Here's everything you need to know about cassava.

Cassava has long been a part of diets around the world, but recently it's started to pop up on U.S. restaurant menus and in packaged food products. If you've come across it, you may be wondering: "What is cassava?" Here's what you need to know about cassava, including its benefits, plus how to cook with it. (Check out 7 of the Healthiest Foods You Should Be Eating but Aren't.)

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What Is Cassava?

Cassava —also known as yuca or manioc—is a root vegetable first cultivated 1,400 years ago by the Mayans. They relied on the starchy vegetable for its nutrient density, high energy content and ease of cultivation. Today, it's mainly grown in Africa, South America and Asia. The root of the plant can be boiled, mashed or roasted, much like a potato. And when it's processed even further, cassava can be used for tapioca starch, tapioca pearls and cassava flour—a gluten-free alternative to all-purpose flour. (Find out: Is Eating Gluten-Free Healthier?)

Cassava Health Benefits

Cassava is an energy powerhouse with more than twice the calories and carbohydrates of potatoes. It also delivers some potassium, vitamin C and folate.

Cassava Recipes

If you want to experiment with Cassava on your own, use it like you would use any other starchy vegetable. (It's great for making chips and fries!) One more important fact to note: Cassava should NOT be eaten raw as it contains cyanogenic glucosides, which are toxic. Peeling and cooking helps remove or destroy these toxins. It is easiest to remove the thick peel from cassava with a paring knife rather than a vegetable peeler.