Cassava is a shrub with gnarled stems and tuberous roots, of the Euphorbiaceae family, of the genus Manihot (from the Brazilian word 'Mandihocat). It can reach 1.50 m to 2 m tall.
Originating in the Brazil and probably throughout tropical America, it has certainly been introduced in our islands by their first known occupants, the Arawaks and especially the Caribbean which were frequent expeditions in the greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as on the continent. Therefore this plant already existed in Guadeloupe and Martinique, in the early days of colonization. Here is what says the R.P. Du Tertre in his "natural history of the Antilles inhabited by the French.
"Everyone was surprised in the France, that in all the Islands, it is point wheat growing and admire at the same time as men can live of a root bread, whose juice is a poison that kills a man with a single spoonful; and wild instead believe the unfortunate French, because in their countries there was point cassava...
There are several kinds of cassava
There are the sweet bitter cassava cassava, since long, since it seems that the Caribbean were already this differentiation. If these two types are convertible into flour and moussache, sweet cassava can be eaten as a vegetable.
The R.P. Du Tertre, made a much broader distinction. According to him, there were six or seven kinds of cassava, that people recognize as follows: "by the color of the tails, sides of leaves or bark of the root. Violet a cassava a bark on its root, the thickness of a quarter of an ecu, a strong Brown purple; but the inside is white as snow. It made the bread taste better, and lasts more earthen than others. Grey cassava has wood and grey root bark, and is very uneven; because sometimes he relates much, sometimes very little; the bread is not bad. Green cassava, so called because of the greenery of its leaves, which are wiry and greener than others, reports much. He is never ten months to be good, and made excellent bread; but it keeps not long ago in the land. White cassava has whitish wood bark, its root, with the inside is yellow. It comes in six or seven months, he reported many of roots, but they resolve all in water; so that even the bread is yellow like gold, and very good taste, there is not his account, and few people make, there is that those who are in a hurry which have no cassava planted, planting of it, to have soon. There is a kind of rare cassava, called Kamanioc: it is so similar to white cassava, that it cannot be distinguished only with difficulty. On cooked whole like potatoes, and you eat it without expressing his juice, and without that it does no harm... »
All this is very complicated, we will maintain the classification in bitter cassava and sweet cassava.
The bitter cassava
They include Manihot utilissima Pohl or Manihot esculenta Crantz, the Caribbean knew under the name of "Kiere. These cassava tubers contain a toxic principle, the manihotoxine, which hydrolyzed by the enzyme, gives several products including hydrogen cyanide, true poison to humans. Fortunately, this acid disappears by washing and cooking.
We already knew the toxicity of bitter cassava in the 17th century, as evidenced by the writings of the first chroniclers. "We look this juice as a poison, not only for men, but also for animals that drink or eating these roots before that juice is expressed," wrote the R.P. Du Tertre. Father Labat said: "that is not a harmful poison though it causes death; but that having too much substance, the stomachs of the animals cannot digest, and that they are muffled. What appears in that animals that die have point of all the corrupt noble parts, but only the swollen chest". (New trip to the French islands of America - 1694). Recently, were reported the following case: "of a mother who cooked as yams that had sold it for sweet cassava but which was in fact bitter cassava roots. Her three children three, five and seven years that had eaten died and an autopsy revealed a hydrolysis of blood, red blood cells have become color chocolate, characteristic of the action of hydrogen cyanide. "(France-Antilles, Tuesday, July 4, 1978).
From the 17th century, the antivenin were numerous, but their effectiveness remains questionable. The R.P. Du Tertre advised three remedies. The first was to drink to the patient of olive oil with warm water to make it vomit, according to him, which gave good relief. The second remedy was to swallow a lot of pineapple juice with a few drops of lemon juice. The third medication was to take the juice of the snake wood. Here's what proposed father Labat: ' the different experiences I have made from this juice have convinced me that in addition to this abundance of nourishing substance, part of its malignancy is in its coldness that stops the blood circulation, numbs minds and finally cause death without offending the noble parts of the animal: the reason on which I rely. is that the best remedy that has found far to save the lives of animals that drank in, is to excite in them violent movements causing them to run the faster that you can warm them by making them swallow the strongest spirits with theriac, having them swallow oil to excite them to reject what they took. "in a Word, by awakening the spirits and making the blood moving.
Called Camaniocs (or Can-cassava), Manihot Dulcis Pax, Manihot utilissima Crantz, Aipi variety and other Camaniocs in our islands. They have the same general appearance as the bitter cassava. In the first, however, the skin of the tuber is thick and detaches easily; in the latter, it is very thin and adherent, hence the need for scraping.
The Camanioc be eaten boiled as other tubers.