Nutritional Value of Cassava for Use as a Staple Food and Recent Advances for Improvement
Cassava is a drought-tolerant, staple food crop grown in tropical and subtropical areas where many people are afflicted with undernutrition, making it a potentially valuable food source for developing countries. Cassava roots are a good source of energy while the leaves provide protein, vitamins, and minerals. However, cassava roots and leaves are deficient in sulfur-containing amino acids (methionine and cysteine) and some nutrients are not optimally distributed within the plant. Cassava also contains antinutrients that can have either positive or adverse effects on health depending upon the amount ingested. Although some of these compounds act as antioxidants and anticarcinogens, they can interfere with nutrient absorption and utilization and may have toxic side effects. Efforts to add nutritional value to cassava (biofortification) by increasing the contents of protein, minerals, starch, and β-carotene are underway. The transfer of a 284 bp synthetic gene coding for a storage protein rich in essential amino acids and the crossbreeding of wild-type cassava varieties with Manihot dichotoma or Manihot oligantha have shown promising results regarding cassava protein content. Enhancing ADP glucose pyrophosphorylase activity in cassava roots or adding amylase to cassava gruels increases cassava energy density. Moreover, carotenoid-rich yellow and orange cassava may be a foodstuff for delivering provitamin A to vitamin A–depleted populations. Researchers are currently investigating the effects of cassava processing techniques on carotenoid stability and isomerization, as well as the vitamin A value of different varieties of cassava. Biofortified cassava could alleviate some aspects of food insecurity in developing countries if widely adopted.