Yuca (Cassava) Root

Have you heard of Yuca (not Yucca)? Yuca (pronounced Yoo-ka) is the root of the Cassava plant and is found in South America, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. (Yucca – pronounced YUHK-a is an ornamental desert plant found in Southeastern USA and is definitely not the same). Yuca can be grown in drought areas and less than ideal soils.

According to Wikipedia: “Yuccas are widely grown as ornamental plants in gardens. Many yuccas also bear edible parts, including fruits, seeds, flowers, flowering stems, and more rarely roots, but use of these is sufficiently limited that references to yucca as food more often than not stem from confusion with the similarly spelled but botanically unrelated yuca.” On the other hand, Yuca is described in Wikipedia as follows: “Manihot esculenta, commonly called Cassava, manioc, yuca, mandioca, and Brazilian arrowroot, is a woody shrub native to South America of the spurge family Euphorbiaceae. It is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchytuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. Though it is often called yuca in Spanish and in the United States, it differs from yucca, an unrelated fruit-bearing shrub in the family Asparagaceae. Cassava, when dried to a powdery (or pearly) extract, is called tapioca; its fried, granular form is named garri.” Unfortunately, sometimes the spellings are used interchangeably, but they definitely are not the same plant!

Yuca or Cassava Root is a large root vegetable similar to the sweet potato, but has a rough, waxy bark-like skin that must be removed by either grating or peeling before being cooked. It has a starchy white flesh that can be used in place of potatoes, with a mild, sweet, kind of nutty taste. It can be found in some grocery stores in the root vegetable section or at a Latino market and may be labelled as Cassava Root or Yuca Root (and sometimes Yucca Root!).

Now, I’m sure you recognize the name Cassava, as it is an ingredient I use regularly in my recipes. Cassava, as noted above, is another name for Yuca and can be used many ways. For example, I use Cassava “flour” in making cookies, crusts, tortillas, brownies, pancakes, waffles, pizza crust/dough, crepes, burgers, sauces and gravy, tempura batter, and bread. Actually, I use the flour a lot and for most things I make. The one I use is Anthony’s Cassava flour that I purchase while down south and bring enough home to Canada to last me the whole summer (and sometimes beyond). There is another one that I’ve used in the past called “Otto’s Cassava Flour” but I find that one too expensive to use on a regular basis. Some cooks prefer it, but I find Anthony’s just fine. However, Anthony’s cannot be purchased in Canada at this point in time, so you would have to order and pick up in the USA. One thing to make note of is that Tapioca Starch/Flour comes from the same plant but from a different part of the yuca plant, and is NOT the same as Cassava Flour, so cannot be used interchangeably. Cassava flour can be used in place of wheat flour in baking in a one to one ratio.

The Yuca Root can be made into Cassava Flour by grating the root into a fine mash (after washing and peeling). The cassava mash is put into a clean bag or cheesecloth sack to press out as much moisture as possible so it is dry. Spread on a drying rack and place in the sun, or place in a dehydrator or the oven at a very low temperature to dry completely. Once dried, either mill or mash the dried flesh using a mortar, then sift it to remove any clumps. It should be used within about 3-6 months. Having mentioned how to make it, I prefer to buy mine – it’s much easier!

Now, you can also use the Yuca Root to make some really great things, like tortillas, pie crusts, empanadas, calzones, and baked fries (and you can even make an AIP “Mozzarella Cheese” with it). Yuca root can be cooked and eaten just like potatoes, but also makes a great dough for the previously mentioned items. One thing you cannot do with yuca root is to eat it without cooking it, as it contains cyanide (which, as you know, is toxic), so it must be cooked before eating in any recipe. In its cooked form yuca is very safe to eat. One thing to keep in mind is that if you do not get enough natural B12 in your diet (not supplementation), it is recommended not to each too much yuca due to the cyanide content. Your body can tolerate very small amounts of cyanide, so if you are vegan use yuca/cassava in moderate amounts. It is also pretty high in carbohydrates, so moderate use is recommended, but it is low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. In South America Yuca/Cassava is a staple and is used primarily for making a bread, but as I mentioned above, there are many other ways to use it.

This is a very popular Cuban side dish, and always served with most Cuban main dishes

How do you prepare yuca for eating? First, remove the outer skin by peeling or cutting it off. Cut the root into large pieces and place in a pot of cold, salted water. Bring the water to a boil and cook until soft (about 15 minutes). Drain, cool, cover and store in the fridge over night (it can also be frozen). When you are ready to eat the yuca follow the recipe you are using. Yuca can be oven-fried, mashed, grilled or boiled and you can use either fresh or frozen. One thing to note, is that yuca has a “core” that needs to be removed before you make it into anything, so when you use it, remove the hard core, than proceed with your recipe.

Make sure you prepare your yuca about 2-3 days before you plan to use it, then you won’t run into a problem with being short on time to make your recipe. Also, if you purchase Yuca and don’t know what to do with it, boil it first, then freeze it for later use in recipes. You can also make a dough out of Yuca, use it right away, or place in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use. Take out of the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator, then proceed with making your recipe. I have made the dough and used part of it to make AIP perogies, then froze the left over dough.

I will be posting a recipe to use yuca with this post.

Have a wonderful rest of your day and week ahead.