When can babies eat cassava?
Cassava (also called bankye, khoai mi, mandioca, and yuca) may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Never serve or eat raw cassava (regardless of age) as the plant contains natural toxins that can cause serious health problems.1 To be safe for consumption, cassava must be cooked or processed into a food product, which humans have been successfully doing for tens of thousands of years.
Background and origins of cassava
Cassava is native to Central and South America, where Indigenous communities first cultivated the tropical plant for its abundant roots, whose rich starches can nourish our bodies with energy-rich carbohydrates. European colonizers took the plant (and casabe, a hearty bread made by Indigenous people that keeps for extended periods) to Africa and Asia, where the root became an important agricultural crop. Today cassava joins maize and rice as a staple food for millions of people on our planet. The tuber’s tough bark-like rind protects pale flesh that is incredibly versatile as a food source. Just like potatoes and yams, cassava can be cooked in many ways (baked cassava! cassava chips! cassava fries! mashed cassava!) or processed to make cereal, flour, meal, or starch, otherwise known as tapioca. That’s right—we have cassava to thank for delicious sweets like boba tea and tapioca pudding!
Frozen cassava root is a cost-effective and perfectly suitable option.
Is cassava healthy for babies?
Yes—however, the plant contains natural toxins that must be broken down through the cooking process. Never serve raw cassava in any form to your baby or anyone for that matter, but also don’t let this stop you from exploring this tasty and important food.
Once it is cooked, cassava root offers lots of carbohydrates to fuel your baby’s body and plenty of vitamin C to support immunity and skin health. The root also contains a little potassium and trace amounts of calcium and iron.
Cooked cassava root and cassava products like flour, meal, and starch are excellent sources of carbohydrates—especially for gluten-free families—when served as part of a balanced diet. However, children who consume cassava as a dietary staple can be at risk for nutrient deficiencies.2 3 For families whose diets are built around cassava as the main food source, the addition of foods like legumes, meat, and vegetables can provide iron, zinc, protein, and other essential nutrients that kids need to thrive.4
★ Shopping Tip: When purchasing whole cassava root, consider buying more than you think you will need. The fresh tuber has a short shelf life and it can be hard to tell if cassava has started to spoil due to its tough rind. Once skinned and cut open, compost any sections that contain dark or discolored areas. The flesh should be bright white and streak-free!
Is cassava a common choking hazard for babies?
No. Cooked cassava is not a common choking hazard, though tapioca pearls in boba drinks, puddings, and desserts can be. Tapioca pearls are not recommended for babies in general as they are highly processed and typically served with plenty of added sugars. As always, be sure to create a safe eating environment and always stay near your baby during mealtime. Check out our age-appropriate serving suggestions!
Is cassava a common allergen?
No. Cassava is not a common allergen, although allergic reactions are not unheard of, and individuals who are allergic to latex may be sensitive to cassava.5
As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity on its own for the first couple of servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.
How do you prepare cassava for babies with baby-led weaning?
Every baby develops on their own timeline. The preparation suggestions below are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional, one-on-one advice from your pediatric medical or health professional, nutritionist or dietitian, or expert in pediatric feeding and eating. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
6 to 9 months old: Offer large sections of well-cooked cassava for your baby to eat as a finger food or mashed cassava that your baby can scoop with hands or eat from a preloaded spoon. As a reminder, never serve or eat raw or undercooked cassava.
9 to 12 months old: Serve bite-size pieces of well-cooked cassava if your baby has developed their pincer grasp and consider continuing to offer large pieces of cooked cassava for biting and tearing practice. You can, of course, continue with mashed cassava as well, letting your baby eat with their hands or from a pre-loaded utensil.
12 to 24 months old: Fork time! While you can certainly introduce a fork earlier, this is a great time to step up practice time with utensils. Serve bite-size pieces and show how to pierce them with a fork (making a “boink!” sound can help) and be prepared for your toddler to toggle back and forth between eating with utensils and their fingers. Mashed cassava, because it is thick and sticks to spoons well, is also great for independent spoon practice.
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Once peeled, cut away and compost any sections that are dark or streaky, and use only flesh that is pure in color. Cassava flesh ranges from bright white to pale yellow depending on the variety.
Recipe: Majado de Yuca
Peruvian Mashed Cassava with Pork
Adapted from “Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America” by Maricel E. Presilla
- 2 pounds frozen whole cassava
- 1 pound ground pork
- 8 garlic cloves
- 1 small onion
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon aji amarillo paste (optional)
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- Fill a large pot halfway with water and set on medium-high heat.
- Add the frozen cassava once the water is boiling. Cook, uncovered, until the cassava can be easily pierced with a fork or knife, about 20 minutes. Drain and transfer the cassava to a cutting board.
- Slice the cassava in half lengthwise. Remove and compost the inner fiber. Use a fork to mash the warm cassava.
- Prepare the pork while the cassava is cooking. Set a large skillet on medium heat, then add the ground pork. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat into small pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, until it releases some of its fat and starts to brown, about 5 minutes.
- Peel and mince the garlic and onion while the pork cooks. As soon as the meat starts to brown, add the garlic and onion, then stir to combine. Continue to cook until the onions are golden and the meat is fully cooked with no pink remaining, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the remaining seasonings and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the mashed cassava to the skillet. Stir to combine then turn up the heat. Let sit until the cassava forms a light crust on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Stir to break up the crust, then remove from the heat and let cool.
- Measure 1/2 cup of majado into a baby-friendly bowl for your child, and serve yourself and any other family members a generous portion. Store any remaining majado in an air-tight container in the fridge for future meals. It will keep for up to 1 week.
- To serve, encourage hand scooping or offer a spoon alongside the bowl if your child is ready to practice with utensils. Eat alongside your child to model how it’s done!
Mildly sweet with a subtle earthiness, cassava root can serve as a blank canvas for your favorite flavors. Try seasoning with bold spices like ground cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, or spicy pepper. Splash with lime, orange, or lemon to counter the starchiness with a little acidity. Add a layer of flavor with fresh herbs like cilantro, lemongrass, mint, or Thai basil. Serve with chicken, pork, shrimp, or your preferred protein for a balanced meal.
J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD
K. Rappaport, OTR/L, MS, SCFES, IBCLC
S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. (allergy section)
R. Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist
- Kashala-Abotnes, E., Okitundu, D., Mumba, D., Boivin, M. J., Tylleskär, T., & Tshala-Katumbay, D. (2019). Konzo: a distinct neurological disease associated with food (cassava) cyanogenic poisoning. Brain research bulletin, 145, 87–91. DOI: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2018.07.001. Retrieved October 5, 2020
- Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. Children Consuming Cassava as a Staple Food are at Risk for Inadequate Zinc, Iron, and Vitamin A Intake. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
- Nzwalo, H., & Cliff, J. (2011). Konzo: from poverty, cassava, and cyanogen intake to toxico-nutritional neurological disease. PLoS neglected tropical diseases, 5(6), e1051.
- Taleon, V., Sumbu, D., Muzhingi, T., Bidiaka, S. (2019). Carotenoids retention in biofortified yellow cassava processed with traditional African methods. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 99(3):1434-1441. DOI:10.1002/jsfa.9347. Retrieved October 5, 2020
- Ibero, M., Castillo, M. J., Pineda, F. (2007). Allergy to cassava: a new allergenic food with cross-reactivity to latex. Journal of investigational allergology & clinical immunology, 17(6), 409–412. Retrieved October 5, 2020