KAMOTENG-KAHOY – Cassava, manioc, yucca root – is a tuberous root that belongs to the Euphorbia family.
The plant grows erect like a tree but the tree trunk is a soft wood like a papaya. The leaves are spread out like fingers (palmate) and green in color while the stems are maroon in color. The flowers formed in clusters are insignificant and small. The roots which are the main crop of this plant, are brown in color like a tree bark, but when peeled, the flesh inside is creamy white. The root will form from 6 inches up to 15 inches in length and 2 inches up to 4 inches in diameter.
Cassava is a hardy, tropical plant. It is widely cultivated in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Due to its high carbohydrate contents, it is rank number 4 in food crop in the world along with rice, maize and wheat. It can stand drought but the root will be yellowish and poisonous. It is the bitter type of cassava. The bitter type needs to be grated and soaked in water, then squeezed to remove any toxins that are present. It needs to be cooked before consuming. The sweet type can be eaten raw. In the Philippines, the season for cassava is during the rainy season. It is particularly good to eat when it is raining. For me it is a comfort food. My grandma will peel the hard skin of the roots just like a bark, you need the remove the cambium too. She easily do that by slicing the cambium into spirals and then it will easily be peeled.
Before planting cassava, the soil needs to be prepared and be amended with any type of organic matter like compost and composted manure in order to make sure of good root formation. The plant is propagated by planting the stems. Cut the stems into 6 inches long and plant in a slanting way. The stem will form new plants through the leaf nodes. Make sure it is watered everyday until you see new leaves forming. Once it is established, it can take less watering but it is better to water consistently to avoid bitter roots. Wait for about 4 to 6 months to harvest. Longer than 6 months, the roots will be tough and fibrous. It will grow from 5 feet to 7 feet high. In my hometown, they will use the plants for screening or as fencing materials.
In Africa, cassava is a vital food source for carbohydrates. It is the source of tapioca starch, where tapioca pearl drinks come from, and the “farinha” flour of Brazil. It has dietary fiber and Vitamin C.
In the Philippines, we use it in almost any dessert, like the tapioca pearls, we incorporate it in the “ginataan”, a mix of tropical fruits like langka, (jackfruit), saba (cooking banana) sweet potato or cassava or even gabi (taro). This is cooked in coconut milk sweetened with sugar and then flavored with pandan leaves. We also used tapioca pearls in halo-halo, also a mix of tropical fruits in season, sugar, cream or evaporated milk, and shaved ice. The freshly grated cassava can also be made into bibingka (cake), pichi-pichi or suman, a delicacy which is wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed. The simplest way we eat this root is boiling them in water with a little bit of salt and then when the flesh is tender, we eat the cassava with freshly grated coconut and sprinkled with sugar. It can be eaten as breakfast or can be served as a snack at tea time (merienda).