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What is Cassava Root?

What is cassava root?

It’s the main ingredient in what makes boba pearls or tapioca the most delicious treat in your go-to bubble tea flavor at your local boba shop. That’s what cassava root is really for.

In all seriousness, the cassava root, scientifically known as Manihot Esculenta, is a yam or oddly carrot shaped shrub that is typically found in South America and Asia. It is part of the spurge family named Euphorbiaceae. (Are there any green thumbs here that know what that means?)

Generally the cassava root or Manihot Esulenta is prepared as a yearly crop usually in warmer and humid climates like tropical regions in Southern Brazil.

The exterior of the cassava root appears wood like with a rough brown finish on the outside of the plant. (It’s not that appealing at first glance that’s for sure). If you have the chance to cut one open and see what it’s like in the inside, you’ll see that the cassava root’s interior is white or pale yellow, depending on the condition of the root itself.

If you have one with a lot of blemishes or brown spots inside, it’s safe to say that you should discard it, the texture and consistency will be absent and the taste will just be nasty. Nothing ruins a great bubble tea like awful tapioca pearls in your boba.

According to statistics the cassava root is roughly 4-12cm in diameter at the bulky end of the root and can run more than 13cm long. Probably around the size of the bigger boba or bubble tea cups!

Cassava roots are mainly used for the rich starches it can produce to make delicious treats like tapioca pearls in bubble tea. Though it may be a hit or miss when it comes to the taste of the root itself, sometimes it can be sweet or bitter.

It typically lacks a lot of crucial nutrition like proteins, fats, essential vitamins and minerals besides carbohydrates. But on the bright side, It has some vitamin C, talk about a great source! It’s usually not used for its nutrients anyways but for the texture it can create with sauces or tapioca pearls.

If you’re curious about the total calories in any given bubble tea and it’s nutritional facts read it here.

How is Cassava Root Prepared for Tapioca Pearls?

First and foremost, never take a bite or eat cassava root raw. The root and any extremity of the plant itself contains cyanogenic glucosides, or in other words, toxic stuff you don’t want to consume without proper preparation. You’ll for sure have bad day, consult a doctor if consuming cassava root raw by accident.

Now that the important part is taken care of, on to the preparation!

Cutting the Cassava Root

In order to properly prepare the cassava root to rid the toxicity risk, typically people would peel the root and wash or soak the cassava root multiple times. Use a sharp knife like this Japanese kitchen knife made from Simple Song to peel the rough outer edges of the cassava root, be sure your knife is not dull. With the hard exterior the last thing you want to do is use a dull knife that will slip easily. If you have a favorite knife but it seems a bit dull, we highly recommend getting yourself a knife sharpener like this one from Priority Chef that is highly rated. 

Cut the two ends of the cassava root so that you have a firm base structure to begin cutting the sides. You can leave the whole root as is and begin cutting the sides or you can cut it further into segments. We typically see people cutting 2 inch segments to make the shredding process easier when creating a fine powder of starch.

Once you have the segments (or not) begin slicing the cassava root length wise so that you expose the core inside the cassava root. Once you have the core exposed, begin to cut this out as we do not need this portion. Throw away the cassava root core when complete.

Now, we let the shredding begin!

Shredding the Cassava Root into Starch

Once you have your few pieces of cassava root all peeled and cored, you can begin shredding the root into a fine starch. We recommend using a food processor for this part since it’s simpler and easier to manage. Plus it’s faster! A highly rated and recommended food processor from Hamilton Beach will do just the trick.

Once you have the cassava root finely shredded wash the results, let it dry and wash again until you have a nice mixture of starch and water ready to be dried into fine tapioca starch. Repeat this process a few times.

It’s important you wash the remaining shredded pulp multiple times so that you reduce the risk of consuming anything toxic. We don’t want any of that to occur do we now?

From here on you can begin rolling tapioca pearls on your favorite bamboo cutting board or use the freshly grinded tapioca starch for something else. Besides tapioca pearls, the starch can be used for many cuisines especially popular in Southern America and Asia. Plus, it’s a great alternative for those that cannot consume potato starch or wheat flour, and it’s gluten free!

Is it Really that Simple?

Yep! All it takes is a few hours of preparation to ensure the toxicity is all clear and from there the help of a food processor will do just the trick to get the fine starch you need. Making those tapioca pearls is very simple, just tapioca starch and water is all you really need to get it going.

How about we write another article on making the best tapioca pearls? Let us know what you’d like to read from us in the future. If you enjoyed this article please share your thoughts in our exclusive Talk Boba Group where boba lovers talk about their favorites boba shops in the city or their favorite bubble tea flavors.

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