Cassava is a gluten free root that’s called many things: manioc, mandioca, yuca, tapioca, and other regional names. Tapioca starch is just a more processed version of cassava, but we’ll get into more specifics about that further down the article. This starchy root is native to South America and is a major food source in the Americas, Africa, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

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Fried cassava with meat from Léo Roza via Unsplash

Nutritional Properties of Cassava

There are two types of cassava, bitter and sweet. All raw cassava contains cyanogenic glycosides that eventually decompose to hydrogen cyanide (HCN) once the plant tissue is damaged. Bitter varieties contain considerably more of these compounds than sweet varieties. Therefore, sweet varieties of cassava are the most common and are safer to consume, but both varieties must be cooked and processed correctly to remove the cyanide. Never consume raw unprocessed cassava, as even a few pieces could be lethal. Some cultures both ferment and cook the cassava, which helps break down the cyanogenic glycosides even further.

Despite cassava being a relatively easy crop to produce and store, there is the concern of post-harvest physiological deterioration (PPD). PPD in cassava is an oxidative reaction that occurs when the storage roots are exposed to oxygen after being detached from the mother stem at harvest. PPD is characterized by a bluish-brown or bluish-black discoloration of tissues along the roots, and makes the cassava unpalatable. Oxygen exclusion practices can prevent PPD. Cassava roots with higher antioxidant content also tend to be more tolerant to PPD. This harvesting and storage issue is one of the main obstacles preventing cassava farmers from exporting abroad and generating income. Fresh cassava can be preserved using thiabendazole or bleach as a fungicide, then wrapped in plastic, coated in wax or frozen for storage.


Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Given the cyanide and PPD concerns, it’s a bit surprising that cassava is one of the most popular root vegetable crops in the world! In fact, it’s the primary carbohydrate source for over 800 million people. It’s especially popular in developing nations because it’s resistant to drought, easy to grow without much fertilizer, and can provide more calories per acre than cereal grain crops. Cassava provides lots of carbs, vitamin c, potassium, magnesium, niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin. The leaves of the plant can also be eaten (although they must also be properly cooked or treated to remove cyanide) and are high in protein. The roots contain resistant starch, which has been shown to improve gut health. However, the cassava roots are not high in protein or fat.

Considerations When Baking With Cassava

PPD and cyanide aren’t concerns for cassava flour and tapioca starch, which have already been treated. Cassava flour is made of the full tuber, whereas tapioca starch contains only the starch portion and none of the fiber. These two products will bake up very differently and cannot be used interchangeably. Foods like farofa, a Brazilian savory topping, and chipa, a Paraguayan cheese roll, are made from cassava flour. Foods like fufu, a doughly West African side, pao de quiejo, a Brazilian cheese bread, and boba, are made from tapioca starch. Grated, steamed, or mashed cassava is used in foods like bibingka, a type of Filipino kakanin cake, bánh khoai mì, a Vietnamese cake, or as a type of fry in Surinamese telo.


Eforiro & fufu combination from Femoree via Unsplash

Gluten free baking recipes will most often call for tapioca starch, as opposed to cassava flour. Tapioca starch is very neutral and mild tasting, and can help add elasticity and tenderness to gluten free baked goods. It makes a great allergen-friendly thickener and stabilizer for sauces and ice creams, and can provide a bit of light sponginess to otherwise dry foods. It also helps improve browning when baked and adds a nice glossiness when used in sauces.

In the right combination with other gluten free flours, like almond or sorghum, tapioca can add an airiness, crispness, and pliability that’s often missing in gluten free baked goods. But when too much is used, it will make your gluten free baked goods dense and gummy. Certain recipes use tapioca starch as the star ingredient (like pao de queijo), and other recipes utilize it’s best properties in combination with other flours to make a dupe for wheat flour. We’ve included both types of recipes below!

Gluten Free Cassava Products


Brazi bites from Medium

Gluten Free Cassava Recipes


Getuk Singkong from Asian Food Network

* Title image courtesy of Loren Biser via Unsplash.

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