Tapioca, a favourite food of rural peopleMost of the people in Kerala would have tasted tapioca. It is a favourite food item which very often substitute the rice among the poor. But it is interesting to note that tapioca is not a native to Kerala. It is brought over here from Malaya.
Originally tapioca was first cultivated in Brazil of South America. The West Indians occupying the banks of Amazon river discovered this tuber (root) and converted into edible food. It was the Portuguese who started large scale cultivation of this as a tuber crop. It was through these people it reached several parts of the world. In the second half of the seventeenth century it came to India through the Portuguese merchants.
In Kerala the initiative to cultivate this crop was taken by the Travancore Maharaja, Visakham Thirunal Ramavarma, who ruled this part of the country during 1880 to 1885. He personally learned about the cultivation of this crop from the Portuguese and brought some stalks of tapioca from Malaya and started cultivation in the compound of his residence. Afterwards he supplied stalks to others and encouraged them to cultivate it. Thus it slowly started spreading all over Travancore area. Later it spread to other parts also when people of Travancore started to occupy places in the northern parts of Kerala.
This tapioca is known in different names in different parts of Kerala. The name 'Kappa' (Kappa kizhangu) is believed to have originated from the word 'Kappal' (ship) since it came to Kerala through ship. Other names are 'Kolli kizhangu', 'Maracheeni', 'Cheeni', 'Poola kizhangu', 'Marakizhangu' , etc.
Kerala stands first in India in the cultivation of tapioca. In Kerala tapioca is the major food item next to rice.