Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a versatile, nutty-flavoured starchy root vegetable (tuber) that is used in the same way as a potato. It is an important source of nutrients, carbohydrates, and calories, which provides energy. It is like yams and taro.

Sweet and bitter varieties are available, but the sweet cassava is more common in the United States, where it is often referred to as yuca, manioc, or Brazilian arrowroot.

The root or tuber is the most consumed part of the cassava plant. It can be eaten whole, grated or ground into flour for baking bread and crackers. It is also used to make tapioca starch for baking gluten-free goods.

Cassava is grown from cuttings from
a mature plant. (Source: Pixabay)

As cassava may contain harmful compounds such as cyanide, it may be harmful when consumed raw. If it is prepared well, it is a beneficial addition to the diet.

Growing cassava

The plant is native to Brazil and Paraguay in South America, where it is known as yuca, but is also grown in other tropical areas, including Africa, because of its ability to withstand difficult growing conditions, including drought.

Growing cassava successfully relies upon tropical climates and at least eight months of warm weather. It prefers well-drained soil and modest rainfall, but it can survive where soils are wet. The roots however do not tolerate freezing temperatures and it grows best in full sun. From start to harvest may take up to 18 months.


Cassava is always grown from stem cuttings of plants that are at least ten months old. Once the tubers are harvested, the stems are cut off from the tubers and the leaves are removed. The stems are stored in a cool, dry place for the next planting season. Cuttings should be 20 cm to 30 cm long and about 1,5 cm to 4,0 cm thick with two or three viable nodes.

The cuttings can be planted directly into prepared soil or in a pot in a sunny spot indoors until the outside temperature is at least 21 °Celsius.  Keep it lightly misted to keep it moist. Transplant them outside once the cuttings have sprouted leaves and have at least 5 cm of growth.

The plants grow faster in warmer temperatures. There are several pests that eat the leaves, but the plants are mostly free of diseases and pests.

Cassava is sometimes dried and used as flour, which is gluten-free. (Source: Pixabay)

Keep the plants moderately moist and use a slow-release fertiliser in spring. If the plants are in pots, they can be moved indoors before freezing temperatures occur, andmoved back outside when it gets warmer.

At present, scientists are mapping the genetic structure of cassava. This information may be used to grow superior plants that will have more nutritional value and be more resistant to disease.

Nutritional value

Cassava root has many health benefits as it is particularly high in vitamin C, an important vitamin that acts as an antioxidant, supports the production of collagen, and enhances immunity.

It is also rich in copper, a trace mineral that is necessary for energy production and iron metabolism.

Cassava roots are sold in local markets in towns in Africa, where it is a staple food, providing carbohydrates in the diet of many families. (Source: Pixabay)

Cassava is a significant source of carbs. It also provides a little fibre, vitamins, and minerals. A 100-gram serving of cooked cassava root contains 191 calories, of which about 84% comes from carbs, while the rest come from protein (1,5%) and fat (3 grammes). One serving also provides some fibre (2 grammes).

Besides Vitamin C (20% of the daily requirements, one serving also provides copper (12%), thiamine (7%), folate (6%), vitamin B6 (6%), potassium (6%), magnesium (5%) and niacin (5%).

Potential health benefits

Resistant starch: Cassava may have several health benefits. It contains resistant starch, which can bypass digestion and has similar properties as soluble fibre. This feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut and may help promote digestive health, while reducing inflammation.

Resistant starch may also improve metabolic health and reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. This may be related to improved blood sugar management and an increased feeling of fullness which may reduce appetite. The cooling of cooked cassava root may increase the content of resistant starch.

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is important for many health aspects, including immunity. It also helps protect against oxidative stress and supports the function of immune cells in your body. It also protects against skin damage and stimulates the production of collagen, a type of protein found throughout your body in your bones, skin, muscles, and joints.

Cassava can be boiled, baked, or fried as snacks. (Source: Pixabay)

Cooked cassava root used in cookingand baking is beneficial to people with food allergies, as it is free of gluten,
grains, and nuts.

Potential downsides

As with all foods, cassava should be consumed in moderation, as it is high in calories. Cassava must be cooked before eating it, as it can be poisonous if consumed raw.

It must be kept in mind that the use of cassava may also have downsides, such as high calory content of 191, compared to sweet potatoes, which contain only 90 calories, and carrots, which contain only 60 calories.

The high calorie content makes cassava an important staple crop in many countries. It must be kept in mind that consuming more calories than you burn can contribute to weight gain over time. It is therefore best to eat it in moderation as part of a balanced diet and not eating more than a quarter to half a cup per serving.

Cassava fl our can be used in the baking of gluten-free cakes. It is growing in popularity because of this, but also does not contain allergens, is a resistant starch that bypasses digestion and has properties similar to soluble
fi bre. (Source: Pixabay)

It must be noted that preparingthe cassava by peeling, chopping, and cooking can also reduce the vitamins, minerals, fibre, and resistant starch content. Boiling instead of roasting and frying retains more nutrients. Processed forms like tapioca also have limited nutritional value.


Cassava must be cooked before eating it, as it can be poisonous if consumed raw.

Cassava contains chemicals called cyanogenic glycosides, which, when eaten raw, in large amounts or when prepared improperly, can release cyanide into the body.

Cyanide poisoning can impair thyroid and nerve function and may lead to paralysis, organ damage, and even death. Especially people with poor nutritional status and low protein intake are likely to experience these negative effects.

Soaking and cooking cassava decreases the content of the harmful chemicals, and if eaten as part of a well-balanced diet that is high in protein may reduce the risk.

The cassava root must be peeled and cooked to remove toxins that may be harmful to health if eaten raw. (Source: Pixabay)

Preparing cassava

The skin of the cassava root contains most of its cyanide-producing compounds, so it is best to peel it and discard the peels before cooking it.

Soaking cassava in water for 48 to 60 hours before cooking may reduce harmful chemicals. Cook it thoroughly by boiling, roasting or baking before eating it.

Eating protein (meat or eggs) along with cassava may be beneficial as it helps rid the body of toxic cyanide.

Including a variety of foods in the diet rather than relying on cassava as the main source of nutrition may reduce harmful effects.

Eating cassava

Cassava is normally used in the same way as potatoes as an addition to many dishes. It can be used to make snacks and side dishes by slicing it and then baking or roasting it as you would potatoes.

Cassava must preferably be used with a protein, such as meat or fish
for a well-balanced diet. (Source: Pixabay)

It can also be mashed or added to stir-fries, omelettes, and soups.

When ground into flour, it can be used in grain-free bread, tortillas, pancakes, and crackers.

Tapioca, which is made from the starch extracted from the root by washing and pulping it, can be used as a thickener for soups, stews, pies, and puddings.

Products made from the root, such as flour and tapioca are safe to eat as these products contain little or no cyanide-inducing compounds.


Ajmera, R (2023) What is Cassava. Healthline.

Grant, B.L. (n.d.) Cassava plant care – Information on how to grow cassava. Gardening know-how.

Sike-Ezo. O. (n.d.) Cassava propagation and planting. Wikifarmer.