Whether you consider yourself an at-home baker, cook, or the next top chef, you may have stumbled upon a new grain-free ingredient that is popping up everywhere—cassava.
What is cassava?
Cassava, more commonly referred to as yuca, is a sweet and starchy tuberous plant. Tayler Silfverduk, a registered dietitian specializing in Celiac Disease, says it’s a root vegetable similar to potatoes. “It’s very starchy, and unlike potatoes, the peel must be removed before cooking.”
First cultivated by the Mayans or the Yucatán, cassava is grown in tropical climates and is a food staple for half a billion people across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Harvested for its leaves and tuberous roots, it’s used to make a plethora of food products including:
Its roots are most commonly used to make cassava flour, a grain-free alternative to wheat flour. Not to be confused with tapioca flour or tapioca starch, cassava flour is a whole food and is made from the whole cassava root (except for the peel), while tapioca is the extracted starch of the cassava root. Both have very different actions in baking.
Health benefits of cassava
Root vegetables, like cassava, are fresh whole foods that contain many minerals and vitamins. They absorb the nutrients and water that feed the rest of the plant that grows above them (hence, a “root” veggie), making them a dietary powerhouse.
Root vegetables are also low in calories and high in antioxidants. With less than 120 calories per quarter-cup, cassava flour is lower in calories and fat than its gluten-free counterparts like almond flour or coconut flour. It’s non-allergenic, making it gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, and soy-free food. It also contains vitamins B and C, says Certified Holistic Nutritionist Judy DeLorenzo.
Cassava contains resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that resists digestion in the small intestine and instead, ferments in the large intestine. This acts as a probiotic to feed healthy bacteria in the gut.
“Studies have even shown that resistant starches reduce the risk for colon cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes,” DeLorenzo continues. Remember, good gut health is tied to better digestion, immunity, fewer cravings, and regularity.
Since resistant starch is not digested in the small intestine, it does not raise blood glucose levels. That’s why it’s ranked low on the glycemic index. It also causes less gas than other fibers since it is fermented more slowly. This can help us feel fuller for longer.
How to use cassava
If you are wondering how to use cassava, prepare it like you would any root vegetable. Add it to casseroles and soups or try it baked, boiled, mashed, or roasted. You can even channel your culinary creativity and try it barbecued, braised, or seared, then pair it with other vegetable favorites.
Cassava can also be transformed into a grain-free flour alternative. Silfverduk further explains. “In fact, you could swap it out for most all-purpose flours with good results, though you may need to add more liquid than the recipe lists. This is an amazing feat as anyone who is gluten-free or grain-free knows the headache of mixing your own all-purpose flours.” Search out cassava in other popular products like cereal or grain-free tortillas.
Like most things, enjoy in moderation. DeLorenzo says, “Cassava is high in carbohydrates and calories, plus it’s fairly low in fiber. To create a balanced meal, consume it with protein-rich high-fiber foods.”
Now that you know what cassava is, get creative in the kitchen and try out this new ingredient. Happy baking and cooking everyone!