Portuguese traders from Brazil introduced cassava to Africa in the 16th century. Farmers adopted it because it provided a reliable source of food during drought and hungry season.
Currently, about half of the world production of cassava is in Africa. Cassava is cultivated in around 40 African countries, stretching through a wide belt from Madagascar in the Southeast to The Gambia, Senegal and to Cape Verde in the Northwest.
Cassava grows two to three meters in height (6 to 9 feet). It requires high levels of humidity and sun to grow and it is known for its ability to withstand difficult growing conditions. However, there is a seasonal gap in the availability of cassava in West Africa…
Traditionally, cassava is produced on small-scale family farms. The roots are processed and prepared as a subsistence crop for home consumption and for sale in village markets and shipment to bigger centres.
It is an important source of calories and carbs for people in developing countries. It can be cooked, fried and used in different recipes. Depending on the process you can get cassava flour, starch, and pearls.
There are 5 major cassava food products: fresh root, dried roots, pasty products, granulated products and cassava leaves.
Cassava root and leaves are commonly used in The Gambia in different meals such as Ebbeh, Plasas (cassava leave soup), Benachin, Nyambeh ak nyebbeh (cassava and beans) with fried fish, chew, pepper soup.
Additionally, cassava root is well known as the raw material that’s used to produce garri which is the main ingredient for making fufu, eba, achekeh, etc.
Individuals with food allergies often benefit from using cassava root in cooking and baking because it is gluten-free, grain-free and nut-free.
One important note is that cassava root must be cooked before it is eaten.
In production of garri, casava tubers are peeled, cut if needed and grinded into a smooth mash. As it contains quite a lot of water, the mash is distributed into big rice bags, sealed well and left weighed with big stones so the liquid gets completely drained out. During the drainage spontaneous fermentation takes place. This process is very important as it detoxifies the cassava which is known to contain the anti-nutrient cyanide, which is toxic. That’s why cassava must be thermically processed or fermented to be edible. Fermentation also adds to the flavour and nutritional value. Fermented foods aids the gut health by contributing good bacteria to our bodies. Drained mash is then sieved, so the small, even-sized granules are formed, which are then roasted on big metal frying pans.
In The Gambia, you can buy dry garri in Ghana town (Brufut) from the street vendors or at the markets, usually from Ghanaians as garri is usually imported from Ghana, but also some Ghanaians are producing it from scratch and selling it. Garri dishes like eva and acheke with sauces, fried fish or meat, are available for a price range from 45 to 60 Dalasi.
Garri and boiling water are the only ingredients for eba. But you also need some arm power, as it requires some fierce stirring to achieve the thick, even and smooth consistency. In The Gambia, eba is served with different vegetable or meat stews and sauces from the region, usually Pepper soup, Plasas, Supa Kanja, Watery Domoda, fried fish or meat.
Acheke is steamed garri. It is prepared in a steamer with a gauze or cotton cloth, on which you put dry garri, mixed with salt and oil and left to swell up to twice its volume. It is usually served with spicy black sauce, made from slowly roasted onions with added chilli pepper, salt and dried crushed fish. It can be eaten with a small salad, made of tomato and cucumber.
Garri is also consumed as a nutritious drink with the same name. You prepare it by first soaking dry garri in some water, then you can add some milk, sugar, coconut shreds and roasted ground nuts.