Perfect substitute

Once faced by rice shortage, people in Kerala embraced nutrition-rich tapioca

 
By SEBASTIAN PAUL
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Perfect substitute

-- During a recent visit to Fiji, I was pleasantly surprised to find boiled tapioca and hot chutney among the exotic items served at a hotel. The dish was so delicious that for a moment I was unknowingly transported back to my homeland -- Kerala. Wherever and whenever I find tapioca -- a vegetable obtained from the roots of the cassava plant -- the richness of Kerala unfolds before me. Tapioca has become an integral part of the state. Due to scarcity of foodgrains, especially rice, tapioca is commonly eaten along with fish. This practice has been going on from the pre-independence era -- tapioca came to Kerala from Brazil thanks to the colonial adventure and invasion of the Portuguese.

The tuber crop is not only popular in India, but is an important source of carbohydrates in almost all tropical and subtropical nations. It provides essential nutrients to over 500 million people. Tapioca is popular in the tropics since it is possible to cultivate it in shifting agricultural systems. Furthermore, it is resistant to pest attacks and drought.

Earlier tapioca was considered as the poor man's food as it costs peanuts. But today it is popular among people from all walks of life due to its nutritional and medicinal value. Consumption of tapioca can help prevent heart diseases, reduce the risk of cancer, prevent cataracts and keep the skin smooth. It is laden with iron along with vitamin C (which helps the body absorb iron). It is also a good source of magnesium, which helps protect the bones and arteries. It also keeps the blood pressure stable.

Tapioca is commonly used as the raw material to make food-grade starch products. Other than this, tapioca-based polymer can be produced. The Indian Tuber Crop Research Institute, Tamil Nadu, has recently extracted a polymer from tapioca that is biodegradable. It has the potential to replace nearly 40 per cent of the conventional petrochemical based polymer used in plastic packaging.

Sebastian Paul is a member of parliament from Kerala and a senior journalist

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