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Cassareep is a thick black liquid made from cassava root, often with additional spices, which is used as a base for many sauces and especially in Guyanese pepperpot. Besides use as a flavoring and browning agent, it also acts as a preservative. Its antiseptic[citation needed] characteristics have led to medical application as an ointment, most notably in the treatment of certain eye diseases.


Cassava roots

Cassareep is made from the juice of the bitter cassava root, which is poisonous (it contains acetone cyanohydrin, a compound which decomposes to the highly toxic hydrogen cyanide on contact with water).[1] Hydrogen cyanide, traditionally called "prussic acid", is volatile and quickly dissipates when heated.[2] Nevertheless, improperly cooked cassava has been blamed for a number of deaths.[3] Amerindians from Guyana reportedly made an antidote by steeping chili peppers in rum.[4]

To make cassareep, the juice is boiled until it is reduced by half in volume,[5] to the consistency of molasses[4] and flavored with spices—including cloves, cinnamon, salt, sugar, and cayenne pepper.[6] Traditionally, cassareep was boiled in a soft pot, the actual "pepper pot", which would absorb the flavors and also impart them (even if dry) to foods such as rice and chicken cooked in it.[7]

Most cassareep is exported from Guyana.[8] The natives of Guyana traditionally brought the product to town in bottles,[9] and it is available on the US market in bottled form.[10] Though the cassava root traveled from Brazil to Africa, where the majority of cassava is grown, there is no production of cassareep in Africa.[11]

Culinary use[edit]

Cassareep is used for two distinct goals, that originate from two important aspects of the ingredient: its particular flavor, and its preservative quality.

Cassareep is essential in the preparation of pepperpot, and gives the dish its "distinctive bittersweet flavor."[12] Cassareep can also be used as an added flavoring to dishes, "imparting upon them the richness and flavour of strong beef-soup."[5]

A peculiar quality of cassareep, which works as an antiseptic, is that it allows food to be kept "on the back of the stove"[13] for indefinite lengths of time,[14] as long as additional cassareep is added every time meat is added. According to legend, Betty Mascoll of Grenada had a pepperpot that was maintained like this for more than a century.[13] Dutch planters in Suriname reportedly had pepperpots in daily use that they kept cooking for many years,[5] as did "businessmen's clubs" in the Caribbean.[15]

Medical application[edit]

The antiseptic qualities of cassareep are well known—so well known, in fact, that the Reverend J.G. Wood, who published his Wanderings in South America in 1879, was criticized for not mentioning the "antiseptic properties of cassava juice (cassareep), which enables the Indian on a canoe voyage to take with him a supply of meat for several days."[16]

In the mid- to late nineteenth century, as reports of adventures by English explorers became widely read in England, statements about cassareep and its antiseptic qualities became easily available; an early example was a publication in The Pharmaceutical Journal from 1847,[17] and similar references can be found throughout the late nineteenth century, such as in the work of Irish naturalist and explorer Thomas Heazle Parke[18] and in pharmaceutical[19] and trade journals.[20] Professor Attfield, professor of practical chemistry for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, however, in the 1870 edition of the Year-book of Pharmacy, claimed that his laboratory studies proved no effectiveness whatsoever.[21] Still, pharmaceutical journals and handbooks began to report of the possible use of cassareep, and suggested it might be helpful in the treatment of, for instance, eye afflictions such as corneal ulcers[22][23][24][25] and conjunctivitis.[26]


  1. ^ Aregheore E. M; Agunbiade O. O. (1991). "The toxic effects of cassava (manihot esculenta grantz) diets on humans: a review". Vet. Hum. Toxicol. 33 (3): 274–275. PMID 1650055.
  2. ^ Meehans' monthly: a magazine of horticulture, botany and kindred subjects, Volumes 11-12. Thomas Meehan & Sons. 1901. p. 108.
  3. ^ White W. L. B.; Arias-Garzon D. I.; McMahon J. M.; Sayre R. T. (1998). "Cyanogenesis in Cassava : The Role of Hydroxynitrile Lyase in Root Cyanide Production". Plant Physiol. 116 (4): 1219–1225. doi:10.1104/pp.116.4.1219. PMC 35028. PMID 9536038.
  4. ^ a b Nicholls, Henry Alfred Alford (1906). A text-book of tropical agriculture. Macmillan. p. 278.
  5. ^ a b c Johnson, J.M (1872). Food Journal, Vol. 2. p. 375.
  6. ^ Harris, Dunstan A. (2003). Island Cooking: Recipes from the Caribbean. Ten Speed Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-58008-501-4.
  7. ^ Wood, John George (1886). Man and his handiwork. Society for promoting Christian knowledge. pp. 455–56.
  8. ^ Moore, Wavery Ann (2005-12-07). "Taste: To Market". St. Petersburg Times. p. 1.E. Retrieved 2009-07-11.
  9. ^ Dalton, Henry G. (2005). The History of British Guiana: Comprising a General Description of the Colony (1855). Adamant Media Corporation (reprint). p. 185. ISBN 978-1-4021-8865-7.
  10. ^ Herbst, Sharon Tyler (2001). The new food lover's companion: comprehensive definitions of nearly 6,000 food, drink, and culinary terms. Barron's Educational Series. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-7641-1258-4.
  11. ^ Ucko, Peter; G. Dimbledy (2007). The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals. Aldine Transaction. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-202-36169-7.
  12. ^ Kaufman, Cheryl Davidson (2002). Cooking the Caribbean Way. Twenty-First Century Books. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8225-4103-5.
  13. ^ a b Harris, Jessica B. (2003). Beyond gumbo: Creole fusion food from the Atlantic Rim. Simon and Schuster. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-684-87062-5.
  14. ^ Verrill, Alpheus Hyatt; Otis Warren Barrett (1937). Foods America gave the world: the strange, fascinating and often romantic histories of many native American food plants, their origin and other interesting and curious facts concerning them. L.C. Page. p. 64.
  15. ^ Miller, Sally (2008). Contemporary Caribbean Cooking. Miller Publishing. p. 124. ISBN 978-976-8079-75-6.
  16. ^ "Charles Waterton". Littell's Little Age. 145 (1870): 131–49. 1880-04-17. Retrieved 2009-11-12. p. 149.
  17. ^ Professor Attfield (1870). "Analysis of Bitter Cassava Juice, and Experiments in Elucidation of its Supposed Antiseptic Properties". Year-book of pharmacy: 382–85. Retrieved 2009-11-12. p. 382.
  18. ^ Parke, Thomas Heazle (1891). My personal experiences in equatorial Africa: as medical officer of the Emin Pasha relief expedition. C. Scribner. p. 485.
  19. ^ Holmes, E.M. (1887). "Some of the Drug Exhibits at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition". The Pharmaceutical Journal. Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. 17: 405–11. Retrieved 2009-11-12. p. 411
  20. ^ "Extracts from Mr. Holmes's Paper on some of the Drug Exhibits at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition". Timehri. Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana: 156–60. 1887. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
  21. ^ Professor Attfield (1870). "Analysis of Bitter Cassava Juice, and Experiments in Elucidation of its Supposed Antiseptic Properties". Year-book of pharmacy: 382–85. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
  22. ^ Shrady, George Frederick; Thomas Lathrop Stedman (1898). Medical record, Volume 54. W. Wood. p. 771.
  23. ^ Gillman, R.W. (1898). "Ophthalmology and Otology: Cassaripe, A New Remedy for Corneal Ulcers". The Medical Age. 16: 544. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
  24. ^ Risley, S.D. (1898). "New Treatment of Ulcers and Other Infectious Diseases of the Eye by Cassareep". Ophthalmic Record: A Monthly Review of the Progress of Ophthalmology. 7: 460. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
  25. ^ "Cassareep: A New Treatment of Ulcers and Other Infectious Diseases of the Eye". Medical Record. W. Wood: 771. 1898. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
  26. ^ Dorland, William Alexander Newman (1914). Dorland's illustrated medical dictionary. Saunders. p. 187.

Further reading[edit]