On the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, the Santa Cruz district is reputed for its high-quality cassava root – or aipim, as it’s known locally. It is also known as manioc or yuca.
Manihot esculenta is the scientific name of the plant, native to South America and cultivated in tropical regions for its starchy tuberous root.
It’s easily pulled from the ground, roots are separated, and the stem is kept for later use, generating new plants.
Fresh roots can be found at markets in all regions of Brazil, the northern part of the country being the largest consumer.
In Rio de Janeiro, Tom Le Mesurier begins his all-day food tours at streets markets like this.
“It’s central to Brazilian cuisine,” says Le Mesurier, holding a cassava root.
“Here in Brazil, it’s used for a really wide variety of different dishes, both savoury and sweet, and both using the whole root and also the starch, which is extracted from the root, which is tapioca.”
Tapioca flours are extracted by settling the white liquid extracted from the root.