Cassava, the meal, and bread made from it, obtained from the roots of several species of the genus manihot (from the Indian manioc), plants of the family of the euphorbiacem, which grow in the West Indies, South America, and Africa. Three species are described, but under different names by different botanists. The genus, formerly included in the jatropha of Linnsous, was separated by Kunth, and called janipha; and the common species was designated as J. manihot, of which two varieties, the sweet and bitter, are distinguished. But later authorities designate the genus as mamihot, and the common species as M. utilissima, another as M. aipi, and a third as M. janipha. The first is the bitter cassava, indigenous to Brazil, and cultivated in other parts of South America. It is a shrub 6 or 8 ft. high, with a large tuberous root, which sometimes weighs 30 lbs. This root contains a large proportion of starch, which is associated with a poisonous milky juice, containing hydrocyanic acid and a bitter acrid principle. The other two species do not possess this poisonous juice. All are used alike for the preparation of the meal.
The root is well washed, then scraped or grated to a pulp, and this, when of the poisonous kind, is thoroughly pressed in order to remove the juice; but even if some of this is left in the meal, it escapes by its volatility in the process of baking or drying the cakes upon a hot iron plate. Afterward dried in the sun, the cassava is kept as food, to be mixed with water and baked like flour in large thin cakes. These are a coarse, cheap kind of bread, much used by the negroes and poorer whites, in which the ligneous fibre is plainly visible. Its nourishing qualities consist in the starch of which it is principally composed. The expressed juice also furnishes by deposition a very delicate and nearly pure starch, when left to stand for some time. Well washed with cold water, and afterward dried, this is the tapioca of commerce, sometimes called Brazilian arrowroot.
Cassava (Manihot utilissima).