Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a shrub original from Brazil whose roots are edible. It was used for thousands of years as a main source of energy by the pre-Colombian population of the Americas. Nowadays, it is common to find indigenous arts that make references to this plant, as it is a vital part of their lives.
In the 16th century, Portuguese traders took cassava to Africa and today no other crop is as important as a food source for the resource-poor African regions. In Asia, cassava also became a staple foods and Thailand is currently its biggest world producer, followed by Vietnam and Indonesia. As a drought-resistant crop that does well in poor soils, cassava is a starch-heavy lifesaver for low-income areas throughout the world.
Cassava and its vast spectrum of sub-products and recipes are still one of the main staple foods in Brazil, and the most famous Brazilian dishes have some form of cassava component in them. Cassava permeates all Brazilian social classes: it was the base of slaves’ meals until the 19th century and is still a daily resource for Brazil's poorer populations, nonetheless higher classes also eat cassava broadly and daily. Lately, cassava has gained a strong popularity with athletes and other functional diet seekers because it is such a great and pure source of energy!
Easy and quickly digested
Pure source of energy - high on carbohydrates
Low in fat and sodium
Good source of some valuable B-complex vitamins
Source of zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese & potassium
For the Planet:
Low consumption of water since cassava plantations rely heavily on rainwater
Chemicals and pesticides free methods are largely used by cassava farmers to increase their yields
Brazilian Natives preparing Cassava Roots for consumption (Above). In the forests of Brazil, like the Amazon, Cassava is cultivated to serve as a staple food in the indigenous communities.
Nowadays, the Cassava largely used for trade is cultivated mainly in the southern part of Brazil, where there is no harm to forest ecosystems.
An illustration of a Cassava shrub with its root shown in the detail (left).
MANDIOCA TALE // AN INDIGENOUS STORY
A long time ago, in the middle of the Amazon forest, there was a tribe that lived in a community of ocas (indigenous houses), which formed a taba (indigenous village). One day, the tuixau (the village’s chief) discovered that his daughter was pregnant, even though she didn’t have a husband. The tuixau became very angry and demanded to know who the father of the baby was, but his daughter was adamant to say she had never had a lover. The father did not believe and wanted to punish her, but spiritual insights made him change his mind.
Nine months went by and the young woman gave birth to a beautiful girl, who, to the surprise of the whole taba, had a skin as white as the moon and began to talk and walk immediately after birth. The baby girl was named Mani, which means “white” in the Tupi language.
Mani’s birth brought good fortune to the taba. Everyone seemed happy, there were no wars, and food was abundant throughout the whole year after Nani was born. Then, right after her first birthday, she suddenly died even though she wasn’t ill and didn't suffer any accidents. She just closed her eyes peacefully to never open them again. Following this horrible event, sadness took over the whole taba, wars soon erupted, and food became scarce.
Mani was buried inside the same oca where she lived with her young mother and, following an indigenous tradition, her mother watered the small tomb daily. After some time had passed, something extraordinary happened; a new kind of plant unseen before started to grow on Mani’s tomb. Everyone on the taba was amazed to see that plant, and it grew rapidly breaking up small cracks around it, so the taba’s pajé (shaman) decided that Mani’s body should be removed from that side and buried somewhere else. Soon after digging, they realized that the roots of the plant were uniquely strong and thick, with the same colour of their skin. As they kept digging they discovered that Mani’s body had completely disappeared to become the large roots of the plant. The pajé decided to take the roots out as food was scarce in those days. Surprisingly, after opening the roots they discovered that the inside was white as Mani’s skin, so they decided to call that plant “Mani-Oca” as it had grown on Mani’s house and because of her. After tasting the boiled roots, and discovering its delicious flavour, the pajé believed that Mani-oca was a gift from the god Tupã. Mani-oca was replanted throughout the village and became their main source of food, soon spreading over to other tabas in Amazon.