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Traditionally Prepared Cassava

Updated on December 23, 2017
Blond Logic profile image

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.

Cassava tubers
Cassava tubers | Source

What is Cassava?

You may have heard of cassava and some of you may have tried it in various ways. I would like to show you how this is processed here in rural Brazil. It is still made the traditional way locally and my husband and I were lucky enough to be told that this was taking place at a friend's house. He was quite pleased to have us take photos of the procedure. Below you will see photos taken by my husband, unless otherwise credited, these are of course are copyrighted.

Here in Brazil the cassava is called mandioca. The plant is grown locally by families for their own consumption and to sell if they have had a good harvest. It is also available to buy in the stores here.

This week my husband and I went to our friend, Antonio's house. I first would like to tell you about Antonio and his family. Antonio is a local businessman. He doesn't have any premises but knows everyone and will buy and sell anything. If we want to buy goats, have a well dug, or buy a car, he knows just the person we need to speak to.

Where Antonio lives, there are 8 houses. These are all extended family members. This is common practice here in this area of Brazil. Everyone lives together or near by and works for the betterment of the family.

Peeling Cassava
Peeling Cassava | Source

Peeling Cassava

When we arrived, there was already much activity going on. A group of women, all family members, were sitting around a pile of cassava roots.They were sitting on the floor amongst the peelings, chatting away. They all deftly wielded their peeling knives, scraping the brown surface away from the white tuber. I asked them if I could 'give it a go'. The lady of the house, Antonio's mother, pulled up a chair for me, gave me a knife and a half peeled root. Having never peeled one before it was difficult at first. The skin wasn't smooth like or potato or thin like a carrot. It required a bit more 'oomph'. Once I got the hang of it, I was peeling away listening to the ladies chatting. As I glanced around at all the ladies, they all had their own style of peeling. Some used short sharp scraping motions and others removed more peel in long graceful movements. Some of the women sat crossed legged and others sat with their legs curved round their work. The young girls, came and plopped themselves atop the pile of tubers, grabbed a knife and began peeling. I asked why some of them peeled half and passed it to someone else. They said,' because that is how it's always been done'. Some women would start one, peel halfway, and then pick up another that had already been started.

Peeling the cassava
Peeling the cassava | Source

Grating the Cassava

After the peeling, the cassava was put into a machine that would grate it. This was heavy work and during the time I was there, it was only the father who used the machine. This was the only electrical part of the process. Everything else is done by hand.

The roots were poured into the holder at the top and the contents were pushed back and forth allowing the grated cassava to fall below. The cassava roots bounced around inside the hopper until all were grated and ready for the next step.

In this photo below, the woman is scooping the grated cassava root to put it onto the mesh for the water to be removed. On this day, it was scooped by one lady and then another family member would pushed it back and forth. The process of passing it through the mesh is extracting some of the the liquid . The motion used is similar to kneading bread. As all the family helps, they will all rotate and do the jobs that need doing.

Pressing liquid out of grated cassava root
Pressing liquid out of grated cassava root | Source

Using the Press

Once enough liquid was pressed out by hand through the mesh fabric, was then wrapped in bags and stacked with others to be pressed in this vice, extracting even more liquid. The equipment they use is basic but this is the way their parents would have done this and they too continue to do so.

I asked the father how long it took to grow. He said, “two years”. Upon hearing this, the women in the circle, looked at each other and one said, “one year”. The father was counting winter and summer as a year each. The woman, not wanting to contradict her father-in-law , said, “18 months”. I have looked on the internet and it is in fact a year long growing process.

Using a press for cassava
Using a press for cassava | Source
Checking the cassava
Checking the cassava | Source

Checking the cassava

With an expert eye, the father checks the moisture level in the cassava. He has determined that it is ready to move to the next procedure. This will be passing it through a fine metal sieve.

Sieving cassava
Sieving cassava | Source

Sieving the Cassava Flour

It is passed through a metal sieve to remove any bits of peel or anything that would degrade a smooth flour.Rubbing it back and forth allowing it to fall through. Anything that is too large, gets tossed onto the ground for the chickens. This is one of the jobs that the younger kids or women do.

It is then put onto the large slab that has a fire below. The gentleman then pushes it back and forth ensuring it doesn't burn. This is the cassava (mandioca) flour. After this has cooled, it will be bagged and is ready for their family's use or to sell.

Heating the cassava
Heating the cassava | Source
Child peeling cassava
Child peeling cassava | Source

In the photo to the right is a young girl about four years old. She sat next to her mother and was learning the skill of preparing the cassava. She was also learning about being part of a larger family. In the group were her cousins and aunts. They were all peeling using the same type of knife. The young girl was using one as well. She would place the end of the root on the floor and scrape the skin until she had removed it all. She was young but had been taught to use a knife correctly as a tool.

I find this amazing that in other 'more advanced' countries, we put locks on the draws to keep the children from coming to harm. Perhaps we should show them how to use them and that they are a tool and not a toy. There were women and girls of all ages sitting on chairs, the floor and some even on the pile of the manioca which somehow never seemed to decrease in size no matter how many we peeled.

Facts About Cassava

This process has to be completed within 3 days of harvesting or the tubers will go bad. Some we saw had gone black on the inside these were discarded.

The cassava needs to be prepared correctly otherwise it can be toxic. This process removes the toxins that can lead to goiters or paralysis. There are two types of cassava, sweet or bitter. The bitter variety is the one that was photographed above. Many farmers prefer to grow the bitter variety because it deters animals and other pests from consuming it. Although it is more labor intensive to prepare it for consumption, as you have seen, but the chance of a good harvest is increased.

The cassava grows well in poor soil conditions and is grown as a staple food here in Brazil.

They will make this into tapioca which is eaten like bread here. On street corners, vendors sell tapioca and cafezinho. This is a round tapioca cake about the size of a donut, and a very sweet small coffee.

Cassava and Twins

Recently much has been reported about the relation of cassava and having twins. It is thought that the chemicals in the root helps stimulate ovulation. If you are trying to become pregnant or wanting to have twins, consider incorporating cassava into your diet.

© 2012 Mary Wickison


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    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 9 months ago from Brazil

      Hi George,

      Yes, you're right about it being toxic, I mention that towards the end under the heading: 'Facts about Cassava'.

      Thanks for reminding people about keeping pets away.

      The yucca and cassava are the same plant.

      Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      george 9 months ago

      Thank you for showing me how to find your writings. This 'cassava' plant you are writing about sure appears to be the 'yucca' plant which is grown in Puerto Rico as well as many other Central and South American countries.

      Please, mention to your readers that the raw plant is poisonous and any of their beloved pets that eat the leaves of the plant risk death.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 3 years ago from Brazil

      Thank you for that description of an even earlier way of preparing the cassava. It is a plant which has enabled people to live and thrive in areas which are difficult to cultivate other types of plants.

    • profile image

      Pat50 3 years ago

      The process described here, while certainly a home-based process and perhaps "traditional" for the last 50 or so years uses modern materials even in the "handwork" parts of the process. For a real traditional look at the process, as it was done in the jungles prior to cloth sieves and electrical graters, in the days before even knives were available, it is described, along with photos of the original implements in this post:

      Basically the cassava was cut into chunks, a slit made through the tough skin and then knife or stone and fingers used to push the tough skin to one side, left and right and the smooth cassava pops out of its skin which is much faster then attempting to peel the skin and can be done with a sharp stone so a knife is not a necessity. It is then grated by hand on wooden boards embedded with stone chips. The grated cassava is then packed into basket-like woven tubes, some 5-6 feet long. Each tube has 2 loops on it; one on each end of the tube. The top loop is used to hang the woven basket tube up and the second loop usually has a stick placed through it and that is then weighted with a large stone or sometimes by having one or more people sitting on the stick. The tube squeezes the cassava until all the poisonous juice is removed. The juice itself may be boiled to make cassareep which renders the poison harmless and the grated cassava may be washed and dried and used to make bread or flour or cakes.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 4 years ago from Brazil

      I think there are many similarities between West Africa and Brazil.

      There are two types of cassava. The one that is being prepared is the bitter variety which requires more treating because of the high levels of cyanide. The reason many people plant this type is because insect and animals don't eat it prior to harvest.

      Thanks for you interest.

    • anatomynotes profile image

      Edmund Custers 4 years ago

      Cassava is prepared in a similar way in West Africa. There they also boil and eat it just like you do with potatoes. I have also had it as tapioca, also known as garri.

      I heard that cassava peels (root) and the leaves are poisonous. Is it true that they contain cyanide?

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 5 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Aviannovice,

      Glad you enjoyed it.

      It was an enjoyable day. I was treated like one of the family.

      Thanks for popping by.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I enjoyed this! I had no idea how this was prepared or what it was for, but I did hear of it. Thanks for the lesson in cassava!

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 5 years ago from Brazil

      Hi Flashmakeit,

      Thank you. Cassava seems to be enjoyed by people around the world.

      Wonderful to hear from you.

    • flashmakeit profile image

      flashmakeit 5 years ago from usa

      Great articles and pictures. I like cassava and soup.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 5 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Mhatter99,

      I am pleased you found it interesting, it is a brief glimpse into a world that is fast disappearing.

      Thanks for popping by.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this interesting report and the pictures are an added treat.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 5 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Lipnancy,

      Thank you. I have seen many traditional things here in Brazil and as you say, it is an education.

      As always, it's wonderful to hear from you.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      This is an awesome hub. It takes us through a process that I would have never known about. Thanks for the education.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 5 years ago from Brazil

      Hello unknown spy,

      I am pleased you enjoyed the hub. I have had it as tapioca, boiled,as a dessert and also fried as cassava chips. It is very versatile. I wasn't aware of it beside out of a can, until I moved to Brazil.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 5 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Diymarpandan,

      Thank you for your vote and sharing it. It was an enjoyable day. We use coconut milk here on our farm as well. We have several trees so we always have a continuous supply.

      Happy to hear from you,

      Thanks again

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      Wow that's amazing. I always love cassava. We grow it in a farm and we harvest it personally, boil it and then turn them into cakes. :)