Once in a while, I see a vendor hawking Boiled Cassava and Coconut snack on streets in Lagos. Sometimes, I see some being sold in markets. This is a popular snack in the East of Nigeria and it is called Abacha na Aku Oyibo. However it is not as popular in Lagos. once in a while you can stumble on a trader or identify the designated place that she stays but you will not find it everywhere.
Cassava is one of the major staples we have in Nigeria and many West African countries. It is actually one of the most consumed (in serious competition with rice), one of the most available and affordable sources of food energy that we have. However, people rarely see cassava being sold in its natural raw form in Urban areas. It is commonly purchased as fermented granules, wet pastes, dry flour and dried strips and used to prepare Garri, Eba, fufu, Lafun, to mention some.
Some say boiled Cassava and Coconut Snack is an acquired taste but I would say that it’s a nice snack. The boiled Cassava can be sometimes tasteless but in combination with the milky juice of the coconut, it forms a great combo.
How safe is eating Boiled Cassava and Coconut?
The snack is made by boiling cassava and halting the cooking process while still hard and then the cassava is cut into thin strips and soaked in water overnight. It is then rinsed and served with fresh coconut.
Cassava has been known to contain toxins (they are poisons) and antinutrients such as cyanogen Compounds and phytates respectively. The toxins are higher in the bitter variety of cassava compared to the sweet variety. However, farmers in Nigeria have often favored the sweet variety. For some sweet varieties, cooking is sufficient to eliminate the toxins as they as leached into the water during the processing. Also, research institutions like IITA and NRCRI have developed varieties that have fewer toxins or toxins that can be easily removed and improved a lot of the attributes in the crop such as increasing the Vitamin A content. Currently, I do not have any information about these improved varieties in the market. The question on my mind now is “What varieties are these hawkers selling? and “How well are they processing the Cassava?”.
Research from the 80s showed that boiling cassava would only remove about 50% of the toxins and some of the phytates while further soaking will remove some more. This means that not all the toxins would be removed through this method. Methods that remove most toxins include a combination of methods such as crushing, pounding fermentation, sundrying etc.
A 2014 study showed that these toxins can be found in Garri that was fermented for a shorter time (less than 12 hours of fermentation) than recommended. Either way, the researcher still found traces of the toxin in properly processed Garri even though the level was permissible by WHO.
Raw cassava contains about 160kcal of Energy, about 1% protein and micronutrients content is quite very low. Cooking improves the digestibility of the starch in cassava.
So, is this snack safe to eat? I guess it depends on how well it is processed. Also, this is not a snack that you might find everyday to eat anyway. I usually wash the cassava and coconut with salt before eating it to kill off some microbes that would die in high salinity. You can also buy the raw cassava and do due diligence in the processing to remove all the toxins by yourself. Personally, I would not eat this more than once in a while unless I am certain that appropriate processing techniques were used in preparation to eliminate these poisons and antinutrients.