Cassava is a type of root that provides food for over 500 million people globally. Its scientific name is Manihot esculenta. It’s inexpensive and resistant to drought, pests, and diseases (one, 2).
Since cassava is a rich source of carbs, its flour has multiple applications in the food industry. You can also still eat it if you follow several common dietary restrictions.
Yet, this promising ingredient comes with a major downside when it hasn’t been appropriately processed.
This article reviews cassava flour, its benefits, downsides, and a recipe idea for you to give it a try.
Cassava flour is a gluten-free flour made from the tuber cassava, which is native to South America and grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions (2).
Despite cassava’s nutty flavor, its flour has a light or neutral taste and a fine or smooth texture. It is predominantly white in color, although you may find some with a light red or yellow hue, depending on the cassava variety (one).
The process of making cassava flour can be divided into five steps:
- peeling the tubes
- soaking them in water for 4–6 days
- sun-drying or roasting them
- scraping off the outer layer
- grinding the remainder into flour
Cassava flour is a highly versatile ingredient with numerous uses in the food industry, including in all sorts of baked goods, tortillas, porridge, pancakes, and gluten-free pastry and pizza. Manufacturers also sometimes use it as a thickener for ice cream, sauces, and dressings (one).
Furthermore, its low moisture content gives cassava flour a long shelf life as long as it’s stored away from moisture (one).
Cassava flour is a gluten-free flour made from the tuber cassava. It has a neutral taste, white color, and smooth texture, and can be used to prepare numerous dishes.
A 1/4 cup (35 grams) serving of cassava flour provides (3):
- Calories: 130
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 31 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Potassium: 2% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Calcium: 1.5% of the DV
As you can see, cassava flour is a carb-rich food with virtually no fat or protein. To add to this, the little protein it may provide is of low quality due to its very low essential amino acid content (4).
Therefore, people who follow a diet that relies on cassava flour should also eat protein sources, such as eggs, poultry, fish, meat, tofu, or legumes.
Similarly, its low fat content means that it does not provide any healthy fats or fat-soluble vitamins.
Starch is the main component of cassava and its flour. They contain two main kinds of starch: amylose and amylopectin (5).
Raw cassava contains approximately 75% resistant starch, which is not absorbed in the small intestine but is fermented in the large intestine (4, 6).
As for its mineral content, it is very similar to that of commercial wheat flour. Thus, substituting one for the other may result in similar mineral composition (one).
Cassava flour is a high-carb food rich in resistant starch with a low protein and fat. Its mineral content is very similar to that of commercial wheat flours.
The benefits of consuming cassava flour products come from their high resistant starch content.
However, note that few studies analyze the benefits of cassava flour itself. Thus, the studies discussed below report the health benefits of resistant starch in general. More research on the benefits and health effects of cassava flour is needed.
May help improve metabolic markers
Human and animal studies suggest that resistant starch may improve metabolic markers, such as blood sugar and cholesterol levels, which are linked to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) (6, 7).
NCDs are chronic disorders that appear due to a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental, and behavioral factors.
Some of the most common NCDs are type 2 diabetes and heart disease due to high blood pressure and cholesterol levels (7).
Nevertheless, resistant starch may help improve your blood sugar control. It does this by (6, 7, 8):
- slowing down the rate of digestion of foods, leading to a slower rise in blood glucose levels
- improving insulin sensitivity, meaning that your cells respond better to the hormone insulin
Studies also show that it may help lower blood cholesterol levels (6, 7, 8).
May aid weight loss
Resistant starch in cassava flour may aid weight loss by regulating your appetite and reducing fat mass.
Human and animal studies show that when bacteria in your gut digest resistant starch, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These trigger the release of the hunger-reducing hormones peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) (7, 8, 910).
As for the effect of resistant starch on body fat, a 4-week study in 19 adults found that taking 40 grams of resistant starch per day significantly reduced two types of belly fat — the fat just under the skin and the visceral fat that lies between the organs (10).
It’s important to note that this was a specific type of resistant starch that came from high-amylose maize, not cassava. In addition, participants took high doses.
Therefore, it’s unknown whether eating normal amounts of cassava flour would have similar effects.
May improve gut health
Cassava flour’s resistant starch content can benefit your gut health in more than one way (11th).
Because resistant starch gets fermented in the large intestine, it serves as a prebiotic or food for your gut’s friendly bacteria (7).
As a prebiotic, resistant starch promotes microbial growth, helping counteract gut dysbiosis — an altered microbiota — which has been associated with diseases such as obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, and colorectal cancer (5, 7).
In addition, resistant starch in cassava flour may have a protective effect on your gut’s mucosal epithelium or lining by increasing production of an SCFA called butyric acid (5, 11th).
Damage to your gut’s lining may increase intestinal permeability, increasing the risk of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (11th).
Resistant starch in cassava flour may benefit blood sugar and cholesterol control, weight loss, and gut health.
Though it’s rare, consuming large amounts of improperly processed cassava flour may lead to acute cyanide poisoning, resulting in fatal consequences (12).
Cassava is composed of cyanogenic glycosides that act as chemical defenses against disease-causing microorganisms and plant-eating animals.
When the tuber tissue is destroyed — whether during flour making or animal chewing — the glycosides release hydrogen cyanide (HCN), leading to cyanide poisoning (13).
Signs and symptoms of cyanide poisoning include dizziness, vomiting, rapid breathing, temporary loss of consciousness due to low blood pressure, and rapid heart rate. They may start 4–6 hours after ingestion (12).
Research also suggests that chronic dietary cyanide exposure from consuming small amounts of improperly processed cassava products may lead to adverse health effects.
These include a paralytic known as konzo and a condition called tropical ataxic neuropathy (TAN), characterized by an inability to coordinate muscle movements (12, 14).
The soaking and drying steps of cassava flour processing are the primary ways to reduce the cyanide content of cassava, with drying being the most popular practice (4).
These steps promote the enzymatic degradation of cyanogenic glycosides. Yet, if the soaking or drying time is too short, enzymatic degradation will be ineffective, and cyanogenic glycosides remain high (12).
Evidence shows that sun-drying seems to be more effective than oven-drying, as it may eliminate almost 90% of the initial cyanide content (4).
In addition, fermentation may also reduce the cyanide content of cassava products (4).
Therefore, adequate cassava processing during flour making is key to preventing these harmful effects.
However, it’s important to note that, in most cases, outbreaks of cyanide toxicity have been mainly related to cassava flour made from wild cultivars of cassava (12).
These taste more bitter and contain much higher concentrations of cyanide. Though experts don’t recommend them for human consumption, some farmers still grow them.
On the other hand, commercial food preparation in the United States uses sweet cassava, which carries a lower risk (12).
Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to buy your cassava flour from a reputable brand to ensure it has been processed adequately.
Consuming large amounts of poorly processed cassava flour may lead to cyanide poisoning. Long-term intake of small amounts may also lead to adverse health effects. Yet, both may be prevented by appropriate processing methods.
Cassava flour is an incredibly versatile ingredient that people use to prepare a wide variety of sweet and savory dishes.
It makes an excellent substitute for wheat flour at a 1:1 ratio.
This means that you could use cassava flour to turn just about any recipe that calls for wheat flour into a gluten-, grain-, and nut-free version.
That makes cassava flour highly convenient for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or nut allergy, or those following a Paleo diet.
However, since cassava flour is a carb-rich ingredient, it is unsuitable for a keto diet.
You can use cassava flour to prepare almost every kind of baked good, such as bread, brownies, cakes, muffins, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, and donuts. You can also use it to make your own gluten-free pastry or pizza crust.
You could also try these Paleo-friendly tortillas by following this easy recipe.
Paleo cassava flour tortillas
This recipe yields 10 tortillas that you can enjoy with your favorite toppings.
- 2 cups (280 grams) cassava flour
- 1 cup (240 mL) coconut milk (or your milk of choice if you’re not looking for a Paleo or nut-free version)
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) olive oil
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) water
- 1 tsp (5 grams) garlic powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl to form a dough with a smooth consistency.
- Divide the dough into 10 small balls. Place each ball on a piece of parchment paper and pat it into a thin tortilla. Feel free to use your hands or a rolling pin sprinkled with cassava flour.
- Heat a frying pan over medium-low heat and lightly drizzle with more oil for cooking.
- Cook each tortilla for about 1–3 minutes on both sides.
Cassava flour is a versatile ingredient that works as a wheat flour substitute. It can help you turn almost any recipe into a gluten-, grain-, and nut-free version. However, it is not a good choice for those on a keto diet.
Cassava flour is a healthy and versatile ingredient you can use to prepare a wide range of recipes and dishes.
Due to its high resistant starch content, it may aid weight loss, help improve gut health, and benefit metabolic markers, such as blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
It can also help you turn a wheat-flour-based recipe into a gluten-free one while also being a Paleo-friendly and nut-free alternative.
Keep in mind that poorly processed cassava flour, particularly from wild cassava, may lead to cyanide poisoning. Thus, be sure to purchase your flour from a reputable brand.