Most of us are familiar with the root named cassava. It is the ingredient used in gari (a popular food in the tropics, which resembles porridge), tapioca (which we eat as tapioca puddings), manioc, mandioca, yuca, and sagu (Manihot esculenta). Almost one-quarter of a billion people in the tropics consume cassava on a daily basis. Young roots may have one-third starch by weight, with very little protein or fat.
Almost 3000 years ago, cassava was used in early pre-Columbian times in Colombia and Venezuela as a food source. They probably learned through trial and error that consuming raw cassava could be a fatal experience. Cyanide-containing compounds in cassava cause illness or death by inhibition of the enzyme, cytochrome oxidase. Formation of an inactive complex of cytochrome oxidase and cyanide results in asphyxiation since oxygen cannot be utilized. Undoubtedly, it was learned that, by boiling or squeezing (pressing) cassava, the cyanide can be removed. There are certain cultivars of cassava with lower percentages of cyanide, such as sweet cassava. But this is not entirely accurate, since percentages depend on the genetics of the plant and growing conditions. Therefore, before consuming cassava, ensure that you are well aware of the correct methods of preparation.