Tapioca is a starch extracted from the root of the plant species Manihot esculenta. This species, native to the Amazon (e.g Brazil), is now cultivated worldwide and has many names, including cassava, bitter-cassava, manioc, “mandioca”, “aipim”, “macaxeira”, “manioca”, “boba”, “yuca” (not to be confused with yucca), “Sagudana” (literally, Sagu drops) with local variation of “Sabudana” and “kappa”. In Vietnam, it is called bột năng. Tapioca is a staple food in some regions and is used worldwide as a thickening agent, principally in foods. Tapioca is gluten free, and nearly protein free. The commercial form of tapioca most familiar to many people is pearl tapioca.
The name tapioca is a word derived from tipi’óka, the name for this starch in Tupi This Tupi word refers to the process by which the starch is made edible. However, as the word moved out of South America it came to refer to similar preparations made with other esculents.’Tapioca’ in Britain often refers to a milk pudding thickened with arrowrootwhile in Asia the sap of the sago palm is often part of its preparation.
Pearl tapioca is similar to pearl sago, which is used in essentially the same ways. Consequently, tapioca may be called sago, and vice versa.
Indian Usage of Tapioca
Indian Usage of Tapioca a favorite food in Kerala
In southern parts of India, especially the state of Kerala, tapioca is a favorite food. It is consumed, either boiled or cooked with spices. Tapioca and fish curry is a famous combination food of Kerala. It is eaten almost everyday in many houses in central part of Kerala. Some times, tapioca is thinly sliced and made into wafers, similar to potato wafers. Cassava, often referred to as tapioca in English, is called Kappa or Poola (in norther Kerala) or Maracheeni or Cheeni in Malayalam. Tapioca is used to make a granules like product called chowwary in Malayalam. This is used to make a light porridge by adding milk or buttermilk, recommended for patients recovering from illness.
Indian Usage of Tapioca in Andhra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra
Tapioca is also available in Andhra Pradesh and coastal regions and is called with the name “Karrapendalam” in Telugu. Cassava is called “Pendalam” in Telugu. In Kannada, the actual cassava root is called kolli.
The Tapioca Pearls are known as “Sabudana” in Marathi. It is commonly used as a food during fasting (popularly called khichadi) among Hindus in Western and central part of India (Gujarat & Maharashtra region).
Tapioca Cultivation and usage in Tamil Nadu
Tapioca Plant in early stage
Tapioca Plant in full maturityIn Tamil, the roots of tapioca are called Maravallikezangu or Kuchikezangu, and are used to prepare chips. Tapioca is also used to prepare maida flour. Tapioca chips are also prepared in parts of South India.
In Tamil Nadu, Tapioca is Cultivated more in the districts of Namakkal and Salem. In these two districts there are so many Tapioca Processing units and they are called as Sago Factories. A large number of tapioca industries are found in Attur Taluk, Salem District. Salem City has a marketing center for the sago (known as “Javvarisi”).
In these factories the Sabudana (Hindi) / Javvarisi (Tamil) is produced and distributed throughout India and exported to different countries. The Cultivation of Tapioca is manpower intensive only at the time of Plantation and Harvest and it produces steady income to the farmers. The Tapioca roots are one of the cheapest food available for the poor. The Tapioca = Maravallikilangu can be consumed raw (after removing the skins / outer cover). At the same time it can be boiled and different dishes like Uppuma (Tamil)can be made. We can make Chips and use it as snacks during tea time.
Usage of Tapioca in Northern India in the form of (Javvarisi / Sabudana)
In Northern India during the festival season, Sabudana is usually consumed during Vrat (Hindi) or fasting, either prepared as a “Kichdi” (savory) or Kheer (Sweet).
Tapioca is also referred to as “Poor Man’s Food”
Usage of Tapioca during World War II
During World War II’s Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia, many refugees survived on tapioca, as the plant is easily propagated by stem-cutting, grows well in low-nutrient soils, and can be harvested every two months. (However, to grow to full maturity, it takes 10 months). The plant thus provided much needed carbohydrate and protein.
Tapioca usage at Brazil
In Brazilian cuisine, tapioca is used for different types of meals. The tapioca is stirred, drained through a sieve, fried into a tortilla shape, and often sprinkled with coconut. Then it may be buttered and eaten as a toast (its most common use as a breakfast dish), or it may be filled or topped with either doces (sweet) or salgados (salty) ingredients, which define the kind of meal the tapioca is used for: breakfast, afternoon tea or dessert. Choices range from butter, cheese, chocolate, bananas with condensed milk, chocolate with bananas, to various forms of meats and served warm. A traditional dessert called sagu is also made from pearl tapioca cooked with cinnamon and cloves in red wine. A restaurant which specializes in tapioca-based dishes (mostly fillings) is called in Brazil a tapiocaria. In Colombia and Venezuela, arepas may be made with tapioca flour rather than cornmeal. Tapioca arepas probably predate cornmeal arepas; among traditional cultures of the Caribbean the name for them is casabe.
A casabe is a thin flatbread made from bitter cassava root without leavening. It was originally produced by the Native American Arawak and Carib nations because these roots were a very common plant of the rain forests where they lived. In eastern Venezuela many Native American ethnic groups still make casabe and it remains their main bread-like food. Native American communities including the Ye-Kuana, Kari-Ña, Yanomami, Guarao or Warao are from either the Caribe or Arawac Nations and still make casabe.
To make casabe, the starchy root of bitter cassava is ground to a pulp, then squeezed to expel a milky, bitter liquid called yare which carries the poisonous substances with it out of the pulp. Traditionally, this squeezing is done in a sebucan, an 8 to 12-foot (3.7 m) long tube-shaped pressure strainer woven in a characteristic helical pattern from palm leaves. The sebucan usually is hung from a tree branch or ceiling pole, and it has a closed bottom with a loop that is attached to a fixed stick or lever, which is used to stretch the sebucan. When the lever is pushed down, stretching the sebucan, the helical weaving pattern causes the strainer to squeeze the pulp inside. This is similar to the action of a Chinese finger trap. The pulp is then spread in thin, round cakes about 2 feet (0.61 m) in diameter on a budare’ to roast or toast.
Casabe baking in a small commercial bakeryThin and crisp cakes of casabe are often broken apart and eaten like crackers. Like bread, casabe can be eaten alone or with other dishes. Thicker casabe usually are eaten slightly moistened. Just a subtle sprinkle of a few drops of liquid is enough to transform a very dry casabe into a very soft and smooth bread very similar to the softest slice of a wheat bread loaf, an incredible change in texture. Because of its capacity to absorb liquid immediately, casabe may cause someone to choke, but goes down quickly with a sip of liquid. In Guyana, South America the casabe is simply called cassava bread. It is prepared with an instrument called a matape by the natives of the Rupununi Savanah and other areas of the country that have a high concentration of Amerinidians.
Pearl tapioca is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian desserts such as kolak, in tapioca pudding, and in sweet drinks such as bubble tea and taho, where they provide a chewy contrast to the sweetness of the drink. Small pearls are preferred for use in puddings; large pearls are preferred for use in drinks. These large pearls most often are brown, not white (and traditionally are used in black tea drinks), but are available in a wide variety of pastel colors.