Manioc, Cassava, Tapioca
Manioc is a tuber and has been called cassava or tapioca. Manioc grows in the tropics and is a large shrub. The leaves and young shoots provide food, but the roots are the most valuable part of the plant. The tuber is either sweet or bitter.
Sweet manioc can be consumed straight from the earth while the bitter manioc must be processed. Native Americans rubbed the root on a stone until it turned into curds and then baked it into cakes and breads. The liquid was collected and boiled over a fire. If a person drank the liquid before it was ready, they would die.
For centuries, Native Americans have processed manioc for human consumption. A resistant plant to bugs and pests that destroy the wheat harvest, for example, manioc is also drought tolerant and can grow in marginally poor soil. Manioc is a staple crop for people along the equator. It is a major source of carbohydrates, which has made it a food source for many developing nations.
Upon first contact, the Spaniards did not embrace manioc. As with maize, the Spaniards believed that the root was an inferior food and wheat was a much better crop. When wheat failed to be a success in the New World, the Spaniards turned their attention to manioc. The high yields of the tuber and the plant’s ability to grow in what the Europeans considered to be an inhospitable climate changed their tune. There is little doubt that the Spaniards cultivated the crop first by using native Indian slave labor before importing African slaves. The use of slave labor solidified the importance of manioc for Europeans in the New World.
Residents of the Old World knew manioc by a different name. For elites and nobles, manioc was a gourmet food served as a dessert in the form of tapioca. The demand for desserts drove more Europeans to flee the land-starved Old World in search of new exotic ingredients and potential profits in the New World. Desserts enjoyed by the elites of Europe played an important role in the exploitation of slave labor in the New World.