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Is Cassava Flour Whole30? Everything You Need to Know about Cassava Flour on the Whole30 and Beyond.

Updated: Feb 17

Much like coconut flour, almond flour, and myriad other alternative flours, cassava flour has exploded in popularity as an alternative to traditional wheat flour over the last several years. But what exactly is it? And is it Whole30 friendly?

Cassava flour comes from the starchy underground portion of the Cassava plant, a type of shrub common in South America. Sources differ on whether it was first domesticated in Brazil or by the Maya of the Yucatan, but today the world's leading producer is actually Nigeria, followed by Brazil, Thailand, and Indonesia. [Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations]

Cassava can only be grown well in tropical and subtropical climates.


As cassava flour is not grain- or legume-based, it is compatible with Whole30 protocol--depending on use.

If you have read It Starts with Food or The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom, you may recall "the pancake rule."


The pancake rule prohibits re-creation of any baked good or "food with no brakes" with Whole30-approved ingredients.

Whole30 creator Melissa Hartwig-Urban explains: "The premise is simple: If you want to change your habits, you have to actually change your habits. If you spend all 30 days trying to recreate the same baked goods, sweets, and treats you came into the program eating, what are the chances you'll come out of the program with new healthy habits and tools for navigating stress or discomfort? (Spoiler: zero.)" [Source: Whole30.com]

So . . . cassava flour tortillas, biscuits, muffins, cookies, and, yes, paleo pancakes, are out. They may be paleo, but they are not Whole30.


If you're looking for an alternative to corn tortillas on a Whole30, your best bet is a lettuce wrap or a slice of compliant lunch meat. If you're looking to re-create burger buns, opt for toasted sweet potato slices, like on these Whole30 Sliders. Think replacing, rather than re-creating.

However, there do remain a few acceptable uses for cassava flour on a Whole30 diet:


  • thickening a paleo gravy, soup, or sauce

  • binding meatballs or crab cakes

  • lightly breading things like chicken tenders or zucchini strips


You may have to save baking with cassava for after your Whole30, but cassava flour still remains a staple for those on a gluten free or paleo diet, whether on the Whole30 or off.

Let's dig a little deeper into everything cassava:


Botany

The Internet has a tangled web of ideas concerning the exact classification of the part of the cassava plant used for food. Root vegetable? Tuber? Tuberous Root? The Hindawi International Journal of Food Science describes it as a "storage root." Either way, cassava (also known as mandioca, manioc, yuca root, or its scientific name, Manihot esculenta), is basically a starchy vegetable.

Poisonous?

Most varieties of cassava actually contain cyanogenic glucosides, a type of sugar derivative that produces cyanide. Consuming improperly prepared cassava could lead to cyanide poisoning, which could include nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, headache, and dizziness. Long-term heath concerns could include ataxic neuropathy (a nerve disorder that affects balance and coordination), chronic pancreatitis, and goiters. (Sources: Brittanica, CDC)

To render some varieties of cassava safe to for consumption, toxin removal may involve extensive peeling, grating, soaking, fermentation, and drying, after which the cassava can be ground into flour safe for everyday use. However, preparation does not necessarily require laboratories or special machines and can be done (at you own risk) in your home kitchen. In fact, many grocery stores sell cassava (or yuca) to be prepared at home as a root vegetable.

Cassava vs Tapioca

There is often confusion over the difference between cassava flour and tapioca flour, aka tapioca starch.


While tapioca flour and tapioca starch are interchangeable terms, they are not the same as cassava flour. Cassava flour is ground from the peeled, whole cassava root, or "storage root," as it were, while tapioca flour is made by isolating the pure starch. Because of this, tapioca has a more neutral flavor, a purer, whiter color, and is lower in fiber and protein. While much of the nutrient-density is lost, is does contain a small amount of calcium and iron. (Source: Nutritionix)

Tapioca starch can be further prepared into flake tapioca (most common for thickening needs), pearl tapioca (think tapioca pudding), and even boba for bubble tea. In some recipes, but not all, it can be used interchangeably with cassava flour or other gluten free starches such as arrowroot flour or corn starch. It is also commonly an ingredient in cup-for-cup gluten-free flours.

Cassava Flour Health Benefits

Cassava flour contains the same amount of dietary fiber as whole-wheat flour (3 grams per quarter cup) and is considered a prebiotic because its resistant starch gets fermented in the large intestine, where it becomes a nutritiously appealing buffet for probiotics. Probiotics are the beneficial gut bacteria said to heal leaky guts and support overall wellness. Quality prebiotics = happy probiotics = happy gut.

Additionally, cassava flour brings a host of nutrients to the party:

  • Vitamin C

  • Thiamine (B1)

  • Folate (B9)

  • Manganese

  • Potassium

  • Calcium

  • Iron

Cup for cup, cassava flour is lower in fat than coconut flour and nut flours, which also makes it lower in calories. However, it is higher in carbohydrates. Thus, these factors must be weighed against your specific dietary needs when determining cassava's nutritional value.

Functionality

While its function may be limited on a Whole30, cassava flour is a good option for anyone looking to replace all-purpose flour or other traditional flours in their cooking. In baked goods such as brownies, cassava flour is my paleo flour of choice. One of my favorite things about cassava flour is that in some recipes it can be swapped almost cup-for-cup for wheat flour, easily rendering your favorite original recipes gluten free.

It is important to remember, however, that one cup of cassava flour will typically absorb more water than one cup of wheat flour, so you may want to start with 3/4 cup of cassava flour per cup of traditional all-purpose flour and go from there.

Sometimes I find that recipes with cassava flour take a little bit longer to bake or benefit from cooking at a slightly higher temperature, so just be ready to make adjustments when creating new recipes. Cassava flour can make some recipes have a gummier texture. In many recipes I like to use a mixture of different flours/starches to achieve the best results.

Raw cassava flour can have a slightly off-putting aroma at times, but when cooked it has a mild, slightly nutty flavor.

Accessibility

Today cassava flour is widely available in many areas, and it shouldn't be necessary to go to a health food store or specialty shop to find it. Popular brands include Bob's Red Mill Cassava Flour, Otto's Naturals, Terrasoul Superfoods, Anthony's Organic, and my favorite, IYA Foods.

Recipes


Try out cassava flour in these Whole30-approved recipes from Whole30.com:


Oven-Baked Whole30 Meatballs with Mom's Gravy


5 Ingredient Salmon Patties


After your Whole30, try out cassava flour in some of our favorite Five Monsters recipes:

Paleo "Graham" Crackers


Nutty Chocolate Chip Biscotti


Paleo Gingerbread Cookies


Paleo/Gluten-Free Soft Pretzel Bites


Paleo Thanksgiving Dressing


Green Cauli-Waffles


Orange-Ginger Waffles with Cranberry Butter


Paleo Cauliflower Crust Pizza


Paleo Griddle Cakes


Paleo Tortillas


Paleo Chocolate Avocado Layer Cake


Or swap it for the traditional what flour in your favorite fudgy brownie recipe!


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