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Tapioca leaves are long and slender, extending from the apex of the woody stems of the Tapioca plant. These palm-like leaves grow up to 20cm long and are splayed out from a central point on the branch. They typically have 5 to 7 lobes that each contain a light green-yellow central vein that runs from the stem down the length of each leaf. It is best to consume Tapioca leaves when they are young and tender, as older leaves can be tough and fibrous. Tapioca leaves have a mild, bland flavor, similar to spinach.
Fresh Tapioca leaves are available year-round.
The Tapioca plant is botanically classified as Manihot esculenta and is also commonly known as Cassava or Yuca (not "yucca", which is a different plant). Tapioca is a highly adaptable plant that produces high yields of edible roots and leaves. However, raw Tapioca leaves contain high amounts of hydrocyanic acid, which is TOXIC. To remove the toxins, Tapioca leaves MUST BE COOKED, and should be boiled in two changes of water until soft.
Tapioca leaves are rich in beta-carotene, calcium and phosphorus. They are a good protein source, and 7oz of Tapioca leaves can provide around 0.24oz of protein - as much as an average egg weighing around 1.9oz. Tapioca leaves are also high in fiber, amino acids and vitamins A and C.
Tapioca leaves MUST BE COOKED as raw leaves are TOXIC. They must first be double-boiled at least 15 minutes in total in order to effectively remove harmful glucosides, which release deadly hydrocyanic acid. Once processed, they are most commonly used in soups and stews with coconut milk. Tapioca leaves have a mild flavour profile and are often paired with garlic, chilli, onions, anchovies or dried shrimp. Tapioca leaves can also be used in salads and vegetable rolls. Young Tapioca Leaves are preferred as they are more tender, but older leaves can be pounded or ground using a motar and pestle to break them down for cooking. Tapioca leaves can even be processed, along with the roots, into tapioca flour, which is commonly used for industrially-produced, ready-to-eat snacks. Tapioca leaves can be chopped then frozen or dried for later use.
In Africa and South America, crushed Tapioca leaves are used in traditional medicine to help stop bleeding, as well as to treat diarrhea and fevers. The Tapioca plant has so many uses in Guyana that the Guyanese say that the Tapioca plant has a spirit and thus is a people of its own. When one sees the leaves of the Tapioca plant waving in the wind, it is those people waving to their human kin. Tapioca leaves are a staple in Indonesian cooking and in the rural Philippines, where they are treated like other cooking greens that stand up to boiling and braising.
Tapioca is an ancient root crop that’s estimated to have been domesticated around 5,000 to 7,000 BCE in the Amazon region. It is believed to be native to South America, with wild populations originating in Brazil, and is eaten throughout the tropics. Tapioca is a high-yield crop that flourishes in the poorest of soil conditions, and thrives in warm, tropical climates. Today, Tapioca is found in 40 countries, with half the world’s population of Tapioca coming from Africa, where it was introduced by Portuguese traders in the 16th century. Tapioca is now a vital staple crop in developing countries, thanks to its ability to grow in poor soil conditions and its high-calorie content as a root vegetable. It is also commonly used as animal feed.
Recipes that include Tapioca Leaves. One is easiest, three is harder.