Cassava (Manihot esculenta) A crop helping to preserve the Rainforest
Children playing on cassava tree. This is a specific variety.
Cassava is a tuber. It was re-sponsible for feeding a huge population of indigenous lowland South American & Caribbean people before the coming of other cultures to the continent.
This important world food crop originated in South America and was developed by indigenous scientists. It was taken to other parts of the world by early European explorers and is now responsible for feeding millions around the globe.
Traditional Cassava Farming
The crop has been farmed according to re-forestation farming in forested areas by native rainforest farmers for thousands of years. This method of farming has never depleted the rainforest.
Traditionally, it is men who would
clear the land for cultivating. The
women would source the cassava sticks for planting and tend the plants while they are growing. The plant is able to survive on almost any soil type and is very easy to grow. However, it takes a lot of tending. According to one Lokono elder, “Only an unwilling family would not have a farm and be out of cassava bread.”
Basic types of Cassava
There are two types of cassava – bitter and sweet. Sweet Cassava is boiled and eaten like potato. However, it is not as popular as bitter cassava. Bitter cassava is very important to forest communities. Among indigenous peoples of Guyana, there is more than one variety. Different varieties are farmed for different purposes. Some bear faster, while others might be planted for their resistance to pests or for their medicinal qualities.
Cassava Bread and Farine:
Bread and farine are the primary products made from the root tuber. Making cassava bread as well as farine is a process. In the traditional way of processing, the matapee which is an environmentally friendly, bio-degradable sieve is used. The bread is consumed with other types of foods e.g. fish, meat, shrimps, crabs etc. It is also eaten with fruits; both savoury such as avocado and sweet such as banana.
Like people everywhere, indigenous families need foods that can keep for some time. Cassava bread and farine have a long shelf life. One family can process enough to last for days or even weeks.
The bread or kali as it is known among Lokonos is also a convenient food. One Warrau matriarch explained that cassava bread with a casareep dish provides a ready meal when needed. She further explained that not having to cook a main meal every day allows more time to get along with other important activities.
Cassava bi- products
Cassava is such a versatile plant that no part is wasted. The skin is used as soil fertilizer and there are other bi-products. Liquid that is collected from squeezing is used to make cadikura which is a delicious thick gravy. Casareep, a thick sauce is made from the remaining liquid that is left over after making kadikura.
Cadikura is used to make pepper dishes and casareep is used as a
preservative sauce for meat and
fish dishes. The starch that settles
at the bottom of the liquid is used to make tapioca.
From the flour, popular local beverages are made. Piwarie or Belteri are just two of these beverages. Belteri is an energy giving drink that travels well. It is made from a potato- cassava paste that is mixed with water, according to taste, when and where needed.
Medicine from Cassava
Parts of the plant and some of the products made from the root are
used for medicinal purposes.
Cassava's Role in Forest Preservation:
For the types of food plants that Indigenous Americans have given to the rest of the world, cassava ranks among those at the top. For its con-tribution to sustaining the inhabitants of the rainforest as a farmed food crop while in turn working with the forest in its own preservation, it is at the top.
In response to the query on how to cook cassava
These methods of cooking are based on methods used by traditional indigenous people who tend to appreciate foods for their natural flavours.
Traditional recipes would have less or no additives and fats. However cassava, particular the sweet variety has been used in many modern ways such as deep frying.
It is very important to know the variety of cassava to be cooked. There are basically two types of cassava - bitter cassava and sweet cassava.
The Bitter cassava has to be processed before using as food. This is because if eaten without processing, it is toxic. Processing bitter cassava gives a flour and the flour is called by different names according to the culture. The flour can be used in different recipes including cassava bread. (see how to make stove top cassava bread)
There is no need to process sweet cassava. The tuber can be cooked the same as yam or potato. Like any other root tuber it has to be peeled and washed before cooking. Because of its size, it most often is cut into smaller pieces and cooked in water until soft. Sweet cassava can be mashed and seasoned with salt and butter and herbs or stew-fried in seasoned oil after cooking to enhance the taste.
Some popular supermarkets sell sweet cassava bits in their frozen section.