Yuca is a very delicious vegetable with many health benefits. It is also a very versatile vegetable in your kitchen.
What is Yuca?
Yuca, also known as cassava, is an edible starchy tuberous vegetable. It is nutritious, drought resistant, and easy to cultivate and harvest. It is usually long with thick rough brown skin on the outside and white on the inside.
A popular staple food in many countries in South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and in some Asian countries. There are two kinds. One is known as bitter yuca. It can sometimes be purple, yellow or, white on the inside and it is not safe for consumption unless carefully processed.
According to the website the guardian, many people died in Venezuela because of the consumption of bitter yuca (read that article here). The other kind is known as sweet yuca. It is not very sweet, but is called this way in comparison to the other kind. This is the one that you will see being sold in the markets.
Origin of Yuca
The yuca root is native to South America but is cultivated all over the world in tropical areas. This root vegetable is of great significance to many Tainos (native Indians) of all latin american countries. There is even a god named Yúkahu who was believed to be responsible for the fertility of the yuca(cassava). Every one of these countries has a form of this vegetable fertility deity.
Yuca is one of the three most important crops in South America along with corn and potatoes. This vegetable spread all over the world after Cristopher Colombus expedition voyages to this area.
Depending on where you go, yuca is known by various names. Scientifically it is known as Manihot esculenta. In the Caribbean and the Americas is known as yuca or cassava. In Argentina, it is known as mandioca, guacamote in Mexico, macacheira in Brazil, and kamoteng kahoy in the Philippines.
How is Yuca Used?
Yuca roots are used as a food source around the world not only by humans but for animals as well. The peels are dried and used to feed pigs, sheep, cattle, and poultry. This is true only for sweet yuca, not the bitter ones.
This vegetable comes from a no-waste plant. This is because everything from this plant is used. The leaves are used to make teas and add to your meals. It has been said that the leaves have medicinal value. The tree stems of the plant are also used because they are the seed.
The roots are consumed in many different forms. Fresh yuca is most of the time eaten boiled or simply mashed. You can also make it into a flour. The tapioca flour is made from yuca starch which is increasingly becoming very popular. Have you heard of boba tea before? Well, these boba pearls are made with tapioca.
Surprisingly yuca has many uses other than being a great food source. It can be used to naturally make soap. It is also used to improve the biodegradability of materials. It is used in the textile industry for many things like to enhance the colors of the fabrics or to smooth textiles. But the list goes on as it can be used to make glues and adhesives. It is also used in the production of paper and even chemicals.
What is Cassava Flour Used for?
Yuca flour or cassava flour is essentially used to make all the things you will do with regular all-purpose flour. You can make tortillas, crepes, bread, cookies, and basically all the baked goods you will make with other flour. Yuca flour is an amazing substitute for all-purpose flour in many recipes. But this is not solely used to bake, it can be used to even make pasta. It is also used to thicken soups, stews, and gravies.
How to Cook Cassava
Cooking yuca is not hard at all, there are many ways of preparing it. You can almost cook it in any way just like you will do with potatoes. In its most basic form, you can add water to a pan, a little bit of salt, and boil it. Just like with potatoes or any root vegetable, you can boil it and make a mashed yuca. Quick, simple, and delicious. You can also fry it and even make yuca chips. Make cassava cakes by using their flour form.
What Does Yuca Taste Like?
Yuca has a very mild nutty taste to it. It is almost like a mashed potato flavor. It is the perfect canvas for many dishes. This is because all the flavor will penetrate the soft yuca. The texture is very soft and creamy, almost like a sweet potato when mashed. It is truly a delicacy.
There are many delicious yuca recipes embedded in latin american cuisine. In the Caribbean you will usually have yuca en escabeche, alcapurrias de yuca, pasteles de yuca or yuca frita sticks. In South America, you will have stuffed cassava balls, yuca or cassava arepas, cassava bread, or yuca chips.
How to Store?
If you have fresh yuca, you can store it in a dry place at room temperature. No need to refrigerate. If you have some fresh cassava and you think it may go bad before using it, it is best to freeze it. You have to peel and store it in an airtight container or a freezer bag. You can store it raw or cooked. To store cassava flour you just need to keep it in a dry cool dark place in an airtight container. I like to keep my flour in mason jars.
Where Can I Buy Yuca?
Depending on where you are, you will be able to find yuca in big chain supermarkets in their produce section. Sometimes they won’t have any fresh ones but they will have frozen yuca. The frozen one can come in two forms. It will be peeled and cut into chunks ready to cook or grated as a dough.
Remember that the packet will say either yuca or cassava, both are the same thing. You will also be able to easily find cassava flour in these markets. One place that you will certainly be able to buy is in Latin supermarkets or even in Hispanic corner stores. You can also check out Asian supermarkets.
Is Frozen Yuca Good?
Frozen yuca is just as good as the fresh version! Do not hesitate to buy the frozen one. You will be able to cook with it and not even know the difference. Sometimes it is even better to buy frozen yuca. This is because sometimes when you buy it fresh and get home to cook it, you peel it and realize half of it is bad on the inside.
Plus, another perk of buying frozen is that there is no need to peel. A note on grated frozen yuca is that you should squeeze it in a cloth to remove the excess water it has from being frozen.
Yuca vs Yucca
Yuca and yucca are not the same thing, this is not a misspelling. Yuca is a root vegetable native to South America and consumed by many. While yucca is the name of a family of plants. They have mostly green and yellow golden color leaves. Some of them almost look like very small palm trees.
Health Benefits and Risks of Cassava
The risk of consuming cassava can be high if you eat the wrong one, which is the bitter kind. They can even cause death. This will only be a threat to you if you are getting your root grown in the wild and don’t know how to differentiate each one. The ones you get at the stores are totally safe for consumption. These types are what are considered sweet cassava. It is worth mentioning that you should always eat cassava cooked, not raw.
There are many benefits of consuming cassava besides being a delicious vegetable to it. Cassava root can be part of a healthy diet. It contains resistant starch that bypasses digestion. also, It is nutrient dense and high in vitamin C. According to the WebMD site, it can even have benefits like lowering your risk of cancer (read the article here).
Cultivation and Harvesting
You will be very surprised by how yuca is cultivated. This is because the “seeds” you use are the tree branches from the plant. Farmers take the branch and remove the leaves and any thin branches. The rest are cut into 6 to 8 inches and are planted on the ground. Some farmers plant the whole stick under the soil and some just make a hole and plant the small branch in an upright position. This is done to about 4 inches deep in the soil.
The planting to the harvesting phase can take from 8 to 12 months. Then you can harvest cassava by hand. Farmers usually have to make shifts of tools to help them harvest the yuca from the ground.
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