A staple of many countries in the tropics, cassava is considered one of the keys to global food security due to its tolerance to drought and high temperatures, which are expected to increase in a changing climate. Consequently, production of this hardy, adaptable crop that already feeds a billion people across Africa, Asia and Latin America is fast expanding. But there could be a deadly catch – one that comes with the aroma of almonds. This is the perfume of cyanide, a poison produced naturally by cassava and the reason it needs careful preparation.
Of the plant species that produce cyanide, including a third of food crops, cassava is the only staple crop that can kill if not processed properly, according to the leader of the Cyanogenesis Group at Monash University, Professor Ros Gleadow.
Ros’ group is working to determine just what those levels might be as part of an investigation into the impact that different climatic conditions will have on cassava and the implications for human food supplies, nutrition and safety through new research in collaboration with Australia’s national research organisation, CSIRO, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
Professor Ros Gleadow