07 July 2009

The Great Cassava Debate

I was just reading through an old blog of mine from my travels in 2006 and 2007. It's funny reading something that, really is not old, but feels old. I feel like I have matured quite a bit since then...thankfully.

But I something I read made me laugh for a different reason: the Great Cassava Debate. In 2007, I traveled to Dubai with work to attend/participate in meetings. One set of meetings was with just my "line of business", involving only myself, my boss and 2 others. One of the two, Eric, is still on my team today, a Kenyan who lives full time in Dubai.

On one of my last days there, we all went out to lunch and somehow got onto the topic of cassava, a "thing" that is somewhat similar to a potato in both taste and texture. Cassava is a staple carbohydrate for much of Africa. It is also called Yuca in Latin America, which is how I have eaten it here in the US.

I say "thing" because it relates to the conversation. We ended up debating what a Cassava was for the entire lunch. Is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? Is it other? This debate continues to this day! And two years later, we still debate it regularly - probably about once every 6 months or whenever there is another native African around to support Eric's opinion.

Most of us defined it as a vegetable...including the waiters and waitresses at the restaurant, whom we forced to involve in the discussion. Eric, however, was adamant. Cassava could not be defined as a vegetable! No, it is a tuber...like a potato! And we would retort: but a potato is a vegetable! To which he would respond, No, a potato is a Tuber!

And it just continued...still continues.

I suppose it just shows how stubborn we all are being unable to concede, after 2 YEARS, one way or the other.

But I thought I would take the time to post some interesting facts about Cassava. It is not eaten much in Western nations, unless by families who have emigrated from societies where it is eaten. So we do not know much about it here.
  • It is grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world.
  • It is the 3rd largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world! Africa is the continent that produces (and I believe consumes) the most.
  • We are somewhat familiar with what its root flour is: tapioca
  • So for those who enjoy Boba or Bubble Tea (depending on what they call it where you are), you are partaking in the Cassava plant.
  • They are also a good source of calcium and vitamin C.
  • Cassava roots and leaves cannot be consumed raw because they contain different kinds of cyanide, which, depending on how much you ingest, can lead to paralysation and/or death by malnutrition.
  • Societies that are used to eating Cassava, however, are experts at cooking Cassava to remove the toxins, whether through soaking (up to 3 days!), boiling, fermenting and more.
And yet...nothing definitive as to whether you can call it a vegetable or if you must refer to it as a tuber...the debate continues...

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