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There are records, however, that the plant originates in the Brazilian Guiana (northern Amazonas and Pará), and the south of the three Guianas (British, Dutch and French), southern Bahia and Northeast of Minas Gerais.


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Last update: 27/03/2020

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

It is a legend from the North of Brazil that a chief once had a daughter as white as milk, different from the members of his tribe. Considering himself disgraced, the chief decided to kill her. In his dreams, however, the great master of the Indians Sumé appeared, telling him that if he did not wish to be punished, he would do no harm to the girl because she had done nothing wrong. The cacique promptly obeyed his master, and the child, who was very beautiful and intelligent, began to walk and speak on her first day of life, receiving the name of Mani.

It turns out that the great god Tupã had another destiny for Mani: without having had any illness, the girl would suddenly die before reaching one year of age. Her father, the chief of the tribe, buried her in the hut, and according to Indian custom, watered her tomb daily. One day he realised that an unknown plant sprouted from the ground. From it appeared flowers, fruits and then roots. When peeled, the latter were white as Mani. With this, the Indians thanked Tupã, and since then have not stopped planting and eating from that root, giving it the name Mani-oca, which means ‘house of Mani’. Through the elaboration of beijus and cauim – a popular drink among them – manioc has become one of the important elements of indigenous food. Brought by them, manioc was incorporated into Brazilian cuisine.

There are records, however, that the plant originates in the Brazilian Guiana (northern Amazonas and Pará), and the south of the three Guianas (British, Dutch and French), southern Bahia and Northeast of Minas Gerais.

It was the Portuguese colonisers who took advantage of their knowledge of grape and olive machinery and created the traditional flour mills in North and Northeast Brazil. In these mills, before being released to the consumer, manioc goes through a delicate process. First, the root is harvested, its bark is manually scraped, and then the white part is passed through a fine grater driven by a large wheel. Generally, it is the men who move the wheel and the women who put the manioc in the roller. Then the remaining pulp is pressed by the tipiti – a type of press – to remove the manipuera (or cyanide acid), a poisonous product of the root. After this procedure, the pulp blocks are removed from the press, broken up, and then sieved. Only at the end of this stage does the product go to the oven, becoming the popular manioc flour.

It should be noted that the main ingredients of African slave food were manioc flour and dry meat. By means of permits and royal provisions dated 1642, 1680 and 1690, plantation masters and cane farmers were obliged to cultivate the plant. Subsequent decrees came to reiterate this obligation, requiring them to plant at least five hundred setts per slave. Therefore since the 17th century, it has been a very significant element in the diet of the Northeast and North regions. It is widely used in June cuisine, where, in addition to corn meals are the delicious cakes made with manioc: pé-de-moleque and Souza Leão. Manioc flour is always present in the traditional Brazilian dish – feijoada – and it is also used to made tapiocas and farofas, to which palm oil or ghee is added.

Manioc starch comes from the manufacture of flour and root shavings, and is produced by some flour mills. This by-product is obtained from the liquid – which is discarded most of the time – that flows from the presses. Possessing a high nutritional value due to its richness in proteins, vitamins and natural minerals, it is used in the manufacture of biscuits and other food products.

As far as manioc consumption is concerned, it is necessary to point out that in places where subsistence crops predominate, there is a high consumption of complex carbohydrates from one or two cereals and roots (such as manioc, yam, sweet potato, corn and rice), which can be consumed in isolation or combined with certain legumes, such as beans. In these cases, the role of other foods in the provision of important nutrients becomes secondary, and the development of people becomes impaired.

As long as there is a use of the residual starch from the presses in the flour and shavings factories, it is still possible to produce a flour of better quality. But what happens most of the time is the use of only a small percentage of the liquid. According to experts in the subject, about 75% of manioc’s best nutrients, including proteins, vitamins and natural minerals, are lost. Despite this fact, the plant continues to represent the true bread of Brazil. Here, only in lands considered too loamy, or in mountainous sections, very dry, stony, too steep or too humid, is manioc not cultivated.

Through their eating habits, then, the Portuguese introduced manioc into their cuisine, as well as some other important ingredients: coconut (brought from India), salt, and cinnamon powder – one of the spices – mixed with sugar. Over the 500 years since the discovery, a new cuisine has been forged. The exchange of food, the union of new products, paths and experiences, the mixture of ethnicities and cultures, the miscegenation of tastes, forms and aromas, gave birth to the rich Brazilian cuisine.


Recife, 17 January 2006.
(Updated on 9 July 2008)
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.

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VALENTE, Waldemar. Folclore brasileiro: Pernambuco. Rio de Janeiro: MEC, FUNARTE, 1979.

how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Mandioca. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em:. Acesso em: dia  mês  ano.  Ex: 6 ago. 2009.