Young Cassava Leaves provide protein and micronutrients

Young cassava leaves are a regularly eaten side dish for Mentawai people. Cassava (Manihot esculenta, Crantz) is endemic to the southern rim of Amazonia in South America. There, it was domesticated at around 5000 BC. In the 16th century AC, Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought them to Africa. And only in the 1960s, cassava was introduced to Asia. So, it is not a traditional food addition to Mentawais, but only a recently adopted one.

Mentawai woman with young cassava leaves

Mentawai eating habits

As mentioned in previous articles, Mentawais’ staple foods are Sago, Taro, and Bananas. These are food items rich in carbohydrates. Protein will come from the field, stream, or forest. Minerals and micronutrients from fruits and vegetables. During durian season, forest-dwelling Mentawais will nearly exclusively live from these fruits.

Description of cassava plants

Among all the green plants around forest dwellings, cassava can be easily recognized by three characteristics.

Detail of a young cassava leaf

One – Leaves are palmate with either one, three, five, or seven lobes. And the petioles around the Uma of Aman Aru were always red.

Seed pods of a cassava plant

Two – The seed pods show characteristic protruding ridgelines on their surface…

stem of a cassava plant

Three – …and the stems have a typical knobby appearance of alternating nodes and internodes.

With these three characteristics of leaves, seed pods, and stems, an identification of cassava plants will be easily possible. But – there are different growth types for the same plants. One cultivated type is primarily used for its leaves as a vegetable, and another is for harvesting the roots.

Cultivated, spread growth type
spread growth type of a cassava plant

During the first six months of growth, the plant’s energy is mainly used to form leaves and stems. Young leaves are harvested regularly when reaching a low shrub height. This way, the best cassava leaf quality for human consumption will be assured. The roots, however, will not be able to store enough starch in their cells, remain small, and taste slightly bitter. Due to the missing starch cells, they also have a chewy texture when eating.

Cultivated, erect growth type
erect growth type of a cassava plant

For the first six months of growing, none or only very few leaves will be harvested. When branching occurs after about six months, side branches will be trimmed so that only a limited leave cover will remain. At maturity, leaf production will slow down, and a maximum amount of starch will be stored in the storage roots. This way, the best quality of cassava roots will be produced.

Uncultivated type

When visiting an Orang Rimba clan in Jambi province, Sumatra, we found a mature and uncultivated cassava tree in front of a hut. Young leaves were sparingly used for eating; his only function was providing shade for kids playing on sunny days.

How to prepare young cassava leaves

After harvesting the leaves from cassava plants, the leafy lobes will be plucked from the stems and petioles. The leaves contain hydrocyanic acid and, therefore, have to be boiled, and the water be discarded. Boiling the young leaves with salt will keep their green color; without salt, they will turn brownish. After about 10 minutes of boiling, they are soft, non-toxic, and ready to eat. Mentawais will eat them as a side dish in this simple way. In contrast, others will improve their taste by stewing or currying them further.

Mentawai woman in her garden around the uma

Nutritional value of cassava leaves

The Central Research Institute for Food Crops in Bogor, Indonesia, published the nutritional content of cassava leaves, which is as follows:

As can be seen from this table, cassava leaves are high in protein, iron, and vitamins A and C. These nutritional values are uncontested by various authors. However, the contents of Ca, Zn, and others are hotly contested by differing study results.

In summary, it can be stated that cassava leaves are rich in protein, minerals (especially iron), and vitamins. They are an important supplement to starchy diets if properly detoxified.

Lessons learned from Cassava leaves vegetable:

  • Young cassava leaves are rich in protein, iron, other minerals, and vitamins.
  • The leaves must be boiled, and the boiling water discarded.
  • If the boiling water contains either salt or baking soda, the green color of the leaves will remain.
  • Mentawai people eat these boiled leaves as a side dish to starchy food.
  • Many other cultures cook the detoxified leaves further in stews and curries.

We appreciate your opinion