Thursday, September 9, 2010

One Major Food Source of Africa

Cassava roots are the most perishable of the major root crops and deteriorate in air at ambient temperature in 3 to 4 days.  Here in Africa, the plants are left in the ground until needed for food. The twin problems of perishability and the poisonous nature of the cyanide (yes, I said cyanide) present in cassava roots has not totally been overcome. Since this food is a main staple in most of Africa and South America, I will address the traditional method.  The natives prepare it themselves.
Cassava en route to the Market

The simplest method is "sun drying".  This involves peeling the roots followed by drying in the sun whole roots, or large pieces cut longitudinally.  The brittle, dry material is then pounded in a wooden pestle and mortar and sieved to remove fibrous material, which produces white flour.
Wooden mortars and pestles being sold along the roadside.
With this traditional method, the amount of cyanide retained as linamarin is quite high at 25-33%.  This is what most of the natives ingest each day in large and regular amounts.  This is their main food.

I have asked over and over, "....but isn't this dangerous?" The answers I have received are "Yes, and it may be a contributing factor to why the mortality rate is on the average 50 years old."
Cassava is very inexpensive and it has been traditionally processed for decades, maybe centuries.
There is another method to process the cassava root. It is called "Heap fermentation". It is more work and time consuming but cuts the cyanide down to 12.5-16.5%.  Some industrial providers of cassava farina or "gari" have a new wetting method to reduce the cyanide to 1.8-2.3%.  That is great news for those who can afford to buy it processed in that way but the majority will process and eat it in the traditional manner.

Here is a woman selling strips of the cassava right on the street.  She is cooking it on her little grill over charcoal which is how most of the people cook.  When we visited one of the missionary apartments, they too were cooking cassava.  They had it in a flour form and had made it into a large pasty ball.  They would break off a cookie-dough sized ball and dip it into a sauce and eat it.  They all said that they really loved it!!  
Sister Jameson had a cassava in her refrigerator and we peeled it, boiled it, sliced it up like french fry sized pieces and then fried it with salt.  We all enjoyed it very much!  But we do not plan on eating it on a regular basis.  You know why now!! ;)


  1. We ate a lot of cassava in Fiji. I wonder of it had cyanide in it too. Probably.

  2. I'm feeling more and more blessed with each post!

  3. That sounds so dangerous. Please be careful. It sounds like it is worse for you than McDonalds. It is sad when your daily menu is also life threatening.