Cassava flour is one of those strange ingredients in some gluten free products which most people are unfamiliar with. Here I’ll break down what it is, nutritional information, pros/cons and how to cook with it.
What is cassava flour?
Cassava is a green, leafy bush-like plant which forms large tubers underground, like potatoes. These tubers are woody and look similar to a sweet potato. When they are dried and ground it is called cassava flour.
Ever heard of tapioca? Tapioca is basically the same thing. Made from the same tubers of the same plant, tapioca is only the starchy part. It has the fiberous part removed, like potato starch is only the starch of the potato rather than the whole potato tuber. For some reason when we talk about only the starch we call it tapioca, but when we talk about the whole tuber or the plant we call it cassava (which is a better name, as that’s what the plant is).
Nutritional information of cassava
Cassava has 30g of carbohydrate per 1/4 cup serving. This is lower than starches (potato starch or tapioca starch), and slightly higher than rice flour and corn flour. In that same serving size is 2g of fiber. This fiber gives it a lower glycemic index and helps slow the digestion.
Of note, cassava does have 5g of protein in a 1/4 cup serving. This is higher than most gluten free flours, and starches have no protein at all.
For vitamins and minerals, cassava is highest in vitamin c and potassium. It also has many B-vitamins, vitamin A, magnesium, selenium, calcium, and iron.
For a more comprehensive comparison of gluten free flours, including cassava, see my gluten free flour comparison chart.
Pros/cons of cassava
Cassava is gluten free and provides another flour option for making gluten free recipes.
Although it is a starchy food, when contrasted with other starches it comes out ahead nutritionally.
Because it absorbs water when used in baking, it can give baked good moisture and help with texture of gluten free foods.
The cost can be a con, as cassava is usually more expensive than other gluten free flours
Learning how to cook with it can also be tricky, as it doesn’t always work to do a direct substitution with a different flour.
How to cook with cassava
Cassava does act differently than other flours. It retains moisture, so less flour is needed when baking with it. This can give your baked goods moisture and help them not dry out so fast.
It can also bind things together and give a gummy texture. Xanthan gum is a man-made substance used a lot in gluten free cooking to provide moisture and act as a binder, but in my experience when I use cassava I can leave out the xanthan gum.
In the gluten free world, most cooking is done with multiple gluten free flours. These blends, or mixes, often contain large amounts of starch. Cassava can replace the starch and is a much healthier alternative. This, to me, is it’s strongest suit. I can eliminate using potato and tapioca starch (both void of nutrition) in my gluten free baked goods, and use cassava flour instead.
Adjusting for weight
My biggest struggle with cassava has been inconsistencies with different batches. It is very fine and seems to settle over time. I’ve had some bags where 1 cup acts like it should, while other bags I only need to use 2/3 cup to get the same result. To keep it consistent, I suggest weighing it. 1/4 cup cassava flour “should” weigh 30 grams. Multiply that out by however much you want (1/2 c = 60g, 1 c = 120g, etc) and use it by weight.