Cassava In Kenya
Cassava (also known as Mhogo in Kiswahili) is a root vegetable that is native to South America, and was introduced in Kenya by the Portuguese. It’s a sturdy plant that is drought resistant and as a result, does well in Eastern Kenya which has a semi-arid climate. It is also widely grown in the western and coastal regions of Kenya.
Cassava roots is the world’s 4th most popular staple food; feeding over 500 million people with the majority of them living in the tropics. It’s a staple in some parts of West, Central, and East Africa. Countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, DRC, and Tanzania rely heavily on it. Nigeria is the world’s largest consumer since it’s the key ingredient in the countries’ staple dish: fufu. The Caribbean and South American countries also routinely have it on their diet.
Both the leaves and the root tuber of the plant are edible with proper preparation which is necessary because cassava contains cyanogenic compounds that produce cyanide, a nerve poison, when digested. The proper preparation will be discussed later in the article.
Like all root tubers, cassava roots are a rich source of carbohydrates since carbohydrates are the compounds plants use to store energy. The chief carbohydrate class in the roots is starch, with sugar and fiber making a lesser portion of the total carbohydrate. A 100-gram serving of boiled cassava root contains 112 calories, 98% of these are from carbs and the rest are from a small amount of protein and vitamins.
This serving also provides fiber, as well as a few vitamins and minerals.
The following nutrients are found in 100 grams of boiled root cassava:
- Calories: 112
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Thiamine: 20% of the RDI(recommended daily intake)
- Phosphorus: 5% of the RDI
- Calcium: 2% of the RDI
- Riboflavin: 2% of the RDI
Boiled cassava root also contains small amounts of iron, vitamin C, and niacin.
The leaves of the cassava plant can be a good source of essential nutrients if prepared correctly because just as the roots, the leaves contain the cyanogenic compounds that’ll need to be processed out of the leaves. This shouldn’t scare you though, there are plenty of common foods we eat that are considered dangerous/toxic in their raw state. These include raw kidney beans and unprocessed cashew nuts. The detoxifying process will be discussed in detail in a later section, now we’ll take a look at some of the nutritional benefits of eating the cassava leaves.
- They’re an excellent source of protein, they contain a variety of amino acids that are used by our bodies to make different types of proteins. Arginine, lysine, valine just to name a few, are some of the amino acids you get from eating these leaves.
- Like all leafy greens, cassava leaves are really low in calories and carbohydrates. And so this is an excellent choice for those trying to lose weight and still get the essential nutrients needed for the proper functioning of the body.
- Excellent source of fiber which is essential for proper gut and digestive health.
- The leaves also have vitamin C which boosts the immune system and helps your body absorb iron.
- The B vitamins which are essential for metabolism and energy production are also part of the cassava leaves repertoire.
- As if, all those nutrients weren’t enough, the cassava leaves also come packed with trace minerals like potassium, iron, phosphorous, zinc, manganese, and magnesium
Cassava leaves have been overlooked for long enough and even though the exterior might look uninviting(the slight inconvenience of it being toxic if not properly treated), if you use the proper tools and technique to chip away at the uninviting shell (the next topic of our discussion), what you find is a heart of golden nutrients.
Safe Preparation Of Cassava Leaves And Roots For Human Consumption.
I think it’s about time we turned to the dent that comes with the benefits of the cassava plant; The cyanogenic compounds. I don’t know if I’m the only one who believed this, but there’s a common misconception that it’s the central vine/thread that carries the toxins. As I was carrying out my research for this article, I came to learn that actually, the toxins are spread throughout the root, and even though they’re unevenly distributed, it’s the central region that has the least concentrations. Turns out the threads are removed for the simple but nonetheless important reason of plain old inconvenience since they’re too tough to be eaten.
One of the most convenient ways to do away with the toxins involves:
- Cutting up the roots into small pieces.
- Soak them for 24-48 hrs.
- Drain the soaking water.
- Boil the cut pieces with cassava to water ratio of 1:5 i.e. 5 parts water for one part cassava.
- Boil till the pieces are tender, this could take 30 minutes.
It is important to soak the roots since the cyanogenic compounds are water-soluble and will dissolve into the water which should be discarded after. Boiling the cassava in a lot of water further breaks down the residual toxins. The water they were boiled in should also be thrown out.
As for the leaves, the best way to prepare them is by pounding them then washing the pounded leaves in running water for a few minutes. If you choose to use contained water, use a lot of it and wash them a couple of times say, 3 or 4 times.
To summarize, Cassava is a great energy-packed food that can be used to change up a rote diet. It’s highly versatile and can be eaten boiled, fried, baked, and roasted. It can easily substitute potatoes in a dish so long as it’s been boiled beforehand. Cassava easily absorbs the flavors around it so you shouldn’t be put off by the thought that adding boiled cassava to the stew will leave the cassava tasteless. The leaves should not be overlooked as they’re a great way to complement the starchy roots and not just in terms of taste but also in the nutrient content.
I’ll leave you with a simple recipe you can try at home.
· 1 cassava root.( order here)
· 1 tablespoon salt
· 2 dried chili peppers( order here )
· Curry powder ( order here )
· 3-4 tablespoons oil
· 1-2 tablespoons mixed spices ( order here.)
· 1 tablespoon chopped spring onions( deal so good it’ll make you cry )
· A bunch of dhania. (order here)
1. Cut off the ends of the root. Cut and peel off all the waxed brown skin to expose just the white interior of the root. Cut the round white root into small segments.
2. Soak the cut pieces for 24-48 hours and throw out the water.
3. Place the pieces in a pot and cover them with water. Add salt and chili peppers. Boil until the root softens and begins to turn translucent, about an hour.
4. Remove the cooked cassava pieces. Break them apart further and remove the central rope-like bits. Coat the cassava pieces generously with oil. Spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with your choice of spices.
5. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Turn the pieces over to make sure they are not drying out. Add a bit more oil if needed. Finish roasting for about another 10 minutes. Serve hot with a garnish of spring onions and dhania.