If you’ve ever eaten tapioca pudding, boba, or the Brazilian pão de queijo, you’ve likely had the delicious root vegetable known as cassava. Popular throughout South America and the Caribbean for centuries, cassava has been gaining attention in the healthy-food world for its nutritional properties and wide range of uses. Though this root has a number of healthy benefits, it can actually be potentially dangerous if not cooked properly. Read on to learn how to properly cook and eat cassava, according to a registered dietitian.
Health benefits of cassava
Also known as yuca, mandioca, or manioc, cassava is a shrub native to South America that is harvested for its starchy roots that are used as a rich source of carbohydrates and nutrients. Today, cassava grows in tropical and subtropical climates, including Brazil, Central America, the Caribbean, West Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Cassava looks similar to a sweet potato or yam with thicker skin; its flavor is light, neutral, and starchy. According to Angela Lemond, RDN, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, cassava is a “good source of fiber, vitamin C, and several B vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin.” She also notes that “like other tuber vegetables, cassava is high in resistant starches that help promote good bacteria in the gut and maintain blood sugar levels.”
The best way to consume cassava
Cassava can be used in many of the same ways as potatoes—meaning its culinary uses are endless (bake it, boil it, grill it, fry it, and so on). According to Lemond, boiling cassava helps retain the nutritious properties of the root, while over-processing the vegetable (like when making tapioca) can deplete it of some of its nutrients.
Recently, cassava byproducts, like arrowroot flour and tapioca starch, have been gaining popularity as a good gluten-free flour alternative for baking due to its mild flavor. Along with flour, you can find other tasty cassava products on the market, like Jovial Cassava Spaghetti, Siete Family Foods Cassava Flour Tortillas, or Artisan Tropic Cassava Chips. And if you’re already a super fan of Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi, you may be surprised to hear that one of the main ingredients is cassava flour.
How to safely cook cassava
Though cassava is a safe ingredient to eat when cooked, it contains the harmful chemical cyanide when raw or cooked improperly—see the CDC’s report on the danger here. Never consume cassava raw.
In order to safely consume cassava, you must always “cook it well, remove the skin, and do not reuse the boiled water,” says Lemond. Despite this, when cooked correctly, cassava is a great source of energy and is safe to consume in moderation.