Cyanide 101: Cassava

Cassava: a starchy root cultivated in (sub)tropical regions

Did you know that non-properly prepared cassava can lead to cyanide poisoning upon consumption?

That is because cassava contains linamarin and lotaustralin, which are cyanogenic glycosides that eventually decompose to hydrogen cyanide (HCN) once the plant tissue is damaged. In fact, it often takes a few pieces of non-treated cassava to achieve lethal dose levels.

Why is cassava so important?

Cassava is food for low-income consumers and over 500 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Also, cassava is gluten free and snacks made from this root are delicious!

Given cassava’s prominent role in Africa’s food security, the Gates Foundation (Bill & Melinda’ that is) has decided to fund the development of micronutrient-enhanced cassava to fight malnutrition. If you are curious about the technology behind this project, click on this fantastic video explainer (below).

Is it safe to eat cassava then?

Yes, as long as it is properly treated and tested. But there’s a catch: cyanide testing in remote locations can be cumbersome and not accessible for everyone, especially farmers. Can the development of fast, simple and safe cyanide detection methods for remote locations help safeguard food safety and fight malnutrition?

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