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Tapioca (Portuguese pronunciation: [tɐpiˈɔkɐ]) is a starch extracted from cassava root (Manihot esculenta). This species is native to North Region, Brazil but spread throughout the South American continent. The plant was carried by Portuguese and Spanish explorers to most of the West Indies, and continents of Africa and Asia, including the Philippines and Taiwan. It is now cultivated worldwide.
In Brazil, cassava is called mandioca while its starch is called tapioca, a word derived from the word tipi'óka, its name in the Tupí language spoken by natives when the Portuguese first arrived in the Northeast Region of Brazil. This Tupí word refers to the process by which the cassava starch is made edible. As the food and word were taken to other world regions, "tapioca" was applied to similar food preparations.
In India, the term "tapioca-root" is used to represent the tuber of the cassava rather than the derived starch. It is called kappa in Malayalam. There is also a popular dish prepared from dried wafers from tapioca which are fried in coconut oil and salted.
Tapioca is one of the purest forms of starch food, and the production varies from region to region.
The cassava plant has either red or green branches with blue spindles on them. The root of the green-branched variant requires treatment to remove linamarin, a cyanogenic glycoside occurring naturally in the plant, which otherwise may be converted into cyanide. Konzo (also called mantakassa) is a paralytic disease associated with several weeks of almost exclusive consumption of insufficiently processed bitter cassava.
In the North and Northeast of Brazil, traditional community based production of tapioca is a by-product of manioc flour production from cassava roots. In this process, the manioc (after treatment to remove toxicity) is ground to a pulp with a small hand- or diesel-powered mill. This masa is then squeezed to dry it out. The wet masa is placed in a long woven tube called a tipiti. The top of the tube is secured while a large branch or lever is inserted into a loop at the bottom and used to stretch the entire implement vertically, squeezing a starch-rich liquid out through the weave and ends. This liquid is collected and the water allowed to evaporate, leaving behind a fine-grained tapioca powder similar in appearance to corn starch.
Commercially, the starch is processed into several forms: hot soluble powder, meal, pre-cooked fine/coarse flakes, rectangular sticks, and spherical "pearls". Pearls are the most widely available shape; sizes range from about 1 mm to 8 mm in diameter, with 2–3 mm being the most common.
Flakes, sticks, and pearls must be soaked well before cooking, in order to rehydrate, absorbing water up to twice their volume. After rehydration, tapioca products become leathery and swollen. Processed tapioca is usually white, but sticks and pearls may be colored. Since old times, the most common color applied to tapioca has been brown, but recently pastel colors have been available. Tapioca pearls are generally opaque when raw, but become translucent when cooked in boiling water.
In Brazilian cuisine, tapioca is used for different types of meals. In beiju (or biju), the tapioca is moistened, strained through a sieve to become a coarse flour, then sprinkled onto a hot griddle or pan, where the heat makes the starchy grains fuse into a flatbread which resembles a grainy pancake. 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 salgados (salty ingredients) or doces (sweet ingredients), which define the kind of meal the tapioca is used for: breakfast/dinner, or dessert. Choices for fillings range from butter, cheese, ham, bacon, various kinds of meat, chocolate, fruits such as ground coconut, condensed milk, chocolate with sliced pieces of banana or strawberry, among others. This kind of tapioca dish is usually served warm.
A regional dessert called sagu is also made in Southern Brazil from tapioca pearls cooked with cinnamon and cloves in red wine. The cassava root is known by different names throughout the country: mandioca in the North, Central-West and in São Paulo; tapioca or macaxeira in the Northeast; aipim in the Southeast (especially in Rio de Janeiro).
The fine-grained tapioca starch is called polvilho, and it is classified as either "sweet" or "sour". Sour polvilho is commonly used in dishes such as [[pão de queijo]] or "cheese bread", in which the starch is mixed with a certain type of cheese similar to parmigiano (Parmesan), eggs and butter and baked in the oven. The final result is an aromatic, chewy and elastic kind of bread that is ubiquitous across the country. Sour cassava flour is mixed into mashed beans to make the dish tutu de feijão.
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. Throughout both Spanish and Portuguese South America, the tapioca, or yuca, starch is used to make regional variations of the baked cheese bun, known locally as pandebono, pan de yuca, pão de queijo, chipá, or cuñapé, among other names.
The whole unprocessed cassava root also has a number of culinary uses throughout South America.
While frequently associated with tapioca pudding, a dessert in the United States, tapioca is also used in other courses. Bubble tea, made with tapioca pearls, is gaining popularity in cities with large Asian populations. People on gluten-free diets can eat bread made with tapioca flour (although these individuals have to be careful, as some tapioca flour has wheat added to it). Tapioca is also used as an ingredient in the Canadian Daiya brand cheese substitute.
Tapioca was used by the first inhabitants of the West Indies as a staple food from which they made main dishes, such as pepper pot, and also used it to make alcohol. They used it for teeth cleaning, and it is still used as a base locally for toothpaste. In the 21st century, it is still a very popular food in the islands, used as a provision cooked with meats or fish, and in desserts such as cassava pone.
In various Asian countries, including Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan, tapioca pearls are widely used and are known as sagudana, sabudana or shabudana (pearl sago) or "sabba akki" (ಕನ್ನಡ: ಸಬ್ಬಕ್ಕಿ in Kannada). It has religious importance in certain communities and used as a staple food for fasting. The pearls (sagudana or shabudana/sabudana) are used to make snacks. Tapioca pearls are essential ingredients for Taiwanese Bubble Tea.
In Southeast Asia, the cassava root is commonly cut into slices, wedges or strips, fried, and served as a snack, similar to potato chips, wedges or french fries. Another method is to boil large blocks until soft, and serve them with grated coconut as a dessert, either slightly salted or sweetened, usually with palm sugar syrup. In Thailand this dish is called Mansampalang (มันสำปะหลัง).
Tapai is made by fermenting large blocks with a yeast-like bacteria culture to produce a sweet and slightly alcoholic dessert. Further fermentation releases more liquids and alcohol producing Tuak, a sour alcoholic beverage.
A variation of the chips popular amongst the Malays is kerepek pedas, where the crisps are coated with a hot, sweet and tangy chili and onion paste, or sambal, usually with fried anchovies and peanuts added.
Krupuk, or crackers, is a major use of tapioca starch in Indonesia.
Commercially prepared tapioca has many uses. Tapioca powder is commonly used as a thickener for soups and other liquid foods. It is also used as a binder in pharmaceutical tablets and natural paints. The flour is used to make tender breads, cakes, biscuits, cookies, and other delicacies (see also Maida flour). Tapioca flakes are used to thicken the filling of pies made with fruits having a high water content.
A typical recipe for tapioca jelly can be made by washing 2 tablespoonfuls of tapioca, pouring a pint of water over it, and soaking for three hours. The mixture is placed over low heat and simmered until quite clear. If too thick, a little boiling water can be added. It can be sweetened with white sugar, flavored with coconut milk or a little wine, and eaten alone or with cream.
It is known as "Mangnokka" in Sri Lanka and Mauritius, as well as by its Sinhalese and Tamil names. It is generally eaten boiled with a chili onion mixture called "Lunu Miris Sambol" (type of a salsa) or coconut sambol. At the same time, it is very popular to have tapioca pearls prepared as a delicacy. At one time, tapioca pearls were used to starch clothes by boiling tapioca pearls with the clothes.
During religious fasts (উপোষ), Sabudana is a popular alternative to rice-based foods. Consumed with curd (দইসাবু) or milk (দুধসাবু) or prepared as a Khichdi, sago is particularly popular choice during the Fasts of 'Ramadan' (রমজান),'Ombubachi' (অমবুবাচি), Nilshosthi (নীলষঠী) and Ekadoshi (একাদশী). Traditionally, tapioca pearls are used as the food for children, elderly and ill people, mixed with milk or water. Faluda (ফালুদা), a popular food, is also prepared with curd, ice and other ingredient during summer.
Tapioca is a common ingredient of some Indian dishes and the most common form that is added into dishes is in the form of Tapioca Pearls. Local words for Tapioca roots in India include: Malayalam kappa or maraccīni, Tamil maravaḷḷikilanku, Kannada sabakki(ಸಾಬಕ್ಕಿ)', Hindi (साबूदाना) and saggu biyyam (సగ్గు బియ్యం) Telugu language. which used to prepare sabbakki payasam in indian traditional foods
Cassava, often referred to as tapioca from its word in Portuguese, is called Kappa (കപ്പ) Kizhangu or Poola (in northern Kerala) or Maracheeni or Cheeni or Kolli or Mathock (മത്തോക്ക്), Poola (പൂള)in Malayalam.
Tapioca is widely consumed in the Indian state of Kerala, usually as breakfast or in the evening. It is boiled (after skinning and cutting it into large cakes of about 6–8 cm long or into small 2 cm cubes) in water till properly cooked, and the water is drained off. Once cooked, it can be mixed with grated coconut, chili, salt, turmeric etc., then steamed and mashed into a dry pudding. This can be garnished in oil with mustard, onion, curry leaves etc. if desired. Tapioca cakes (Chendan Kappa) are often eaten with simple chili sauce (a paste of Green/Red Chili + Shallot + small red Onion + Garlic + Salt + Oil).
Mashed Tapioca is paired with Meat / Fish curry. Tapioca with fish curry (especially sardines) is a delicacy in Kerala. Mashed Tapioca with Chutta Unakka Mathi (dry salted sardine directly cooked on charcoal) and Green Chili is another popular combination. Kappa Biriyani is yet another Tapioca dish.
Tapioca can be stored for longer periods by parboiling and drying it, after skinning and slicing it into 0.5 cm thick pieces. This is called Unakka Kappa or Vaattu Kappa (dried tapioca). Unakka Kappa pudding is widely consumed in Kerala. Tapioca Chips, thinly sliced tapioca wafers, similar to potato chips, are also popular.
In Tamil, the roots of tapioca are called Maravalli Kilangu, and are used to prepare chips. Tapioca chips are also prepared in parts of South India. Tapioca pearls are referred to as "Javvarisi" in Tamil. Most of the delicacies are cooked from this form of tapioca because it is relatively easier to handle than the raw root by itself. In Tamil Nadu, tapioca is cultivated more in several districts, providing steady income to farmers. Tapioca can be consumed raw (after removing the skins/outer cover) or boiled for various dishes or snacks.
In Nagaland and Mizoram in Northeast India, tapioca is eaten as a snack. It is usually boiled with a bit of salt in water after skinning it, or snacks are made by drying the tapioca after cutting it. It is then powdered into flour and turned into dough to either make a fired or baked biscuit. In their local dialect, they call it kuri aloo, meaning "wood potato". These chips are eaten by all groups of society as a delicacy. The skin of the tapioca, which is not edible for humans, is kept aside to prepare a food for domesticated pigs. In Assam, sabudana is also used as substitute diet against boiled rice (bhaat) for the sick elderly or infirm for easy digestion and strength.
Tapioca is not as widely used in Europe, but several countries make use of tapioca. In Belgium, small white tapioca pearls are added to clear soups. Tapioca balls are used in French desserts, such as parfaits. The savory snack in the United Kingdom, Skips, are made of tapioca and flavored like prawn cocktail, as well as other flavors.
Tapioca is also widely available in its dried forms and is used to make tapioca pudding.
During World War II, due to the shortage of food in Southeast Asia, many refugees survived on tapioca. The cassava plant is easily propagated by stem-cutting, grows well in low-nutrient soils, and can be harvested every two months, although it takes ten months to grow to full maturity. The plant provided much needed carbohydrates and other nutrients during war times.
A casabe is a thin flatbread made from bitter cassava root without leavening. It was originally produced by the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples because these roots were a common plant of the rain forests where they lived. In eastern Venezuela, many indigenous groups still make casabe. It is their chief bread-like staple. Indigenous communities, such as the Ye-Kuana, Kari-Ña, Yanomami, Guarao or Warao descended from the Caribe or Arawac nations, 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. This 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 spread in thin, round cakes about 2 feet (0.61 m) in diameter on a budare to roast or toast.
Thin 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. A sprinkle of a few drops of liquid is enough to transform a dry casabe into a very soft and smooth bread similar to the softest slice of a wheat bread loaf. 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, the casabe is 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. In Jamaica, it is called bammy.
In Brazil, the cassava flatbread is called beiju or tapioca.
Tapioca pearls are also known as boba in some cultures. It is produced by passing the moist starch through a sieve under pressure. Pearl tapioca is a common ingredient in Asian desserts such as falooda, kolak, tapioca pudding, and in sweet drinks such as bubble tea, fruit slush and taho, where they provide a chewy contrast to the sweetness and texture 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 or green tea drinks), but today are available in a wide variety of pastel colors. They are also available as an option in shave ice and hot drinks. In addition to their use in puddings and beverages, a recent innovation has been to cook tapioca pearls inside cakes.
Tapioca root can be used to manufacture biodegradable bags. A polymer resin produced from the plant is a viable plastic substitute. Not only is it biodegradable, but it can be composted, is renewable, and is recyclable. The product reverts in less than one year, versus thousands of years for traditional plastics.
Tapioca starch is used worldwide for starching shirts and garments before ironing. It can be sold in bottles of gum starch to be dissolved in water, or in spray can format.
Tapioca predominantly consists of carbohydrates, with each cup containing 23.9 grams for a total of 105 calories; it is low in saturated fat, protein and sodium. It has no significant essential vitamins or dietary minerals. One serving of tapioca pudding contains no dietary fiber, a small amount of oleic acid, and no omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids.
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