Cassava has many names across many continents. The English word is cassava, but in South American in the area around Brazil it is called madioca. In Africa where French is spoken it is called manioc. In Spanish-speaking countries it is called yuca. Here in Asia we call it tapioca.

The origins of cassava are many, but the principle origin is in the tropical areas of the American continents, especially in South America. The countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Honduras planted cassava three to five thousand years before the plant was distributed across the Americas and elsewhere. In the 15th century, slave traders and the Portuguese brought cassava to the African continent.

Cassava reached Asia around the 17th century, when the Spanish brought it from Mexico for planting in Philippines. In the 18th century, the Dutch brought cassava into Indonesia.

There is no clear evidence of when cassava was introduced into Thailand, but it is assumed that it was brought from Malaysia around 1786. Originally Thais called it “man mai” or “man samrong”. In the Northeast it was called “man ton tia”. In the South it was called “man thet”. Presently, it is called “man samphalang”, which is similar to the Javanese word for cassava, “sampeu”.

No matter how many tens of hundreds of names cassava may have, the importance is that it is a cash crop that generates a tremendous amount of revenue for Thailand. Thailand is currently the largest producer and exporter of tapioca flour in the world.

Cassava was first commercially planted in the South of Thailand, where it was planted between rows of natural rubber trees. Much of it is planted in the province of Songkhla, so many factories were established there to produce tapioca starch and tapioca pearl for export to Singapore and Malaysia. However, the amount of planted cassava gradually decreased due to the encroachment of the rubber trees as they fully grew. Planting area was then shifted to the East, such as Chonburi and Rayong. As market demand increased, planting area extended to other provinces, especially in the Northeast.

There are two types of cassava in Thailand and elsewhere in the world.

The first is sweet cassava, which is used for human consumption. This type has tough or tender flesh, and is not bitter. It also has low hydro cyanic acid content. This cassava type is planted all over the world at large scale. In Thailand it is normally planted for household consumption than for commercial, since the market is small

The second type is bitter cassava with high hydro cyanic acid content. This is not suitable for human consumption or animal feed. It is suitable for the processing into products, such as tapioca pellets, tapioca starch, and alcohol. There is a lot of this type of cassava planted in Thailand.

Cassava is currently planted in approximately seven million rais of land in 48 provinces in Thailand, which produce over 20 million tons of cassava roots. Fifty percent of this is used as raw material for the production of tapioca starch.