Why Cassava (flour)?

Over the last few years, we have been trying to reduce sugar and white flour (grains, really) intake, and looking for ways to actually still enjoy food.  This feat is not necessarily easy, particulary with flour and that horribly wonderful gluten!  However, this endeavor is very worthwhile in the growth of obesity and obesity-related disease in this country, as well as world-wide.  From AuthorityNutrition.com:

The studies are clear on this; when people abandon their traditional foods in favor of modern processed foods high in sugar, refined flour and vegetable oils, they get sick (123).

File:Manihot esculenta 001.jpgBy Amada44 (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I just borrowed the picture, and the author had nothing to do with the article


For me, the largest problem has been what consitutes a basic addiction to sugar and flour.  Can you say Toll House cookies, pound cake, and Ice Cream? At the same time?!  With chocolate sauce?!!   I hope Laura isn't reading...  So a few years ago before we started dating, I asked Laura, what could help me lose weight that I've had on me since moving to Myrtle Beach area--yes, that was a whole other problem.  Simply put, she said "Reduce your processed sugar and flour intake until you don't need it anymore" (or in another iteration of the conversation, "Stop eating sugar and flour").  Get a Vitamix, and drink smoothies for breakfast instead of pancakes/waffles/muffins/Starbucks/etc.  When I got to Costco and called, asking "Does a Vitamix really cost $325?!" she replied "That cheap? Buy it!"  
What did I get myself into?  The nice thing is that I went from 235# down to 185# (yes, that is a pound sign...and a hashtag, too I guess.  #rewritehistory #notamillenialandproud) in about a year.  I'm back up to a steady 200#, but so is my intake of sugar and flour.  Working on that issue now!

Cassava flour helps us to sovle some of the gluten and grain problems in the house, providing a very good subsitute for wheat and other grain-derived flours.

So, what is Cassava Flour?

It is not tapioca, but it is related very closely.  The tropical cassava bush (Manihot esculenta) of South America has a wonderful gluten-free root full of starch that feeds millions, and can be made into what we are finding to be an excellent subsitute for white flour.  Wikipedia has a very good description and history of Cassava in general, if you want more detail.  Unlike coconut flour, cassava flour is not grainy and can be used to make some good stuff!  Here I provide some information for you (and me) that has helped understand the process involved in extracting the flour from the root.  Native populations make it look relatively simple, and mass-production in an industrialized nation can be done without chemicals, but rather just water.
 The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has a very good, thorough examination of the procesing of cassava root for the starch and resulting flour (see Processing of Cassava (FAO, 1971)).  The flour comes from the starch locked in the cells.  The root is turned to pulp, centrifuged, and dried.  Here are the basics:
1.  Grow the plant :)
2.  Harvest the root at the right time (root should snap, not bend)
3.  Clean the outer cork-like bark off the root and wash off the dirt
4.  Rasp the root until it just a runny, milky pulp
5.  Separate the starch from the pulp by washing with a lot of water
6.  Screen the pulp away from the milky-looking starch
7.  Separate the starch from the impurities in the "fruit water" by settling
Note:  "The diameter of cassava starch granules ranges between 4 adn 24 microns"  Human hair is generally about 100 microns thick
8.  The starch settles in large tanks lined with wood to avoid direct contact with the cement
9.  After draining off the fruit water, the surface layer is scraped and discarded, leaving the wet flour to be stirred with water again and let settle.
10. The starch is purified through several 'concentrators'
11.  Dried in ovens, the resulting lumps of starch are pulverized, dry-screened (bolting), and sifted before packaging.

Why do some call Tapioca and Cassava the same item?

In the same FAO report, the describe the production of "Baked tapioca products."  Tapioca results from the heating or baking of moist cassava starch from about 60°C until it undergoes a chemical change up to 80°C into the tasty goo that is tapioca.  

Why do I care?

Grain-free pastries of course.  Check the next blog and a brief update here to see what becomes of our Cassava Flour.  We'll be using Moon Rabbit Foods brand.