Amongst tuberous or thick storage root vegetables, the cassava shrub is a lesser-known vegetarian gem of nutrients. In South American and African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Brazil to count a few, this is the “bread of the tropics.” Indeed the cassava shrub (Manihot esculenta), is the sole source of carbohydrates and acts as a food backup in times of famine, in most 3rd world countries. Such countries count cassava as a staple or essential food crop, for both export and import.
Cassava root is also called yuca or manioc and has many regional names. It does require some preparation or pre-cooking prior to usage, as the roots contain certain toxic chemicals that release cyanide. But shredding, boiling and removing the juice from the roots, eliminates the toxicity of the root and it can be used safely in a number of ways and byproducts. Dried and treated powder of the cassava root is called tapioca. The juice and flesh of the root itself are also popular culinary uses. In this article, learn what are some cassava root benefits for nutrition, that highlight the usefulness of this root food.
Benefits of Cassava Root
Cassava root is a veritable storehouse of carbohydrates and it is the third largest carbohydrate source used for meals throughout the globe. This root can be used as a substitute for potatoes in cooking. Cassava has a unique and distinct flavor that like potatoes, complements the taste of the food being cooked. And it is highly versatile as an ingredient, it can be used as fries, chips, boiled, etc. Potatoes are healthy but they do contribute to constipation and are inflammatory foods, whereas the cassava root is completely opposite in effect.
Cassava root is used as home remedy to treat arthritis and rheumatism and irritable bowel syndrome. Being a fibrous tuber, it helps add dietary fiber to daily food intake. Fiber foods reduce the risk of heart diseases and cancer as well as helping with diabetes. Fiber in your diet helps ease and decrease the occurrence of constipation.
Cassava is a starchy food but contains no gluten. So for those on gluten-free diets or those with Celiac’s disease (intolerance for gluten), cassava is an ideal substitute to using wheat, rye or barley, which are very popularly used food items that contain gluten. A good substitute for wheat flour, is cassava flour, more nutrients, no gluten. Even products produced of this flour such as noodles or pasta, are gluten-free. Hence using cassava flour ensures you can enjoy all sorts of foods, all the while maintaining a no gluten diet.
Cassava root is an excellent source of saponins, which are chemical compounds found in variant levels in most plants. Saponins are very effective against cholesterol and also act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. On the whole, their presence helps with managing cholesterol levels, reducing acidic levels in the body and breaking down waste faster. Since cassava root has this useful chemical nutrient in large quantities, all the benefits of saponins can be had through eating the root itself.
The vitamins and mineral content levels in this tubular vegetable also add to the benefits of this root. Cassava root has a high content level of manganese, which is a very important nutrient for the human body. It helps in improving the mental functioning of an individual as well as aids in digestion and absorption of food. Manganese is available in trace amounts in food items and is completely wiped out of modern processed and fast foods, making cassava a useful source for its intake.
Vitamin C is also present in decent amounts in the cassava root. This vitamin boosts immune system strength and improves skin quality. Vitamin B complex members in general, are present in a good amount in the cassava root. They have varied benefits like aiding metabolism and digestion, helping with DNA production and helping the body’s growth and development.
With all this talk of gains and the good, the bad or cons must also be spoken of. Cassava root is good for health but just eating it does not constitute a balanced diet. This food item has a very low protein content, hence the body’s intake of protein needs to be supplemented from other food sources. In summation, cassava root benefits are plentiful and when consumed with other foods for the missing nutrients, cassava is a very healthy addition to your daily food. So for a more exotic and better variant of potatoes, try using cassava instead!
Most of us are familiar with tapioca, which is a starch that is used as a thickening agent. It is a product made from cassava roots. Another cassava product is tapioca pearls that are used for making bubble tea and a host of other dishes. Tapioca pudding is one of the popular desserts made from tapioca pearls. While many people are found to be unaware of cassava roots, products prepared from these tubers are very popular.
What are Cassava Roots
As mentioned above, it is from cassava roots that tapioca pearls, tapioca flour etc., are prepared. These tuberous roots are produced by cassava plants (Manihot esculenta) that are known in various names across the globe. Alternate names for this plant include yuca, manioc, kappa, mandioca, etc. Cassava plants are native to South America, but are now cultivated in tropical regions across the world. This plant is mostly found to have a single woody stem with palmate leaves. The plant that can grow to a height of six feet with green leaves and greenish brown stems.
Cassava roots are tuberous and develop in clusters. Highly rich in starch, these edible tubers can grow to a length of around 10 to 15 inches. These roots may have a width of more than four inches. The rinds of these tubers can be around one millimeter thick. The rind has a brown papery covering and a thick inner skin. Usually, the rind is removed and the inner flesh is boiled for consumption. Cassava roots can be consumed in many other ways. But, there are speculations about the possible cyanide content of these roots. So, these tubers are generally boiled and the water is discarded, before consumption. As far as other cassava products, like tapioca is concerned, there is no scare about cyanide.
Cassava Nutritional Value
As mentioned above, cassava roots are rich in carbohydrates and certain vitamins and minerals. However, they have very low amounts of protein, fats and some other nutrients. It is said that cassava roots have a lower nutritional value, as compared to cereals, legumes and certain other root vegetables. The following table will provide you with some details about cassava root nutrition (serving size – 100 grams of raw cassava). 100 grams of raw cassava root amounts to 160 calories. Cassava flour nutritional value will be slightly lesser, as compared to raw cassava roots. However, the flour has a high calorific value – 100 grams of cassava flour amounts to 340 calories.
In short, cassava roots are low in fats and cholesterol and contain a considerable amount of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, manganese, etc. Though, these tubers have very low protein content, cassava roots are rich in dietary fiber. One of the cassava root benefits is their high saponin level, which is said to be beneficial for lowering cholesterol. If you consume cooked cassava root, then use in moderate amounts. As cassava flour is high in calories with a very low nutritional value, it is not recommended for those who are vying for weight loss. Others too refrain from having cassava flour in large amounts. As it is free for gluten, those with gluten intolerance can use cassava flour as a substitute for wheat flour. To conclude, cassava roots can be consumed moderately, if cooked in a proper and safe manner. As it is deficient in various nutrients, cassava cannot be considered a main food source.