Known as yuca, manioc, arrowroot, and tapioca, cassava has quite a few names — and uses.
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Versatile, filling, and tasty, cassava has all the qualities of a staple food. South American and Caribbean cultures have known this for centuries, and more and more people in the U.S. are catching on. Here's everything you need to know about cassava, including how to cook it and the one way you should never eat it.

What Is Cassava?

Cassava is a root vegetable that can be used in many of the same ways as potatoes. On the surface, this starchy tuber looks like a sweet potato or yam but with thicker skin. When cooked, cassava has a neutral flavor and soft, light texture.

Cassava grows in tropical and subtropical climates. Evidence suggests it originated in Brazil then spread to Central America and the Caribbean. It later arrived in Southeast Asia and West Africa, where it still grows. In all of these regions, people have incorporated cassava into their cuisine.

Cassava Root
Credit: dorisj / Getty Images

How to Use Cassava

You can cook cassava like you cook potatoes — baked, boiled, fried, and even grilled. For example, you can use it to bulk up soup or stew, turn it into French fries or chips, or serve it as a simple side dish. You can even use it in desserts, like this Filipino Cassava Cake.

Cassava flour is super versatile, too. (I like Otto's Naturals Cassava Flour.) For starters, it tastes milder than other grain-free, gluten-free flours. And people on nut-free diets can enjoy it. It's ideal for making tortillas, cookies (like Brown Butter-Cassava Flour Snickerdoodles), waffles, pizza crust, and more.

Is Cassava Dangerous to Eat?

You should never eat cassava raw. Cassava is categorized as bitter or sweet, and both require some TLC to be edible. According to the USDA, the bitter variety of cassava is actually poisonous when raw because it contains significant amounts of cyanide, a deadly chemical. Removing the cyanide calls for hours of soaking and cooking. You should even discard the water you cook it in, the USDA says.

That said, bitter cassava grows in Africa and isn't sold in U.S. supermarkets. Instead, the U.S. imports the sweet variety from Central America and the Caribbean. Sweet cassava contains small amounts of cyanide, meaning it's still inedible raw. But peeled, cooked cassava is totally safe to eat.

Cassava Benefits

If you've ever followed a gluten-free or paleo diet, chances are you've come across recipes that call for cassava or cassava flour. One of the world's main sources of starch, cassava contains almost double the calories and carbohydrates as a potato. This makes it an excellent source of energy. In terms of nutrients, cassava contains small amounts of potassium, vitamin C, magnesium, and B vitamins.

Cassava isn't a nightshade, a group of plants that include potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. Some diets (like the autoimmune protocol diet) ban nightshades, which makes cassava an ideal substitute for potatoes. Research, however, doesn't suggest that nightshades are harmful to eat, the Cleveland Clinic says.