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Tapioca: Poisonous or Deliciousness?
What is tapioca pudding?
I remember growing up as a child eating tapioca pudding and wondering what those weird little balls of jello like substances were inside it. If you had older siblings you may have received answers like fish eggs, bug eyes, or any other oddity that might have made you give up your portion. Even with the supportive answers of my older brothers I never stopped eating it, or wondering what it really was. I continued to eat it for another decade before I ever found out what it was really made out of. If you are like I was, what tapioca pudding is made of would be very interesting to know. Tapioca pudding is made from tapioca pearls and vanilla pudding. But what are tapioca pearls and where do they come from?
Tapioca pearls are made from tapioca starch which is extracted from the cassava plant (manihot esculenta). Tapioca derived from tipioka which is the Brazilian name given to the root of the cassava or manioc plant. The plant is native to Central America and South America. It has been introduced to Africa and Asia who are now the main producers of tapioca starch. It has been used as a nutritive product dating back to the 18th century, and was used for medicinal purposes during the 19th century.
Eating a root? Anh big deal.
Well I am glad that I was eating a root instead of fish eyes, but fish eyes definitely sounds a little more exciting than a root. Just because tapioca is a root does not necessarily make it boring or without merit in knowing about though.
Tapioca in its raw form can be poisonous to humans or animals. Cassava root contains the cyanogenic glucosides; linamarin and lotaustralin. These enzymes work to create cyanide which is very toxic to animals and humans. A small amount of 40 mg of cyanide can kill a cow. It would take even less than that to kill a human.
There are two groups of cassava root. It is grouped similar to other roots between "nonbitter" and "bitter" roots. Nonbitter roots contain 20mg/kg of the cyanogenic glucosides, but they can be cooked out. Bitter roots contain 1g/kg, and they can not remove all of the cyanogenic glucosides through cooking. Most people will not be eating large amounts of raw tapioca and are completely safe since they eat non-bitter cassava root in its cooked form and the cyanide is processed out of the bitter form.
There are groups of people who rely completely on the cassava root as their main food source. They run strong risks of cyanide poison if they eat cassava root in its raw form or eat the bitter forms of the root. If a person eats bitter cassava root it in its raw form for several weeks they can develop a paralytic neurological disease called konzo, and may even consume enough to cause death. There are small groups of Africans who are in danger when they eat the cassava root. The non-bitter form can have the cyanide dangers removed through cooking, but the bitter root must be processed to remove them. They do not have the capabilities to process the cyanogenic glucosides out of the bitter root. Cooking does decrease the toxicity, but those groups are still consuming low amounts of poison.