leaf chaff several times to remove the bitterness.

Fried cassava in Indonesia

In Indonesia, cassava is an important food material. It can be cooked by frying or boiling or processed by fermentation to make tapai and getuk cake, while the starch is made into krupuk crackers. In time of famine or food shortage, cassava is used to replace rice. In 2011, mocaf (modified cassava flour) is become common and some instant noodle producers have used it silently especially for low-end instant noodles as a part substitute of pricy flour.[17][18]

In DR Congo, the leaves are used in a stew called pondu in Lingala, sombe in Swahili or sakasaka in Kikongo. The cassava root flour is also used to make a cassava bread by boiling flour until it is a thick, rubbery ball (bukari in Swahili or luku in Kikongo. This cassava bread is often affectionately known as la boule nationale (the national ball) in French. The flour is also made into a paste and fermented before boiling after wrapping in banana or other forest leaves. This fermented state is called chikwangue in French or kwanga or nkwanga in Lingala and Kikongo. This last form has a long shelf life and is a preferred food to take on long trips where refrigeration is not possible.

Cassava was also used to make alcoholic beverages. The English explorer and naturalist Charles Waterton reported in Wanderings in South America (1836) that the natives of Guyana used cassava to make liquor, which they abandoned when rum became available.[19] Hamilton Rice, in 1913, also remarked on liquor being made from cassava in the Brazilian rainforest.[20]

The Indian tribes in northern Brazil and Surinam – Tiriós and Erwarhoyanas – make a beverage called sakurá with the sweet manioc variety of cassava, yuca. The same beverage is made by the Jivaro in Ecuador and Peru (the Shuara, Achuara, Aguaruna and Mayna people); they call it nijimanche. As Michael Harner[21] describes it:

The sweet manioc beer (nihamanci or nijiamanchi), is prepared by first peeling and washing the tubers in the stream near the garden. Then the water and manioc are brought to the house, where the tubers are cut up and put in a pot to boil. … The manioc is then mashed and stirred to a soft consistency with the aid of a special wooden paddle. While the woman stirs the mash, she chews handfuls [sic] of and spits them back into the pot, a process that may take half an hour or longer.

After the mash has been prepared it is transferred to a beer storage jar and left to ferment. … The resultant liquid tastes somewhat like a pleasingly alcoholic buttermilk and is most refreshing. The Jivaros consider it to be far superior to plain water, which they drink only in emergencies.[22]


In many countries, significant research has begun to evaluate the use of cassava as an ethanol biofuel feedstock. Under the Development Plan for Renewable Energy in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan in the People's Republic of China, the target is to increase the application of ethanol fuel by nongrain feedstock to 2 million tonnes, and that of biodiesel to 200 thousand tonnes by 2010. This will be equivalent to a substitute of 10 million tonnes of petroleum. As a result, cassava (tapioca) chips have gradually become a major source for ethanol production.[23] On December 22, 2007, the largest cassava ethanol fuel production facility was completed in Beihai, with annual output of two hundred thousand tons, which would need an average of 1.5 million tons of cassava.[24] In November 2008, China-based Hainan Yedao Group reportedly invested $51.5m (£31.8m) in a new biofuel facility that is expected to produce 33 million US gallons (120,000 m3) a year of bio-ethanol from cassava plants.[25]

Animal feed

Cassava is used worldwide for animal feed as well. Cassava hay is produced at a young growth stage at three to four months, harvested about 30–45 cm above ground, and sun-dried for one to two days until it has final dry matter of at least 85%. The cassava hay contains high protein content (20-27% crude protein) and condensed tannins (1.5-4% CP). It is used as a good roughage source for dairy or beef cattle, buffalo, goats, and sheep by either direct feeding or as a protein source in the concentrate mixtures.


  • The bitter variety leaves are used to treat hypertension, headache, and pain.
  • Cubans commonly use cassava to treat irritable bowel syndrome, the paste is eaten in excess during treatment.[citation needed]
  • As cassava is a gluten-free natural starch, there have been increasing incidences of its appearance in Western cuisine as a wheat alternative for sufferers of celiac disease.

Food use processing and toxicity

Cassava root, peeled

Cassava roots and leaves should not be consumed raw because they contain two cyanogenic glucosides, linamarin and lotaustralin. These are decomposed by linamarase, a naturally-occurring enzyme in cassava, liberating hydrogen cyanide (HCN).[26] Cassava varieties are often categorized as either sweet or bitter, respectively signifying the absence or presence of toxic levels of cyanogenic glucosides. The so-called sweet (actually not bitter) cultivars can produce as little as 20 milligrams of cyanide (CN) per kilogram of fresh roots, whereas bitter ones may produce more than 50 times as much (1 g/kg). Cassavas grown during drought are especially high in these toxins.[27][28] A dose of 40 mg of pure cassava cyanogenic glucoside is sufficient to kill a cow.[citation needed] Excess cyanide residue from improper preparation is known to cause acute cyanide intoxication, and goiters, and has been linked to ataxia (a neurological disorder affecting ability to walk).[4] It has also been linked to tropical calcific pancreatitis in humans, leading to chronic pancreatitis. [29]

Societies that traditionally eat cassava generally understand some processing (soaking, cooking, fermentation, etc.) is necessary to avoid getting sick.[30]

Symptoms of acute cyanide intoxication appear four or more hours after ingesting raw or poorly processed cassava: vertigo; vomiting; collapse. In some cases death may result within one or two hours. It can be treated easily with a shot of thiosulphate (which makes sulfur available for the patient's body to detoxify by converting the poisonous cyanide into thiocyanate).[31]

"Chronic, low-level cyanide exposure is associated with the development of goiter and with tropical ataxic neuropathy, a nerve-damaging disorder that renders a person unsteady and uncoordinated. Severe cyanide poisoning, particularly during famines, is associated with outbreaks of a debilitating, irreversible paralytic disorder called konzo and, in some cases, death. The incidence of konzo and tropical ataxic neuropathy can be as high as 3 percent in some areas."[32]

Cassava bread

Brief soaking (4 hours) of cassava is not sufficient, but soaking for 18–24 hours can remove up to half the level of cyanide. Drying may not be sufficient, either.[33]

For some smaller-rooted sweet varieties, cooking is sufficient to eliminate all toxicity. The cyanide is carried away in the processing water and the amounts produced in domestic consumption are too small to have environmental impact.[26] The larger-rooted, bitter varieties used for production of flour or starch must be processed to remove the cyanogenic glucosides. and then ground into flour, which is then soaked in water, squeezed dry several times, and toasted. The starch grains that float to the surface during the soaking process are also used in cooking.[34] The flour is used throughout South America and the Caribbean. Industrial production of cassava flour, even at the cottage level, may generate enough cyanide and cyanogenic glycosides in the effluents to have a severe environmental impact.[26]

A safe processing method used by the pre-Columbian indigenous people of the Americas is to mix the cassava flour with water into a thick paste and then let it stand in the shade for five hours in a thin layer spread over a basket. In that time, about 5/6 of the cyanogenic glycosides are broken down by the linamarase; the resulting hydrogen cyanide escapes to the atmosphere, making the flour safe for consumption the same evening.[35]

The traditional method used in West Africa is to peel the roots and put them into water for three days to ferment. The roots then are dried or cooked. In Nigeria and several other west African countries, including Ghana, Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso, they are usually grated and lightly fried in palm oil to preserve them. The result is a foodstuff called gari. Fermentation is also used in other places such as Indonesia (see Tapai). The fermentation process also reduces the level of antinutrients, making the cassava a more nutritious food.[36]

The reliance on cassava as a food source and the resulting exposure to the goitrogenic effects of thiocyanate has been responsible for the endemic goiters seen in the Akoko area of southwestern Nigeria.[37]

People dependent on cassava risk cyanide poisoning and malnutrition diseases such as kwashiorkor and endemic goiter.

A project called "BioCassava Plus" is developing a cassava with lower cyanogen glucosides and fortified with Vitamin A, iron and protein to help the nutrition of people in sub-saharan Africa.[38] In 2011 the director of the program said he hoped to obtain regulatory approvals by 2017.[39]


Spreading cassava chips to dry, The Democratic Republic of Congo


Cassava is harvested by hand by raising the lower part of the stem and pulling the roots out of the ground, then removing them from the base of the plant. The upper parts of the stems with the leaves are plucked off before harvest. Cassava is propagated by cutting the stem into sections of approximately 15 cm, these being planted prior to the wet season.[citation needed]

Postharvest handling and storage

Cassava undergoes postharvest physiological deterioration, or PPD, once the tubers are separated from the main plant. The tubers, when damaged, normally respond with a healing mechanism. However, the same mechanism, which involves coumaric acids, initiates about 15 minutes after damage, and fails to switch off in harvested tubers. It continues until the entire tuber is oxidized and blackened within two to three days after harvest, rendering it unpalatable and useless.

PPD is one of the main obstacles currently preventing farmers from exporting cassavas abroad and generating income. Cassava can be preserved in various ways such as coating in wax or freezing.[citation needed]

Frozen cassava leaves from the Philippines sold at a Los Angeles market

The major cause of losses during cassava chip storage is infestation by insects. A wide range of species that feed directly on the dried chips have been reported as the cause of weight loss in the stored produce. Some loss assessment studies and estimations on dried cassava chips have been carried out in different countries. Hiranandan and Advani (1955) measured 12 - 14% post-harvest weight losses in India for chips stored for about five months. Killick (1966) estimated for Ghana that 19% of the harvest cassava roots are lost annually, and Nicol (1991) estimated a 15 - 20% loss of dried chips stored for eight months. Pattinson (1968) estimated for Tanzania a 12% weight loss of cassava chips stored for five months, and Hodges et al. (1985) assessed during a field survey postharvest losses of up to 19% after 3 months and up to 63% after four to five months due to the infestation of Prostephanus truncatus (Horn). In Togo, Stabrawa (1991) assessed postharvest weight losses of 5% after one month of storage and 15% after three months of storage due to insect infestation, and Compton (1991) assessed weight losses of about 9% for each store in the survey area in Togo. Wright et al. (1993) assessed postharvest losses of chips of about 14% after four months of storage, about 20% after seven month of storage and up to 30% when P. truncatus attacked the dried chips. In addition, Wright et al. (1993) estimated about 4% of the total national cassava production in Togo is lost during the chip storage. This was about equivalent to 0.05% of the GNP in 1989.

Plant breeding has resulted in cassava that is tolerant to PPD. Sánchez et al.[40] identified four different sources of tolerance to PPD. One comes from Walker's Manihot (M. walkerae) of southern Texas in the United States and Tamaulipas in Mexico. A second source was induced by mutagenic levels of gamma rays, which putatively silenced one of the genes involved in PPD genesis. A third source was a group of high-carotene clones. The antioxidant properties of carotenoids are postulated to protect the roots from PPD (basically an oxidative process). Finally, tolerance was also observed in a waxy-starch (amylose-free) mutant. This tolerance to PPD was thought to be cosegregated with the starch mutation, and is not a pleiotropic effect of the latter.


In Africa, the cassava mealybug (Phenacoccus manihoti) and cassava green mite (Mononychellus tanajoa) can cause up to 80% crop loss, which is extremely detrimental to the production of subsistence farmers. These pests were rampant in the 1970s and 1980s, but were brought under control following the establishment of the Biological Control Center for Africa of the IITA under the leadership of Dr. Hans Rudolf Herren.[41] The Centre investigated biological control for cassava pests; two South American natural enemies Apoanagyrus lopezi (a parasitoid wasp) and Typhlodromalus aripo (a predatory mite) were found to effectively control the cassava mealybug and the cassava green mite, respectively.

The cassava mosaic virus causes the leaves of the cassava plant to wither, limiting the growth of the root. The virus caused a major African famine in the 1920s.[42] The virus is spread by the whitefly and by the transplanting of diseased plants into new fields. Sometime in the late 1980s, a mutation occurred in Uganda that made the virus even more harmful, causing the complete loss of leaves. This mutated virus has been spreading at a rate of 50 miles per year, and as of 2005 may be found throughout Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo.[43]

Recently, brown streak disease has been identified as a major threat to cassava cultivation worldwide.[42]

A wide range of plant parasitic nematodes have been reported associated with cassava worldwide. These include Pratylenchus brachyurus., Rotylenchulus reniformis, Helicotylenchus.spp, Scutellonema spp. and Meloidogyne spp., of which Meloidogyne incognita and Meloidogyne javanica are the most widely reported and economically important.[44] Meloidogyne spp. feeding produces physically damaging galls with eggs inside them. Galls later merge as the females grow and enlarge, they interfere with water and nutrient supply.[45] Cassava roots become tough with age and restrict the movement of the juveniles and the egg release. It is therefore possible that extensive galling can be observed even at low densities following infection.[46] Other pest and diseases can gain entry through the physical damage caused by gall formation leading to rots.They have not been shown to cause direct damage to the enlarged storage roots, but plants can have reduced height if there was loss of enlarged root weight.[47]

Research on nematode pests of cassava is still in the early stages, results on the response of cassava is therefore not consistent, ranging from negligible to seriously damaging.[48][49][50][51] Since nematodes have such a seemingly erratic distribution in cassava agricultural fields, it is not easy to clearly define the level of direct damage attributed to nematodes and thereafter quantify the success of a chosen management method.[52] It has been found that the use of nematicides results in a lower number of galls per feeder root compared to a control, coupled with a lower number of rots in the storage roots.[53] The nematicide (Femaniphos) when used did not affect crop growth and yield parameter variables measured at harvest. Nematicide use in cassava is neither practical nor sustainable, currently the use of tolerant and resistant varieties is the most practical and sustainable management method.[46]

See also


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  5. ^ Linley Chiwona-Karltun, Chrissie Katundu, James Ngoma, Felistus Chipungu, Jonathan Mkumbira, Sidney Simukoko, Janice Jiggins (2002) Bitter cassava and women: an intriguing response to food securityLEISA Magazine, volume 18 Issue 4. Online version accessed on 2009-08-11.
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  48. ^ Coyne, D.L. and Talwana, L.A.H. 2000. Reaction of cassava cultivars toRoot-knot nematode(Meloidogyne spp.) in pot experiments and farmer-managed field trials in Uganda. International Journal of Nematology 10:153 – 158
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  53. ^ Coyne DL, Kagoda F, Wambugu E, Ragama P (2006) Response of cassava to nematicide application and plant-parasitic nematode infection in East Africa, with emphasis on Root-knot nematode. International Journal of Pest Management 52, 215-23

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  • cassava — [kə sä′və] n. [Fr cassave < Sp cazabe < Taino casávi, cazábbi] 1. any of several tropical American plants, shrubs, and trees (genus Manihot, esp. M. esculenta) of the spurge family, having edible, starchy roots 2. this root or a starch… …   English World dictionary

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