Brown, hairy and ill formed is an apt description of the ubiquitous cassava corn. You can learn more about this foundation food that supports almost one third of the world's population at the Three Sisters next Saturday the twelfth of June in El Valle.
Cassava, from the Taino (Arawak) casavi meaning flour, has 5000 wild and cultigenic varieties world-wide, each adapted to a different environment and ecological niche, comprising 30% of the annual reported global tuber harvest.
This perennial root crop is the most prolific calorie producer on the globe and harvesting cassava is highly labor intensive providing jobs for its many small-scale producers. Its breadth of applications and high perishability allows farmers to participate in the marketing chain by rudimentary processing methods.
There are two major classifications: bitter and the sweet, although in truth the bitter is not bitter and the sweet is not sweet, with the distinction relating more to size and toxicity then any palate values.
Low herb like or branched shrubs are usually of the sweet, smaller cormed, less toxic variety while the slender unbranched tree type, usually producing a single corm, represents the bitter. The bitter variety is a higher elevation drier cultivar while the sweet version prefers the lowlands and more irrigation.
Cassava and cheese empanadas from Peru:
Never eat cassava raw! Both varieties contain sharp oxalic acid crystals that can damage the stomach lining and hydocyanogenic toxins that can prove fatal if not removed by either processing or cooking. Most processed products are made from the bitter variety while the sweet type is what is sold in local and stateside markets so don't overreact.
Cassava requires three months of wet conditions to establish itself and then takes 6 to 12 months to mature and the bitter variety can remain in the ground for an amazing 4 years before harvesting!
Bitter cassava usually has a larger, often singular, tuber with 50 times more toxin then the smaller multiple corms of the sweet cultivar. The freshly harvested cooked leaves of the sweet variety are eaten as pot greens or challoos and the raw unprocessed corm can be used for livestock fodder.