The versatile yuca root is a staple food used across the world. But it’s still unknown to so many home cooks. This guide will teach you what yuca is, what it tastes like, and why you should give this root vegetable a try.
There’s a good chance you’ve seen the long, brown yuca root before. It’s one of the most commonly consumed vegetables across the world and is widely available to most of us year-round.
But you may not have known what the heck it is, or how many amazing ways there are to cook it!
In this guide, I want to teach you exactly what yuca is. Once you know why it’s a cherished international ingredient and the benefits it can have for your health and cooking, I think you’ll be as excited to bring this tuber home as I always am!
What is Yuca?
Yuca actually goes by a few different names. You’ve probably seen yuca root in the produce section, but may find it as cassava flour in other parts of the store. No matter if it’s called yuca, cassava, or manioc, it’s all actually the same plant.
But don’t get that confused with yucca, spelled with two c’s! That’s a largely ornamental plant and not at all like the healthy, versatile root we’re talking about.
A Little Bit of History
Cassava has been an important food staple for thousands of years. Historians believe it originated somewhere in South America, and spread through Portuguese colonies to Africa and from there to Asia.
Now it exists as a vital crop in nearly every single tropical country in the world. It’s thought to be eaten by over 800 million people!
Yuca in all its forms is a staple across the world thanks to how drought tolerant and easy it is to grow.
What does Yuca Taste Like?
There are two types, bitter and sweet, and both are edible. Both of them are processed into meal, cassava (or tapioca) flour, and starches, but we only use the sweet variety for cooking it fresh.
It’s also important to mention that yuca is toxic when eaten raw so it has to be cooked before consuming it.
Yuca shares several similarities to potatoes and sweet potatoes, particularly being starchy and having the same dry, mealy texture when cooked. That’s why they can be used interchangeably in many recipes. With that being said, cooked yuca has a slightly fibrous texture more similar to a sweet potato than its white or yellow cousin.
Yuca’s taste can be described as neutral, mild, but at the same time slightly floral, sweet, and even nutty when cooked.
It’s not hard to understand why yuca is so widespread. It grows easily and provides inexpensive nutrition.
Much like potatoes, it’s very high in starch, which makes it a great source of energy. It’s a high-calorie food, with nearly double the carbs as a potato by weight – you won’t feel hungry after eating it! It’s also rich in dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates and contains vitamin C, potassium, and calcium.
Where to Buy It
It really shouldn’t be difficult for you to find cassava at any grocery store because it’s exported all across the world. You may even be able to find it at local markets if you live in or near the tropics.
When you see it, it looks like a very long, hard brown potato. The outside is a brown bark-like color, but inside a white, subtly sweet, and slightly floral flesh awaits. Often yuca is sold coated in wax to preserve it and protect it from mildew.
If you can’t find yuca fresh, you may be able to find it sold in frozen chunks that are already peeled for you.
How to Cook Yuca
One of the reasons yuca is so well loved is for the many, many ways it can be used. It is toxic when eaten raw, but can be cooked and enjoyed in an amazing variety of ways.
Learning how to cook yuca will open your kitchen to a whole new range of dishes and flavors. The boiled root is delicious in traditional recipes like Cuban Yuca con Mojo or as a substitute for potatoes in things like a yuca mash.
Basically, yuca can be prepared in the same way as potatoes. It also can be baked, steamed, fried, pureed, or you can also make yuca fries and chips. In Asia, the fresh root is often enjoyed in sweet dessert preparations like cake.
But it doesn’t end there. Cassava flour opens the door to even more possibilities. It can be used in gluten-free baking and can even become a bread-like dough when kneaded.
At the end of the day, bringing yuca home from the grocery store will bring you into a tradition of cooking that’s shared all over the world. I encourage you to discover as many yuca recipes as you can and try both cultural favorites and fun new ways to enjoy the sweet, adaptable flavors of this well-loved root.