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What is Cassava Root and What is it Normally Used for?

What is cassava root?

It’s the main ingredient that makes boba pearls or tapioca pearls possible. The most delicious treat on the bottom of your bubble tea or boba cup. 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. It 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. It successfully grows in warm and humid climates similar to tropical regions in Southern Brazil.

what is cassava root
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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, you’ll see that the cassava root’s interior is white or pale yellow. The hue depends 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 unpleasant. To say the least. Nothing ruins a great bubble tea like awful tapioca pearls in your boba.

Common dimensions for 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. Like we mentioned, it can be processed 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 raw root itself, sometimes it can be sweet or bitter.

Cassava root 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. There are a lot of gluten-free recipes that use tapioca starch.

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?

what is cassava root
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First and foremost, never take a bite or eat cassava root raw. The root and any extremity of the plant itself contain 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 Cassava Root Correctly

To properly prepare the cassava root, we suggest washing and soaking your cassava root multiple times. Peel the root, wash it under cold water, and let it soak for a few minutes. Continue this process 3 or more times until thoroughly washed.

Use a sharp knife like this Japanese kitchen knife made from Simple Song to peel the rough outer edges of the cassava root. It helps if 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.

Feel free to use a knife sharpener like this one from Priority Chef if your knife is dull. We just found the highly rated one for you so you don’t have to go searching.
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 making a fine powder of tapioca starch.

Once you have the segments, begin slicing the cassava root lengthwise. 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!

what is cassava root
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Shredding 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 the trick.

When you have the cassava root finely shredded wash the results, let it dry, and wash it again. 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.

From here on you can begin rolling tapioca pearls on your favorite bamboo cutting board or use the freshly ground tapioca starch for something else. Besides tapioca pearls, the starch can be used for many cuisines. It’s 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 proper preparation to ensure the toxicity is all clear and the help of a food processor to make tapioca starch. Making those tapioca pearls is very simple too. Just tapioca starch and water is all you really need to get it going.

Read this article on how to make tapioca pearls from scratch if you want to make it at home.

Here are other interesting articles if you want to stick around.

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