If you’ve had Peruvian chicken take out, chances are you have had Yuca or Cassava. What is yuca?
It’s a starchy root vegetable that has the taste of a potato but a slightly chewier texture and when it’s prepared well it’s HEAVENLY. It’s quite common in a french fry style format.
But first, some backstory.
First things first, yuca looks like this.
It’s a long brown root that has wrinkled skin and it usually has a waxy complexion when you see it at the grocery store. The wax helps preserve it so it doesn’t dry out and spoil. The yuca root is not to be confused with the Yucca plant which is a common misconception. The Yucca plant is a large shrub that’s usually grown as an ornamental plant in gardens. It yields a fruit, but it’s not widely eaten or cultivated for eating purposes.
The Yuca root or Cassava (not be confused with Casaba melons, I know also confusing) is a widely grown crop across the world due to it’s ease of cultivation. For instance, in the tropics, Cassava is the third most popular crop grown second only to rice and maize. Why? Because this stuff is easy to grow due to it’s drought tolerant nature and ability to grow in poor soil conditions, cheap, and it’s dense with starch (meaning lots of calories to keep you full).
Cassava/Yuca originated in Brazil over 10 thousand years ago and it became a staple crop of the Pre-Spaniard diet of Southern and Central Americans. When the Spaniards came over during the Spanish conquests they didn’t find the Cassava to be palatable and they thought it was sub-standard to their European foods. Eventually, the Europeans were won over by the crop and it made it’s way to Africa in the 16th Century where it quickly became popular.
The world’s largest producer of Cassava is Nigeria with 50 million tonnes of it each year,while Thailand is the largest exporter of the dried version of cassava (also known as Tapioca!). Over 800 million people across the world rely on the Cassava to feed them, so yeah it’s a pretty big deal. Nothing probably encapsulates the importance of this food better than the fact that it’s translation in the Ewe language (spoken in Ghana, Benin, and Togo) literally means, “there is life”.
The other thing to know about Cassava is that it contains low levels of cyanide (yes that cyanide). For a scientific explanation here you go!
Cassava roots, peels and leaves should not be consumed raw because they contain two cyanogenic glucosides, linamarin and lotaustralin…Cassava varieties are often categorized as either sweet or bitter, signifying the absence or presence of toxic levels of cyanogenic glucosides, respectively. The so-called sweet (actually not bitter) cultivars can produce as little as 20 milligrams of cyanide (CN) per kilogram of fresh roots, whereas bitter ones may produce more than 50 times as much (1 g/kg). Cassavas grown during drought are especially high in these toxins. A dose of 25 mg of pure cassava cyanogenic glucoside, which contains 2.5 mg of cyanide, is sufficient to kill a rat. Excess cyanide residue from improper preparation is known to cause acute cyanide intoxication, and goiters, and has been linked to ataxia (a neurological disorder affecting the ability to walk, also known as konzo). It has also been linked to tropical calcific pancreatitis in humans, leading to chronic pancreatitis.
So yeah that’s terrifying. But as long as you wash and soak your Cassava after you’ve peeled it, you should be fine. I wouldn’t recommend eating it raw, but typically if you soak and cook the Cassava the effects of the toxins are minimized. It should be noted that if you have a history of goiters, this is not the food for you as it can contribute to you developing them (there’s a whole region in Nigeria that has suffered from Cassava related goiters).
So why hasn’t Cassava/Yuca taken off? Well the cyanide stuff aside (and don’t worry if you’re really scared you can buy it pre-peeled and frozen so that all you need to do is soak it.) I think it’s mostly out of lack of experience with it. Most folks look at it and don’t know what to do it. And why would you? Most people would not know what a Cassava/Yuca root looks like if you put it right in front them. But everyone’s been missing out, nothing is better than biting into a well prepared Yuca Fry paired with some greasy crispy Peruvian style chicken.
Where can you find yuca? Any international/Asian grocery store will have it, Whole Foods carries it right near the bell peppers. You can find it in the frozen section at other grocery stores, look for Goya’s brand it sells huge bags of it.
The best way to prepare yuca is to first boil it until it’s soft (think parboil, not complete mush), then to bake it and or fry it. It’s commonly served with Roasted Chicken or with chunks of Pork in the dish yuca con chicharron. Either way this stuff is delicious and it’s really easy to make. One last thing. Because yuca can be a little dry, it has to have a sauce and because of that sauce necessity I love to pair with a mayo based sauce with some citrus in it. It’s the perfect compliment to go with this rich dish.
1 Large Cassava/Yuca Root
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
Water for Boiling
Step 1- If you are buying whole yuca root, wear gloves and then peel the root.
Step 2- Cut the root into 3 large sections ( if possible), remove the root from the yuca, it’s tough/chewy/and can be toxic.
Step 3- Once your yuca is cut, soak in cold water for at least a few hours, swap out the water every now and then. If you’re using frozen pre-cut yuca, soak for about an hour.
Step 4- Parboil in a large pot until yuca can be pierced with a fork (Be careful it has the potential to get mushy fast).
Step 5- Toss in olive oil and salt, then bake in the oven for approximately 30 to 45 minutes at 350F. Exterior should be crisp while interior should be moist (think of the good consistency of a potato wedge and that’s what you should be looking for).
Step 6- For the sauce, mix all the ingredients and refrigerate until ready, serve with fresh fries (and preferably some chicken).
- 1 Large Cassava/Yuca Root
- 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
- Water for Boiling
- Lime Juice
- Olive Oil
- Cayenne Pepper
- Step 1- If you are buying whole yuca root, wear gloves and then peel the root.
- Step 2- Cut the root into 3 large sections ( if possible), remove the root from the yuca, it's tough/chewy/and can be toxic.
- Step 3- Once your yuca is cut, soak in cold water for at least a few hours, swap out the water every now and then. If you're using frozen pre-cut yuca, soak for about an hour.
- Step 4- Parboil in a large pot until yuca can be pierced with a fork (Be careful it has the potential to get mushy fast).
- Step 5- Toss in olive oil and salt, then bake in the oven for approximately 30 to 45 minutes at 350F. Exterior should be crisp while interior should be moist (think of the good consistency of a potato wedge and that's what you should be looking for).
- Step 6- For the sauce, mix all the ingredients and refrigerate until ready, serve with fresh fries (a
- nd preferably some chicken