Mandiocaotanical: Manihot utilissima
Family: N.O. Euphorbiaceae
Synonyms: Manioc. Yuca. Cassava. Farinha de Mandioca.
Another food plant of enormous importance to tropical America in the present as well as in the past is Manihot utilissima, otherwise known as Manioc, Mandioca, or Yuca, from the tuberous root of which Cassava is prepared. It was, in fact, the plant of chief economic importance to the tribes of tropical South America east of the Andes, and its cultivation spread to the valley of Colombia, the Isthmus of Panama, and the West Indian Islands. Mandioca is a shrubby plant, with brittle stems, 6 feet to 8 feet high, large palmate leaves and green flowers. In the ordinary variety the tubers weigh up to 30 lb., and the juice, owing to the presence of hydrocyanic acid, is poisonous. A smaller nonpoisonous variety is also found.
The true native method of preparing it for food, followed with slight variation throughout the Southern Continent and islands, is as follows: The root is sliced, and grated on a board set with small stones, washed in water, and packed into a long cylindrical 'press' of basketwork with a loop at either end. This press is so made that when it is suspended by one loop and a weight applied to the other, it increases in length and decreases in diameter, and the juice is squeezed from the contents, and falls into a vessel placed below. The paste is then spread in thin layers on griddles of pottery or slate and cooked over a fire. The root is also eaten roasted, especially the sweet variety, though even in the case of the poisonous tuber, the unwholesome element is volatized by cooking. For this reason the juice is preserved and boiled, when it becomes wholesome, and is used as liquor for soup. If further inspissated by boiling, and sweetened in the sun, it is known as casareep, and is employed as a flavouring, especially in British Guiana, where it appears in almost every dish, and in the West Indies, where it is the foundation of the celebrated pepper pot. Casareep is highly antiseptic, and by its aid meat can be kept fresh for quite a long time.
An intoxicating drink can also be prepared from the Mandioca; the early West Indians fermented the sliced and grated tuber in water, adding a little chewed root or grated batata to assist the process. In British Guiana and North Brazil a similar process is still used; the chewed root is fermented in large wooden troughs of water, and the liquor is stored in gourds. At the present time Cassava flour, or farinha de Mandioca, is an important article of food throughout South America, and could be used much more extensively in Europe. The true starch of the Mandioca is known to commerce as Brazilian arrowroot, and this, after heating on hot plates and stirring with an iron rod, becomes tapioca. The cultivation is not difficult, the plant is propagated by cuttings, and the produce is at least six times that of wheat.
Sweet Cassava is nourishing, light and agreeable as a food for invalids, and infants during weaning.