The Tale of Tapioca

Tapioca Pudding by Dobrin Isabela, via Flickr

By Kate Prengaman

Here’s a question: What do tapioca pudding, bubble tea, Brazilian slash and burn agriculture, and subsistence farming in Africa have in common? The simple answer is in botanical latin: Manihot esculenta. Called manioc, cassava, mandioca, yuca, tapioca, and sago, people world-wide eat foods produced from the starchy tubers of the M. esculenta, a member of the botanically diverse Euphorbiaceae, which includes poinsettias. According to the UN, it’s the third most important food in the tropics, after rice and corn. However, it’s also poisonous- two cyanide compounds, linamarin and lotaustralin, require careful processing before the tubers can be eaten.  Continue reading

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