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Foodstuff: Cassava (Yuca Root)

The curious looking vegetable you see above appeared in one of our local grocery stores the other day with a label describing it as ‘Yuca Root’. I have actually seen these while travelling down south before but, until now, it was never practical to buy some to sample. The name ‘Yuca’ didn’t mean a great deal to me and it wasn’t until I brought a root home and did an Internet search that I realized I had heard of it before by two of its other names: ‘Manioc’ and ‘Cassava’…

The vegetable is the tuberous root of a woody shrub native to South America. It is particularly easy to grow in marginal soils and is widely grown in Africa as well as Indonesia and many other Pacific Island nations. It is very starchy and thus is a good source of carbohydrate in places where other foodstuffs like potatoes or grains are hard to cultivate.

As you can see, the interior of the root is a solid white color and the consistency, in the raw state is a bit like a Water chestnut (at least in appearance). The rind is quite thick and fibrous and, although it is not easy to see, either in the picture or in the actual root, there is a very tough, though narrow, core that needs to be removed, along with the rind, before further preparation.

Before going further, it is important to know, especially if you are going to try this root yourself, that the raw flesh contains a number of cyanide compounds and can be toxic unless properly processed. Apparently there are a number of procedures, such as soaking and pressing, which are used before further processing in order to remove the toxic compounds, but I also understand (and take on faith) that most cooking methods will also prevent the toxicity.

Having said all that, and being personally forewarned about the potential poisonous qualities, I actually tasted a little piece of the raw flesh and I can happily report that it was nowhere near as bad as I expected. I rather anticipated it would be like that nasty, starchy taste of a raw potato but, instead, it was quite sweetish, and not unlike an under-ripe banana in taste. The texture, however, was very different and, despite the appearance, not much like a Water Chestnut in consistency, being very fibrous and tough. It is perhaps a blessing, given the toxicity, that the root would be extremely difficult to either eat or digest when raw.

Culinary Uses

Being a starchy tuber, it is not surprising that this vegetable very much lends itself to the same sort of cookery methods of the potato. It is quite frequently just boiled and mashed, but there are a lot of methods whereby it is fried, often after being boiled to tenderize it first, or grated and then formed into patties for frying. It is also sometimes roasted, although, again, parboiling is often employed first.

Like the potato, the root is also dried and ground into a flour for use in many types of recipes where any other sort of flour might be used. I also discovered, to my surprise, that ‘Manioc flour’, as it is widely known, is also processed to become Tapioca starch, which, when formed in ‘pearls’ is used to make the ‘Sago’ or Tapioca pudding’ that my brother and sister and I so despised when served at school dinners in England.

I haven’t yet decided how I will cook the root I just purchased. I will be considering this in the next few days and will naturally post the results. However, if I fail to do so… or if my posts cease unaccountably… it may mean that I ought never to have tried tasting the root in its raw form. In that event, I hope one of my kind readers will notify the appropriate authorities…

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Very interesting. I look forward to how you cook this product.

    May 21, 2012
    • Post written… it is in the lineup for publication 🙂

      May 21, 2012
  2. feochadan #

    I may have to give up my cucumber fetish for this interesting looking vegetable… Hahahah

    May 21, 2012
  3. Sounds like an adventure. And if we don’t hear from you in a few days, we’ll send help!

    May 21, 2012
  4. C. Hershey #

    Don’t worry about boiling and eating it. The types that are sold in markets in Europe and the US have insignificant levels of the poison, and you can eat and enjoy. The root that you bought is actually coated in paraffin as a way to preserve it. Without that treatment, the root will normally begin to deteriorate (begin to blacken internally) after just a few days. This is one of the world’s most important food crops, so I’m glad you have a chance to learn about it in England. I am leader of a research team in South America that works to improve this crop for small farmers around the world.

    May 25, 2012
  5. I survived my taste test well enough but that is an interesting tidbit of info on the poison levels. I saw that there was paraffin wax on it, I didn’t know about the blackening or why the wax was there…

    BTW … I’m in Northern Canada actually

    May 25, 2012
  6. C. Hershey #

    oops — not sure why I thought England. Anyway — all other information is correct.

    May 25, 2012
  7. Hello Sybaritica and others,

    this root (ground provision) is very well known in the caribbean and south america. We use it in many dishes. It can be boiled, grated, grounded like flour, etc. It can be eaten dry like a cereal once grounded or grated. It can be eaten like potatoes once boiled. I have lots of recipes in fact and happy to share. Here’s one I found online:

    trinidad cassava recipe

    May 27, 2012
  8. Thanx for the recipe link. I have some salt cod I need to use up… I hope there will be Cassava in the store again soon.

    May 27, 2012
  9. We call it tapioca here…or by the local name, “ubi kayu”. We can just boil it (with a bit of salt added) and eat it like that or dipped in our local palm sugar.
    http://suituapui.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/ours/
    Other than that, we also use it to make the local traditional cakes.

    May 27, 2012
  10. Nice link, thank you very much. I have heard of it being used to make cakes as well as a sort of cereal!

    May 27, 2012
  11. cassava is known as “kamoteng kahoy” (kamote is our tagalog word for sweet potato and kahoy is wood in english) its skin resembles the skin of wood.. it is a favorite native delicacy, usually grated adding milk and sugar and egg and baked more commonly known as cassava cake, or it could just be boiled – sprinkle with freshly grated coconut and sugar, or “nilupak” pounded boiled cassava add sugar and freshly grated coconut and milk..

    June 8, 2012
  12. That’s very interesting…. There is a favourite dim sum treat made with Daikon radish which is grated and then steamed in a cake with rice flour… I bet Cassava might lend itself to this too!

    June 8, 2012
  13. Hi there. I live in Brazil (I’m American) and the most widely eaten form of Mandioca (what you call Yucca Root there) is simple boiling it until soft (able to easily slip a fork into it) then serving it with a squirt of lime and dash of salt. Or just salt. You can also cut it into bite sized pieces and fry them until crispy, then serve them with a dash of lime and salt, SO GOOD! Hope you had a good first experience with it… I love it! We use it for sooooo many things here!

    July 7, 2012
    • I am definitely look forward to trying it again!

      July 7, 2012

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