A few months ago, when my friend mentioned cassava flour as a grain- and nut-free flour option, I put the idea in the back of my mind. I had entered the world of grain-free cooking because another friend with an auto-immune disease had been advised by a doctor to go grain-free, and the thought that she couldn’t have old favorites made me want to experiment.
A few weeks back, I saw bag of it at my local health food store. Talk about sticker shock—$17 for a 2-pound bag!
I wondered how many people like myself were curious about it but scared off by the price tag and took it upon myself to be the official taste-tester and risk-taker.
Before we go any further, let’s take a minute to backtrack and talk about what cassava is exactly. Also known as yuca, cassava is a tuber in the same family as taro, yams, and potatoes. People will often mistake cassava flour for tapioca flour, but the similarity ends with them both being from the yuca root.
To make tapioca flour, the root is washed, pulped, and then squeezed to extract a starchy liquid. Once all the liquid evaporates, what remains is the tapioca flour. Cassava flour, on the other hand, is produced from the entire root, peeled, dried, and ground.
Unlike other grain-free and gluten-free substitutions, you can pretty much swap in this cassava flour for all-purpose flour to achieve a very good, sometimes even great, result. In other words, you don't have to go through the trouble of making (or buying) a gluten-free flour mix.
That being said, cassava flour isn’t a perfect fit for every recipe, and it certainly isn’t an even swap, regardless of what the packaging says. Cassava flour is lighter than all-purpose flour (130 grams per cup versus 145 to 150 grams when using the scoop and sweep method), yet it absorbs more liquid (meaning you should scale back the amount when making a substitution). You have to play around a bit to strike the right balance.
I’ve been mostly excited by the results of my weeks playing with this new-to-me flour. I’ve made brownies, chocolate chip cookies, pizza dough, and pancakes, using tried-and-true recipes as the framework for my testing.
Working with a recipe you already know is a success helps you hone in on any mishaps you may have in cooking. If you decide to start from scratch, developing a totally new recipe before you understand how a new ingredient works in general... well, let’s just say be forewarned.
Here’s a quick summary from my month of tinkering with cassava flour.
- It’s a very dusty flour, so be gentle: Don't plop it into the bowl, or you’ll be consumed by a dust cloud.
- It loves liquid, and drinks it up considerably, at a higher proportion than all-purpose flour. So while packages say it’s a cup for cup substitute, I've found that you need to scale back the amount of cassava flour when making a substitution.
- Cassava flour imparts an earthy, subtly nutty flavor—not surprising since it’s made from a ground-up root vegetable, but something to keep in mind when tasting your finished recipe.
- Recipes that rely on copious amounts of cassava flour and are thicker/deeper (like loaf cakes), have posed a challenge. They tend to come out over-baked on the outside, while remaining underdone and gummy in the center.
And yes, I’ve had a few misses with cassava flour, too, as part of my learning curve (see #4 above). Let’s not talk about the gummy, inedible cake and the rolls I made recently. I’m not giving up on either recipe. My hunch tells me they need a partner flour.
In the meantime, here are a few cassava flour recipes my family is loving lately:
- 250 grams bittersweet chocolate chips
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups (175 grams) granulated maple sugar
- 3/4 cup (187 milliliters) canola oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons (50 grams) cassava flour
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (37 grams) dark cocoa powder
- 3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) fleur de sel
Tell me, have you been curious about cassava flour? Do you already use it regularly and have a favorite recipe to share?