Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Manioc's Many Names

For a long time I have been wanted to post some articles here on Flavors of Brazil about the plant that was the staple food of Brazil's Indians prior to the arrival of Europeans, and which today is still a daily source of nutrition for millions of Brazilians, and billions more residing in tropical areas of the planet. The botanical name for the genus is Manihot, a name derived from the name of the plant in the Tupi language, a native American language spoken in many areas of South America. In Tupi, the plant is called mandioca.

This plant goes by an incredible number of names throughout the world, and much of the taxonomy is confusing, with one name referring to possibly two or more varieties in differing locations, and with countless regional or linguistic variations for the name of one single botanical species. In order to begin to discuss mandioca on this blog, some sense will have to be made out of this linguistic and botanical bowl of spaghetti - some untangling of the plant's many names.

In English, three names are commonly given to the plant - cassava, yuca and manioc (note that cassava is sometimes spelled cassaba or cassada). The second of these names, yuca, is shared with most of the Spanish-speaking cultures of the Americas, such as Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Cuba, and The Dominican Republic. In Brazil, there are rather more than three common names - just to list a few: aipi, aipim, castelinha, macaxeira, mandioca-doce, mandioca-mansa, maniva, maniveira, pão-de-pobre. In Africa and Asia, where the plant is widely consumed, it has many, many more names.

Besides this overabundance of names denominating the plant itself, there are many more for each of the constituent edible parts of the plant - leaves, roots, etc. - and for the products derived from the plant, such as starches, flours, gums, saps. These will all have to be dealt with in due course, but will be left for later postings.

1 comment:

  1. It is worth noting that some varieties of manioc are poisonous to humans and are grown as feed for livestock. Don't go picking unknown manioc out of random fields.