The Original Gluten-Free Food (from Brazil)

by Edna Sousa
One day I was talking about the things that grow on you when living in a foreign country. I was listing some of the snacks that I have come to love in America and I made a comparison with our Brazilian Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese bread or balls) and I realized how much our snacks mean to us and how much they are part of our experience. For me, Brazilian cheese balls are important as food and as cosmetics too. So I decided to write about the Pao de Queijo flour, and its derivative.

Growing up in Brazil we learn as a child, all about the legends behind the food ingredients names and manioca is one of those. The name in Portuguese is mandioca (man-djee-oh-kah), but the legend is from the Tupis, the native Brazilian tribe with huge influence on Brazilian vocabulary. Manioca in Tupi means Mani (which is the name of the legendary little Tupi girl) plus Oca (meaning a house) so Manioca is the house of the little Tupi girl.

Legend says the Tupi Chief had a daughter with very pale skin, and she suddenly got sick and died. They buried the girl in their house, after awhile, a plant grew in that same place.

Manioc root is found in sub tropical areas around the globe, such as Africa, South America, India and Asia. Its ancient roots are in Brazil and were spread worldwide by Spaniards and Portuguese to their colonies, which belonged to the Manihot esculenta family. This root is rich in carbohydrates and is high in fiber that transforms the carbohydrate into energy quite slowly. Known by different names manioca, mandioca, cassava, manihot, tapioca, etc., manioc is now a global food.

Tapioca is a starch made from fresh, toxin-free manioc plant. I say “toxin-free” because in the raw form, the root contains linamarin, which converts in cyanide compost, a dangerous poison for humans. Rich in minerals such as manganese, folic acid, Calcium, Iron, vitamin C and E, B Complex, and carbohydrates, it has been largely used for people with Celiac disease because it is gluten-free.

The Europeans cosmetic scientists discovered the hydrolyzed manihot extract is a great active ingredient for reversing aging skin. Studies have shown the immediate tensor effect minimizing wrinkles and crow’s feet. In cosmetic formulations, the modified Tapioca starch is largely used for reducing greasiness in products, to increase the viscosity in creams and lotions and as a delivery vehicle for bath anhydrous (dry, water-free) products.

So I believe the little Mani in Brazil never thought she would be useful for both the food and cosmetics industries. But that’s how legends are, you know?

Obrigada Mani! (Thank you, Mani)

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