Cassava is a small tree-like plant referred to as Manihot esculenta, cultivated in the tropics mainly for its carbohydrate rich broad and elongated root or tuber.
It is called different name in various cultures across Africa. It is called Meidaka in Southern Nigeria by the Itsekiris and Urobhos,akpu or ugburu by the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria, bankye in Ghana, and mogo in Central Africa. It is a major source of starch in African foods, and out of it comes products like Gari,lafun, fufu, tapioca or starch powder and chips. When properly processed, it is very rich in vitamins and minerals too. From the Mountains of Cameron down to Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leon, Congo, to the last frontier in South Africa, it is a very important and popular staple food in Africa.
It is also a major inclusion in most Caribbean main meals.
Although cassava is native to South America, the largest cultivation occurs in Africa, with an estimated 102.6 million tones produced in Africa yearly. It is therefore easy to see why this starch rich retains a top position in the African kitchen.
Apart from the tubers, the leaves of this plant is also dried and eaten as a vegetable.
Cassava is the third most popular source of carbohydrate worldwide after rice and wheat. This crop grows in poor soil condition, and is quite resistant to droughts and plant infections. It is easily a natural alternative to rice and other expensive source of carbohydrate.
This tuber along with maize or corn, yam, plantain, cocoyam, rice, millet, barley and wheat constitutes over 90% of staples eaten in Africa.
Cassava tuber is very rich in starch, calcium, phosphorous and some essential vitamins.
It is also a great source of dietary fibre.
The leaves of this plant is rich in protein and vitamin C.
Both the leaves and the tuber is rich in cyanide compound, and adequate processing is needed to get rid of the cyanide or at least reduce it to save levels for consumption.
There are sweet as well as bitter cassava.
The sweet ones have lesser amount of cyanide in them, and the bitter ones have high concentration of cyanide in it. The bitter ones must not be eaten without prior processing which could be in the form of drying or soaking for hours or days or fermenting the raw tuber.
Cassava is a very versatile crop. Its leaves, back, stem and pulp of the root have found use in various products. Common cassava products (some have already been mentioned) include: