Cassava is a jungle plant with a starch-like root. Indigenous peoples in the West Indies and Central & South America refer to this plant as yuca or arrowroot while in Hawai`i, we call it “pia”. The tubers on this plant resemble large cigars and come in a range of sizes normally growing to approximately ten inches long and two inches wide. The whole plant is uprooted upon harvest and can then be processed down to its solid white flesh.
Pia tubers and leaves can be boiled and served whole. To create a lighter replacement for cornstarch or wheat flour, one can prepare pia tubers through a process of washing, peeling, soaking, pressing, drying and grinding or flaking. Soaking and pressing (or steaming in a pressure cooker) is necessary to remove toxins present in cassava flesh, similar to kalo root. The resulting flakes or flour can be made into tapioca, mixed into soups and puddings as a thickening agent, or baked into flat cakes. Pia juice can be boiled and spiced to make ‘cassareep’ syrup or fermented to make cassava beer.