Cassava is a root that is native to South America, from northeastern Brazil, to southwestern Mexico. Sometimes it is called mamioc or yucca. Most commonly, it is used to make tapioca.
Today, most cassava comes from Africa. It is a tuber from a shrub. The plant has large palmate leaves. It is 6-12 inches long, and 2-3 inches long. It has tough brown skin, and crisp white flesh. It is conical and cylindrical. It somewhat resembles a sweet potato. There are two main types: bitter and sweet. The roots are commonly waxed before shipment in order to keep it from dehydrating.
Bitter cassava is poisonous unless cooked, and cooked fully. It has a high hydrocyanic acid level. It is usually grated, and sun dried, then used for cassava meal. It is also used for tapioca and cassarap (cassava chips).
Tapioca is the starch substance that is extracted from the root of the cassava root. It comes in granules, flakes, pellets, flour, pearls, or starch. It can also be ground up to make flour, which is used like cornstarch. Tapioca pearls are formed by the pearl type is used to make puddings.
Tapioca pearls are white. However they can be green, pink, or black. They get their color from being processed. The green get their color from being cooked with Pandanus Leaves. Black is from Brown Sugar. When cooked all the way, large tapioca pearls are chewy- a texture similar to a gummy bear.
Tapioca is eaten all over the world. In Asia, the large tapioca pearls are cooked and added to a drink called Boba. Boba Tea or Bubble tea originated from Taiwan, but is now found all over the world. It is a sweet tea made with fruit juices and sweetened condensed milk and sometimes fruit juices. Large black tapioca pearls are then cooked fully and floated in the beverage. They are then sucked up with an oversized straw.
Black Boba Colored Boba
Instant Tapioca are small pearls of tapioca that have been cooked thoroughly then dried. It is good for thickening sauces and soups. It is also great to use to thicken a fruit pie. It gives the filling body. They are also used to make Instant puddings. Tapioca as a thickener is very stable. It doesn’t lose it qualities after being frozen and thawed, or after being cooked for a long period of time. Tapioca will begin to thicken or gelatinize at about 140ºF much lower than other starches, so it is good for thickening temperature sensitive products. It is gluten free so people who cannot digest gluten can use it.
Tapioca pudding is a sweet custard based dessert that has the tapioca pearls in them. The tapioca is cooked separately until almost done (not chewy) and then added to the custard mix. It is vanilla flavored usually- but in different parts of the world it is flavored with coconut, or tropical fruits, or various spices.
Cassava root or yucca root is commonly boiled and eaten as a vegetable. Its flavor is similar to a mild sweet potato, but it is super starchy like a dry baked white potato. It is also cooked and used in baked goods like cakes and griddle cakes.
Cassareep is from the West Indies. It is a bittersweet condiment made by cooking juices of the bitter cassava with brown sugar and spices until reduced to a syrup.
The cassava root is very perishable. It should be soaked first. It has more calories than potatoes. Cassava has vitamins C, and B6, potassium, iron, magnesium, thiamin, folic acid, niacin, copper, calcium, phosphorous, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid.
Nini’s Creamy Tapioca Pudding (AKA as Fish Eyes)
½ cup large Peal Tapioca
3 cups milk
¼ tsp. salt
2 eggs, well beaten
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg for garnish
Sweetened whipped cream for serving
- Soak tapioca 8 hours in hot water.
- Using a 2-qt double boiler pan, add 2 cups milk, soaked and drained tapioca, eggs, salt, and sugar. Stir well and cook for 20 minutes stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Allow to stand at least 10 minutes before serving warm, or chill.
- Serve with Sweetened whipped cream and sprinkle with ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg.
Originally Published 3-8-12
© 2012 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger All rights reserved
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