What's The Difference: Cassava Vs. Taro

Don't confuse one for the other so you avoid food poisoning.

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ILLUSTRATOR Roselle Miranda

Are you a fan of cassava cake? Do you like your sinigang with gabi so it turns milky and thickens the soup? If you are fans of either of these dishes and have made them, you have probably handled two of the key ingredients in these recipes: the cassava and the taro. 

Cassava is also known as yuca (not yucca which is an ornamental plant) while taro is known as gabi in Tagalog. These two tubers both have bark-like outer skins and both need to be prepared differently and carefully. That's because both contain toxic chemicals that, when ingested raw or undercooked, can cause food poisoning and irritation. 

The root of the cassava plant, when eaten raw, is undercooked, or prepared improperly, can result in cyanide poisoning. Cyanide is a fast-acting poison, which tastes bitter, that can be fatal if not treated immediately. 

Just like the cassava, if eaten raw, is undercooked, or prepared improperly, the taro (and its leaves too) can also lead to another kind of food poisoning, this time from calcium oxalate. Unlike cassava, the poison is more irritating than fatally harmful. The taro can irritate your throat and mouth when eaten and your hands if you handle it without gloves while still raw. The taro leaves which are commonly used for laing are best prepared differently and separately from the root. 

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To prevent both the cassava and the taro from being harmful when eaten, both need to be cooked well so that the heat will neutralize the toxins these two tubers create and have when raw. There are some who claim that soaking the prepared cassava and the taro will help reduce the toxins that are in the tubers. Toss out any water that is used to soak these before cooking to prevent any accidents. 

Here's how the cassava and the taro are different: 

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1 Cassava is long and narrow. Taro is short and oval.

The cassava is easy to distinguish because it's long and narrow. These have a brown, bark-like outer skin, very much like a tree would but thin enough that it can be peeled off using a sharp vegetable peeler or your knife. 

The taro meanwhile is a stumpy little oval in shape with a pointed end. This has a dark brown, bark-like outer skin, too, that is also thin enough to peel off using a sharp kitchen tool. Just remember that for the taro, it's best to use gloves when handling so you can avoid irritating your hands. Remember to also wash your hands, your preparation area, and any other tools used well. 

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2 Cassava is white. Taro can be white or purple. 

Cassava is a translucent white color when sliced open. This can then be grated, chopped, cubed, sliced into sticks, and even mashed once cooked. 

The taro meanwhile can be white or it can be purple. This is one of the reasons why some mistakenly believe the taro is the ube. Similar to the kamote, there are tuber varieties where, when sliced, the color is a shade of purple and not the more common color. The taro is one such tuber that is often mistaken as ube for those who are unfamiliar with it.  

Whether it's a pretty lavender or white, the taro is prepared and used in the same way. You will just have a dish with purple cubes instead of the usual milky white. 

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3 Taro can be used as a thickener. 

A sinigang recipe can be made "creamy" from the gabi. You can simply add the peeled and cubed root to the soup and let it simmer until cooked. It will thicken the soup slightly as well as turn it a little milky in color. This gives the sinigang soup body that is similar to what the fat from the pork does to sinigang that a sinigang sa hipon recipe cannot produce. 

Now that you know how to safely prepare both of these tubers, you can try making these recipes safely. 

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Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!

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