is a herbaceous shrub that can grow up to 12 feet tall.
It is drought-tolerant and grows well in low-nutrient
soils. It is propagated vegetatively as clones and can
take 8-18 months to bear, depending on soil conditions.
Cassava is mostly grown for its root, or tuber, which
can reach over two feet in length, and is rich in carbohydrates
and dietary fiber. Recent studies suggest that a diet
rich in fiber can reduce the onset of diabetes and cardio-vascular
disease. Its leaves are also edible, eaten mostly in
Africa, and are rich in protein and vitamins A, B and
has become a major international industry for several
nations, including Thailand, China, Brazil and Nigeria.
Worldwide production in 2000 was 172 million tons! In
1999 Thailand exported 10 million pounds of cassava
chips, earning US$700 million, and China has over 400
cassava production plants. Cassava starch can be further
processed into sorbitol, mannitol, glucose, fructose
and even monosodium glutamate (MSG). The starch is also
used in commercial production of ethanol and acetone.
In Belize, it is grown mostly as a subsistence crop,
but one source says the Barbados has almost 3 times
the yield/per hectare than Nigeria. South Africa is
currently looking into commercial production of cassava,
maybe Belize should investigate its options, too!
In Belize we recognize two kinds of cassava: sweet and
bitter. This is due to the absence or presence of toxic
levels of cyanogenic glucosides. Scientifically speaking,
it was recently decided that they are the same species,
Manihot esculenta, but don't go adding the bitter root
to your boil up or serré! The sweet cassava has
darker green leaves than the bitter one. There is also
a third, variegated (white in its leaves) variety, used
only for an ornamental plant.
bitter root is used for cassava flour, and the toxins
are reduced by the laborious preparation and cooking
processes. The Garifuna make a dry cassava bread that
lasts forever. It requires peeling then grating the
root on a special, long board full of small pebbles.
The juice is strained through a 12 foot long, woven
strainer resembling a snake: its Garifuna name is ruguma
but some people call it "wowla", the Creole
nickname for a boa constrictor. The collected juice
can be dried out and used for a baby formula (porridge),
cooked on the stovetop with nutmeg and water, or in
Cassava bread has recently been marketed in the United
States for people allergic to wheat. Cassava
juice and even wine or beer (hiu in Garifuna) can be
made from the strainings out of the ruguma.
The sweet cassava root has many uses. It can be peeled
and boiled in soups or stews. In Belize we call it "ground
food" which is an important component of "ital"
food. Ital food is simply a Creole way of saying what's
good for you, from nature. A perfect example is the
Belizean dish "boil up": boiled ground foods
like potato, cassava, yampi , coco (both are tubers),
plantain and green banana. Sometimes a boiled egg is
used for protein. This is served with boiled or steamed
fish and a thick tomato sauce. Delicious and nutritious!
Cassava can also be thinly sliced and fried like potato
chips, or cut thicker, fried and salted like French
Another Garifuna traditional food is dani. This is the
sweet cassava root grated, boiled and sweetened further,
and wrapped in waha or plantain leaf. The waha leaf
(gasibu in Garifuna) is a large thick leaf also used
to wrap and steam tamales.
Cassava cake is both a Garifuna and Creole tradition,
the Creole call it "plastic" cake because
the cassava starch makes it stretch. In fact, cassava
cake is made in Brazil, Vietnam and the Philippines.
In Belize it is made with coconut milk, cinnamon, nutmeg,
ginger, sugar and butter. Most of these delicacies are
not found in restaurants, but are usually sold in Dangriga
around the 19th of November, Garifuna Settlement Day
festivities traditionally begin with the picking of
Miss Garifuna the weekend before the holiday, at a specified
Garifuna village. This year it'’s Hopkins, rumors
say Seine Bight for next year (2004). Garifuna villages
in Belize include Dangriga (town), Hopkins, Georgetown,
Seine Bight, Barranco and Punta Gorda.