The super-yellow cassava video clip translation

In the Northeastern of Brazil, it is known as “macaxeira”. In the South, it is known as “aipim”. But, it has many other names: “maniva, pão de pobre, macamba, uaipi, pau de farinha”. This is our "mandioca" (now on cassava, in english). The word has a Tupi origin and refers to this delicious, nationally praised root, which we are, proudly, the biggest world producer.

Although this root can be converted into many tasty dishes, it falls behind when the subject is nutrition because of its low content of proteins and vitamins. Now, two new varieties pledge to correct these deficiencies. They are the so-called the super-cassava and the yellow cassava.

The research, which resulted in the super-cassava and in the discovery of the yellow cassava, was carried out in the Biology Experimental Station of the University of Brasília, a green oasis in the heart the Republic’s capital. It took 30 years of Prof. Nagib Nassar’s work, a man in love with Brazil. Since he arrived in our country, in 1974, the Egyptian geneticist has turned cassava fields of the four corners of the country up-side down. Today, at 77, he can tell where each of his plants came from. He keeps talking about them in his Portuguese, which he learned at the hard way. “One more wild cassava species of Pernambuco state. I collected her in Serra Talhada”, explained Nagib.

And each plantlet has a special quality. “He is very good, he is resistant to an insect known as “broca de caule”, said Nagib (sorry, there should be an more appropriated technical term in English for this pest, but did not had time to search for it). Some species are extinct in their natural habitat, but through Prof. Nagib’s hands they once more can be part of the National flora. Others surprised us because of its robustness, as one specimen that grows like a true tree and reaches up to 10 meters in height. “This is interesting. Wild cassavas come from tall trees to dwarfs. Some does not go over 30 cm tall”, says Nagib.

Prof. Nagib’s search is focused on wild cassavas. During the process of natural selection, the cassava we are used to eat lost its nutritious properties, proteins for example. An entire team of dietitians, biologists, and agronomists from the University of Brasília, agreed to face the challenge of, together with Prof. Nagib, identify the qualities of each new species. It was worth it! They found a wild variety that had kept its original properties.

“Protein analyses of this new species showed that the content reached 9%. I could not believe my eyes when I finished the analyses”, says Nagib. Reproducing the process of pollination, which is carried out by bees in nature, Prof. Nagib crossed two species: the common cassava, good for eating but with a maximum of 2% of protein, and the wild one, with 9% of protein but inappropriate for human consumption. It worted! The result was a super-cassava!

“We found 5% protein on it, compared to 1.5 or a maximum of 2% in the regular cassava”, reports Prof. Nagib. Moreover, interfering in the plants cell (??), the scientist was able to improve the content of protein even further, reaching 7.5%.

And there was another fantastic trait in this new variety. In its leaves, they found lutein, an antioxidant that protects our body against cancer. The super-cassava is not a transgenic plant. Instead, it is a rescue of a cassava from our past, from the pre-European times. A native Brazilian inheritance. Embrapa is releasing the variety, but it can be used to prepare flour only.

For this reason, Prof. Nagib persisted in his search for a new species that could be eaten. This was how he came across the yellow cassava, the newest star of the Experimental Station. In reality, we had set apart about 15 specimens. We started our analyses and among these 15, one of them stand out”, tell us the biologist Osmindo Pires Júnior.

The scientists analyzed the content of carotenes in that variety. These compounds, once in our body, are converted in vitamin A. The result surprised once more. The yellow cassava contained 2.4 mg of carotenes per kg. Eating half kilo is enough to supply our daily needs of vitamin A. In the market, the yellow cassava is relatively unknown, but those who do know it also liked it, without knowing that it is so rich in carotenes. “I like it better than the white cassava. It is tastier and I found it to be drier when cocked. When I found both of them, I always pick the yellow one”, confess Prof. Vanda Rocha. “Its interior is yellowish, a deep yellow. Around here, we always can tell apart the yellow cassava. The regular cassava is not like that. It is white all over”, explains the supervisor of a food marked, Pedro Paulo de Souza.

But, the yellow cassava needs to pass the final test, the pan test. After cooking, we soon see the distinctive color of beta-carotene.

“It combines the nutrition value with a good taste, the two together”, says proudly Prof. Nagib. Humm, it is indeed tasty when fried!




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