Best Health

NUTRI­TION NAT­U­RALLY

To su­per­charge baked goods with more health­ful in­gre­di­ents, Meghan Telp­ner turns to this grain-free, nut-free, and ex­cep­tion­ally-easy-to-bake-with flour.

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This is­sue: Cas­sava.

HAVE YOU HEARD of cas­sava yet? If you’ve hopped on the pa­leo train you likely have, as it falls into the grain-free pa­leo-party cat­e­gory. Cas­sava, a fi­brous woody shrub na­tive to South Amer­ica, also goes by yuca and man­ioc. If you’re think­ing, cas­sava smas­sava, I’ve never eaten that and don’t plan to, I’m guess­ing you have and didn’t know it. If you’ve eaten any gluten­free bread or crackers, or in­dulged in bub­ble tea, you prob­a­bly have. So let’s dig in to why this is a root worth know­ing.

What is it?

The part of the cas­sava that we con­sume is the tuber­ous root. Some va­ri­eties are more bit­ter tast­ing than oth­ers, and all re­quire spe­cific pro­cess­ing to re­duce the in­her­ent tox­i­c­ity in the plant. Yes, poorly pro­cessed cas­sava roots con­tain a sub­stance that, when eaten, can trig­ger the pro­duc­tion of cyanide…but stay with me. Be­cause of its abil­ity to grow in poor soil, cas­sava is a sta­ple food around the world for 800 mil­lion peo­ple. In Canada, most of us en­joy cas­sava in flour form, usu­ally in grain-free and pa­leo-friendly baked goods.

If you’ve ever eaten gluten-free baked goods, you may have noted tapi­oca on the in­gre­di­ent list. It’s a con­cen­trate of the starch from cas­sava, and is of­ten used in place of gluten to help gluten-free bak­ing hold to­gether. Re­mem­ber that bub­ble tea I men­tioned? The lit­tle balls are made from tapi­oca.

Why it’s awe­some

Cas­sava (and tapi­oca) is ex­cep­tion­ally easy to bake with, as far as grain-free flours go. Be­cause of its high starch con­tent, it holds to­gether well, a rare fea­ture in a grain-free flour (co­conut flour ba­si­cally re­quires a dozen eggs to be baked into any­thing).

From a health per­spec­tive, cas­sava is a source of re­sis­tant starch, a form of in­sol­u­ble fi­bre that doesn’t break down through nor­mal di­ges­tion, but passes into the colon where it fer­ments. This has been shown to im­prove the in­testi­nal mi­croflora bal­ance, sup­port­ing im­proved di­ges­tion and im­mune health. Where many flour-based treats can fur­ther an im­bal­ance in the gut, cas­sava can help re­verse that. Cas­sava is also rich in potas­sium and vi­ta­min C. One thing to note: cas­sava is pre­dom­i­nantly starch, so it could im­pact your blood glu­cose lev­els. If you’re sen­si­tive to fluc­tu­a­tions, you’ll want to mind how much you eat at one time.

How to best use it

You can buy cas­sava flour and tapi­oca starch widely, and ex­per­i­ment with us­ing it in your favourite baked foods. Cas­sava makes de­li­ciously pli­able flat breads and crackers, and I’ve even used it in sour­dough bread. Tapi­oca starch is a great op­tion to have on hand to bake gluten-free cakes and cook­ies. One of my favourite ways to en­joy cas­sava is in the form of a tapi­oca crepe or wrap. We can en­joy them here in Toronto at farmer’s mar­kets where @Ta­pi­o­caToronto sells some of the best tapi­oca and cas­sava good­ies around. Meghan Telp­ner is a nu­tri­tion­ist and an author. Get cer­ti­fied as a culi­nary nutri­tion ex­pert with Meghan at the Academy of Culi­nary Nutri­tion. Learn more at culi­narynu­tri­tion.com

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