Ameriketako landare jangarriak

Cassava, cake and cyanide

CASSAVA (Manihot esculenta Crantz)

In some parts of the Indies they used a bread called cacauí which is made of a certain root called yuca. It is […] a long and thick root which they cut into small parts, grate and press, and what remains is like a thin and very large cake. This is the dry bread they eat: it is something tasteless and bland, but healthy and nutritious, that is why we said while we were at the Hispaniola that it was a food against gluttony because it could be eaten without the risk of overeating.

José Acosta (1590) - ‘Historia natural y moral de las Indias’

The cassava is a shrub that grows up to 3 meters in height with tuberous roots, rich in starch and reaching up to a metre in length. Careful preparation of the cassava is essential as it contains sufficient amounts of hydrogen cyanide to cause partial paralysis or death if consumed raw.

Native to South America, it was domesticated about 5000 years ago and was later cultivated in South and Central America. Cassava was successfully introduced into European colonies in Asia and Africa. Its tolerance to drought and its ability to grow in poor soils made it one of the most popular crops in tropical and subtropical regions, offering a reliable source of food and income for small farmers.

The cassava is the third most important food crop in the tropics. Approximately 500 million people in Africa eat cassava daily, and it is also an important staple food in Latin America and the Caribbean. Used in fermented beverages, as livestock feed and as a source of bioethanol, cassava starch is also used in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.