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Cassava crisis: the deadly food that doubles as a vital Venezuelan crop (2017) (theguardian.com)
56 points by curtis 70 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments



There's a great book, The Secret of Our Success, about many things including how humans have adapted to many environments and Manioc is a fascinating example in that. If you just soak Manioc until it no longer tastes bitter you'll still be slowly poisoning yourself with SCN–. You have to soak it for as long as your ancestors did if you want to live to old age. And somehow people figured this out and managed to avoid taking shortcuts despite not understanding the reasons for what they did. More precise copying between generations, in both genes and culture, allows the accumulation of more total complexity though change comes more slowly.


Reminds me of how I recently learned via the Internet that cooking kidney beans with a slow cooker could be hazardous.


Googled this as I never knew either. Basically red kidney beans need to be cooked at greater than 100c for 10min to remove a toxin. Not all slow cookers reach this temp, hence the issue.


This is only for dried beans, canned beans are pre-cooked.

I used to be really paranoid about canned kidney beans and getting poisoned for a long time. Then I discovered that the rule only applies to dried beans, and fresh I guess as well.


Today I learned. I guess it'll be the instant pot or stovetop for all dried beans from now on.


On the flip side it reminds me of this joke:

The new Jewish bride is making her first big dinner for her husband and tries her hand at her mother’s brisket recipe, cutting off the ends of the roast the way her mother always did. Hubby thinks the meat is delicious, but says, “Why do you cut off the ends — that’s the best part!” She answers, “That’s the way my mother always made it.”

The next week, they go to the old bubbie’s house, and she prepares the famous brisket recipe, again cutting off the ends. The young bride is sure she must be missing some vital information, so she askes her grandma why she cut off the ends. Grandma says, “Dahlink, that’s the only way it will fit in the pan!”


Is Cassava flour expensive in the countries where it is grown? In Western Europe and Australia, it seems to be priced at approximately $9 AUD / €6 per kilogram of flour and only available from selected specialty retailers or health food stores.

Given it is such an important staple for 700 million people worldwide, made me wonder whether its 'uniqueness' attracts a significant cost addition. Or maybe the flour is (relatively) expensive, and not the tubers or edible parts of the plant?


It is amongst the cheapest edible things you can find here in Colombia, and assume across all South America, but then again, price of agricultural goods here is more or less close to zero if compared to price of them same goods when imported in North America / Europe / Australia.


Interesting. Is it easy to purchase Cassava Flour? (as opposed to the root vegetable or other Cassava products like Tapioca pearls).


Here in Brazil you can fill a shopping cart with the stuff in ant Carrefour. For restaurants, specially the ones that serve feijoada or barbecue*, is not hard to find it in 50kg sacs.

Manioc flour is the main ingredient in farofa, an essential side dish for both feijoada and bbq.


And it's delicious in all sorts of dishes.


Here in Brazil it is very cheap, because it grows everywhere. Used to plant in the backyard when I was a child.


> In ... Australia ... only available from selected specialty retailers or health food stores.

It can be found in the major supermarkets https://shop.coles.com.au/a/a-qld-fnq-townsville-aitke/every... https://www.woolworths.com.au/shop/search/products?searchTer...


Sort of. Of the links you provided only one of them - at Coles New World! - is for Cassava* Flour: https://shop.coles.com.au/a/a-qld-fnq-townsville-aitke/produ... and online. I’ve never seen it at my local Coles or Woolies (or Aldis, or Foodland, or IGA, etc)

The others are Tapioca starch or other products- not the same as flour.

* and even then it is called Tapioca Flour so may not be the same thing as Cassava Flour. It is some times difficult to distinguish between Tapioca (starch-heavy?) and Cassava (starch-moderate?)


You missed the "arrowroot" flour, which is actually tapioca flour https://www.woolworths.com.au/shop/productdetails/226010/mc-...

There seems to be a bit of disagreement out there but most of the things I've read say the flour and starch are the same thing.


Thanks, good to know about the Arrowroot flour being Tapioca flour.

Yeah, it is confusing determining what is flour and starch. Doesn’t help that there are a variety of names eg Yuca (but not Yucca!), Manioca, Cassava, etc.


Why are the products labelled Tapioca Flour and Cassava Flour different?

It's the same tuber from the same plant, isn't it?


Here in Brazil, we have two kinds of flour from manioc, a very coarse one used in Farofa and in a taco-shell like crunchy thing we call Tapioca, the other is a super thin one called Polvilho, used in biscuits and cheese bread. maybe they're related to the ones you know.


Thanks, I think the one commonly labelled Cassava Flour (at least in Australia) is the Povilho variety.

Maybe the Tapioca vs Povilho difference refers to the bitter vs sweet varieties of the Cassava plant?


It's probably a lot cheaper when called "tapioca" than when called "cassava", at least in North America. :-P


Except "tapioca" in NA can also mean "sago", which is a totally different plant.


Interesting, good to know! I don't think I've encountered that before.


I am confused by the difference between Tapioca and Cassava. The article doesn’t make this clear... and yeah, I can Wikipedia it ;)


As far as I can tell it's just a different common name.


Some things may be cheap and common in a place, but an exotic delicacy in others, so the market adjusts.


Often it's "ethnic" foods that are expensive, but there's an interesting inverse with chicken feet.

In the west, you can get Chicken feet for just about free, I think they're like $2 per kg at my supermarket. In China though, they're a delicacy and quite expensive.


The star of my favorite "mystery illness" article:

https://www.damninteresting.com/the-curse-of-konzo/

“Polio outbreak. Memba District. 38 cases. Reflexes increased.”


Apple seeds also contain small amounts of Cyanide. A couple seeds won't hurt you, but I heard a story about a guy that roasted them like pumpkin seeds and died after eating a couple handfuls.


> crisis

> The last reported fatal cases of cassava poisoning occurred in February 2017.

Crisis? This article is so over the top it's not even funny.


The article is from June 2017, and it does state that “At least 28 people have died as a result of eating bitter cassava”, but the word ‘crisis’ - at least referring to any major problem outside of Venezuala - does seem a little bit hyperbolic.


It is very well a crisis if people die en masse because they have to resort to (potentially) toxic black market foods.


I didn't pay attention to the date, so perhaps I jumped the gun here declaring it a non-issue.




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