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more about cassava in Africa and elsewhere

What is Cassava?

Excerpts about Cassava (Manioc) from other websites

from "Food Outlook", No 2, April 1999;


World consumption of cassava for food (fresh or processed) is concentrated in the developing countries. In Africa,about 70 percent of cassava production is used as food. The most popular processed products are commonly known as gari, lafun, foufou, attiéké and chickwangue Gari, a dry granular meal made from moist and fermented cassava is most commonly used in West Africa. Other forms of processed cassava consumption include a sun-dried cassava known as lafun in southwest Nigeria and sticky or heavy soup made from fermented cassava known as foufou. In other parts of Africa, cassava is commonly made into flour from dried roots or chunks of roots, and consumed as flour commonly named attiéké and chickwangue.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, between 35 and 40 percent of the cassava production is used for human consumption. One-fifth is eaten fresh, mostly by the rural population, in three principal manners: fresh (boiled or fried); as a roasted flour called farinha de mandioca, popular in northern Brazil and neighbouring areas, and as a pre-cooked flour called farinha da mesa. In Brazil, a number of new cassava products are gaining in popularity in the food industry and in urban fast-food outlets, in particular naturally fermented cassava starch, commonly known as polvilho azedo, which has bread-making properties. In the southern, central and western regions, the main cassava based fast-food, pćo de queijo, a kind of bread made of sweet and sour cassava starches, cheese and eggs, is consumed in virtually every family. Sour, a fermented starch extracted from cassava, is used in Colombia to prepare snacks and traditional gluten-free cheese breads, called pan de yuca and pan de bono. Similarly, in the countries of the Caribbean basin, moist cassava pulp is used to prepare a thick cake called bammy. An unleavened bread commonly known as casabe, is also a speciality in that area.

In Asia, over 40 percent of the cassava produced is for direct human consumption, with much of the remainder exported as chips and pellets. Cassava is a cheap source of calories and often supplements insufficient rice supplies. The major consumers are concentrated in India and Indonesia. In India, baked roots are converted into small chips, flour and sago, a type of wet starch that is roasted. In Indonesia, 57 percent of production is for human consumption. Cassava roots are eaten boiled or steamed and processed into dried chips, commonly named gaplek and starch. Gaplek is used for human consumption in a large variety of traditional dishes and, in times of scarcity, it partially substitutes for rice in rural diets. In Thailand, food cassava products are mainly derived from manufactured starch and mainly consumed under the form of noodles, cakes and pastry.

from the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)

Cassava -- Manihot esculenta Crantz
James M. Stephens

Cassava is also known as manioc, manihot, yucca, mandioca, sweet potato tree, and tapioca plant. It is an important food crop in the tropics where it is grown for its starchy, tuberous roots.

Cassava has been grown in Florida for many years. Around 1895, it was grown to such an extent that a few small starch factories were started to process the crop. Also, it became a common item in vegetable gardens all over Florida. While not as important a commercial crop as it once was, about 800 acres were grown in Dade County for the fresh market in 1984. Only a relatively few gardeners now include it in their home gardens.


Cassava is a shrubby perennial that grows to a height of 6-8 feet. It has smooth erect stems and resembles the cannabis plant in appearance. The large compound, dark green, reddish veined leaves are palmately divided into about seven leaflets. The stems contain a soft white pith and have nodes from which new plants are obtained.


The roots, which are the most valuable portions of the plant, grow in clusters of 4-8 at the stem base. Roots are from 1-4 inches in diameter and from 8-15 inches long, although roots up to 3 feet long are found. The pure white interior is firmer than potatoes and has a very high starch content. The roots are covered with a thin reddish brown fibrous bark that is removed by scraping and peeling. The bark is reported to contain toxic hydrocyanic (prussic) acid, which must be removed by washing, scraping and heating.

Two types of cassava recognized are "bitter" and "sweet." The sweet-type roots contain only a small amount of the acid and are boiled and used as a vegetable, along with the young leaves. The roots are also used for animal feed and the starch is used for glue, laundry starch, and tapioca pudding. Leaves are not eaten raw because of the poisonous substances.


Cassava needs 8-11 frost-free months to produce usable roots. It requires about the same soil and fertilizer as for sweet potatoes. Cassava is propagated by planting short 10 inch sections of the stem 2-4 inches deep at 4 foot intervals on 4 foot wide rows. The roots are dug or pulled and used soon after harvest, since they deteriorate rapidly.


This document is Fact Sheet HS-575, a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Revised for CD-ROM: May 1994.

James M. Stephens, Professor, Horticultural Sciences Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.

from the Florida Agricultural Information Retrival Service


Cassava originated in the Amazon Basin of tropical Brazil. Its cultivation spread from there to other parts of Latin America thousands of years ago.

Cassava remains, carbon dated at 800 B.C., were found at the Venezuela-Colombia border. In post-Columbian times cassava cultivation spread to Africa and Asia very quickly. It is a very important crop as a source of carbohydrates, which supply energy.


Cassava is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family and is in the genus and species Manihot esculenta. This family also contains milkweed and castor bean. Cassava is a dicotyledonous perennial shrub, which grows three to six feet tall. It has large palmate leaves. The edible portion is the root. The flowers are borne at the end of the stems and range in color from greenish purple to light greenish yellow. The plants are monoecious, which means that there are separate male and female flowers borne on the same plant. The female flowers mature first, so crossing with other plants occurs through insect pollination.

Cassava is often classified by the amount of bitter substances in the root, and "bitter" and "sweet" cultivars can be found. The bitterness is caused by cyanogenic glucoside contained in the roots. Cyanide is released upon crushing the roots, as one would do in chewing. The presence of cyanide in the roots is a natural form of protection for the plant. Soil and climatic conditions determine the amount of this compound found in the roots. A sweet cultivar in one location may be bitter in another location.


Cassava is a tropical or subtropical crop. The optimum mean daily temperature is between 18 and 35°C, and the minimum temperature the plants can tolerate is 10°C. Even a light frost will kill the plant. If temperatures are not too low, cassava can be grown at elevations as high as 2,000 meters. Cassava is drought resistant. During periods of drought the plant drops its leaves, which helps prevent rapid water loss from the roots. The leaves quickly regrow once rainfall occurs. Root enlargement is initiated under short days (i.e. less than 12 hours of sunlight) and long days lower yield.

Soil, Nutrition and Irrigation

Cassava prefers a sandy or sandy loam soil, but all types of soils, except water logged soils, can be used. Soils with a hard pan (impenetrable layer) about 30 to 40 centimeters deep are desirable because they prevent deep penetration of roots, which aids in harvest. Cassava grows equally well in acidic (pH 5 to 5.5) or alkaline (pH 8 to 9) soils.

Cassava does not require a fertile soil. Because of this, it is often the last crop grown in a slash and burn system of cultivation. Cassava tolerates the high levels of aluminum and manganese often found in tropical soils. These conditions are toxic to most other vegetables.

Since cassava can tolerate drought, irrigation is not used. A minimum of 20 inches of rainfall per year is necessary to get good yields.


Stem cuttings 20 to 30 centimeters long from the previous crop are used to plant a new crop of cassava. The plant does produce viable seed, but this is not used. The stem cuttings are planted 10 centimeters deep, and are planted in a grid pattern with 60 to 140 centimeters between cuttings. Cuttings from older, more mature stems give higher yields than cuttings from young stems.


The crop remains in the field from 10 months to 3 years. Yields are higher the longer the crop grows. After 1 year, the yield is between 13 and 27 tons per acre. In some parts of the world the crop may be left in the ground for as long as six years as a hedge against failure of other crops. High nitrogen content in the soil and irrigation tend to decrease yield because of excessive top growth. The crop is harvested by simply digging the roots once they have reached the desired size.

Storage and Handling

The roots store fairly well under refrigeration. At 5.5 to 7°C and 85 to 90 percent relative humidity (RH), the crop will last one to two weeks. Above 20°C, and with high humidity, loses are large. Root deterioration begins soon after harvest, and internal discoloration of the vascular tissue is followed by microbial invasion and decay. The roots are often stored in the field when weather conditions are cool and moist. To do this, the roots are piled between layers of leaves and the whole pile is then covered with soil. In hot weather, a thicker layer of soil is used in conjunction with ventilation at the top and bottom of the pile.

Because of its perishable nature, most cassava is consumed where it is grown. Bitter types are used in the production of tapioca. Small amounts of cassava are infrequently shipped between countries. Very small quantities are air-freighted from Venezuela to the United States.

Because of the presence of cyanogenic glucoside, cassava roots must be processed before they can be eaten. This is done by grinding the roots into a paste, which releases the compound from the tissue. The paste is then packed into woven wicker tubes, which are stretched tight on a frame. This squeezes the juice containing the poison out of the paste. Once all the juice is squeezed from the tubes, the paste is removed and laid in the sun to dry. These dried loaves of cassava will then store for fairly long periods of time.

Nutritive value

Cassava roots are high in starch, making it a good energy source, and vitamin C, but are low in vitamin A and protein. This means that other vegetables must be eaten to make a nutritionally balanced diet. In areas of high cassava consumption, there is concern that the people may accumulate toxic levels of cyanogenic glucoside, especially when the leaching process is not complete.

This document is Fact Sheet HS-726, a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: March 1994.

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