Author Deepu Paul narrates his love for Tapioca and its immense benefits.
‘When in Rome be a Roman’ they say. similarly, when in Kerala you should taste tapioca. Being one from Kerala and having lived and travelled across India, I can confess no other set of people consume tapioca as much and as often as Keralites.
Potato is popular with most food lovers. Like the potato, tapioca goes well with veg and non-veg food. But unlike potato, tapioca is not just another starch-tube for Keralites, but a staple food. They can easily do away with rice or roti, at the sight of a plate of tapioca and fish curry. For some reasons, however, tapioca is not an appealing option to people in most other parts of our country though it has a South American background.
Origin and background
Tapioca is the roots of the cassava plant which is a native to Brazil. With colonizers who ruled many parts of Asia, the plant found its roots in different states of India too. Although the intruders were pushed out, the cassava plant stayed.
History tells that Tapioca was introduced in Kerala in 1880-1885 by the then Maharaja of Travancore Vishakham Thirunal Rama Varma as a substitute for rice after a great famine hit the kingdom. People in Kerala only grew font of its different variants and flavors and they just continued to improvise on it.
The fact that cassava plants can be easily cultivated and multiplied made it a good source of food for common people. Gradually, it gained wider admiration and acceptance among food lovers. With a variety of combinations, tapioca is really a treat to indulge in.
As children when we return home from school, boiled tapioca with chutney or dry cooked tapioca with spices used to be a usual sight. Fast-food culture has taken over and today’s generation hardly enjoys such homemade, simple delicacies. But there are several items and combinations tapioca can offer which are easy to cook, tasty and pocket friendly.
Boiled tapioca with different side dishes
Well peeled and boiled tapioca can be enjoyed with simple chutney made of Thai Chili, shallot, garlic, salt, and coconut oil. Boiled tapioca with fish curry is the more popularized combination of all for its unmatched taste. Tourists who have travelled by houseboats in the Alleppey regions must have had a taste of it. Many enjoy it with different meat items as well.
Tapioca Dry pudding
Small cube sized tapioca is boiled and thereafter sautéed in oil with mustard, onion, green chili, curry leaves, etc. till blended well and dry. It is more like a side dish with rice or in some pockets of Kerala, it is enjoyed with evening tea/coffee. Mashed tapioca also is prepared almost in a similar manner.
If properly marketed, perhaps tapioca chips but for the carbs can give a good competition to potato chips. There already are packets of tapioca chips available all over Kerala. Commonly available varieties include plain, round chips, spicy ones, and matchstick type chips. Beware, you can indulge in it way more than you actually want to have.
Other products include starch, flour, glucose syrup, bread, etc. If dried well tapioca can be preserved for a long time and can be used to cook later.
I would say it won’t be a bad idea if parents take special note of the above options. Kids who splurge on fast food and are prone to eat out often can be provided viable homemade options in tapioca varieties.
Health and nutrition
Although tapioca is a staple food and regularly consumed by people, it provides only carbohydrates and is low in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Since it is a tropical plant, it is widely available in almost all over Kerala and can easily be cultivated in other parts of the country. Already it is popular in south Indian states and in Northeast. You don’t have to be a skilled farmer to cultivate cassava plants. A major advantage of the crop is that it can withstand drought-prone conditions and hardly requires much attention. The duration of the crop is about seven to eight months and a single plant can yield up to 4-6 kgs of root depending on the soil.
If you are not used to having tapioca, then perhaps it is not recommended to eat it to your fill the first time you have it. At the same time, if you are visiting Kerala during monsoon, you wouldn’t want to miss the blend of rains and taste of tapioca with fish curry.
You can also visit the article related to Tea to know about the most common beverage in the world