What is Yuca and How to Prepare It
Yuca is a staple food in many different cultures across the globe. The root vegetable can be incorporated into a range of dishes and used as a substitute for potatoes. But what exactly is yuca, and what makes it such a versatile vegetable? In this post, we learn more about yuca and explore how to prepare and cook this multifaceted vegetable.
What is Yuca?
Yuca is a shrub-like plant that is also commonly known as cassava and can also be found spelled as yucca. The part that you see in stores and markets is actually the root of the plant. The yuca root is a starchy root vegetable. Its starchy, dense consistency makes it a perfect substitute for potatoes. The root’s mild flavor means it can be incorporated into a wide range of dishes without overpowering the flavor balance of the finished dish.
If you are searching for yuca in your local grocery store, it is most likely to be kept with the less common root vegetables. Look for it next to the ginger, turnips, kohlrabi, and rutabaga. Cooking yuca before consuming it is a must. The peel of the yuca contains cyanide; eating the yuca root raw could make you very poorly.
Where Does Yuca Originate?
Yuca is native to Central and South America and is an integral part of the diet in those areas. Yuca root is found in dishes across Southeast Asia, Africa, the Caribbean Islands, as well as in Latin American countries. Yuca root, as well as being used in its root form, is the raw ingredient that forms tapioca flour and tapioca pearls.
What Are the Uses and Benefits of Yuca?
Yuca is the third-largest source of carbohydrates in the tropics. As well as being a source of starch and carbohydrates, the root is full of fiber, potassium, folate, and vitamin C. While it does not have the same high levels of antioxidants as beets, it still plays a vital role in regulating the digestive system and boosting the immune system.
As long as it is properly prepared, yuca is safe to eat and has numerous different uses. It can be made into fries, used as a substitute for potatoes in any recipe, stewed, added to soup, or even pureed. Yuca can be used in sweet as well as savory dishes and can be made into cakes and custard-like desserts.
How to Prepare Yuca?
Many people are put off preparing yuca because of its tough outer skin. However, once this is removed, the rest of the preparations are simple and straightforward. If you are going to prepare yuca, you will need:
- A sharp knife or vegetable peeler
- Chopping board or suitable cutting surface
- A pan of boiling water
- A strainer or colander
The first step to preparing yuca is to remove the outer skin. There are two ways you can do this, either with a knife and your hands or with a traditional vegetable peeler. Using the peeler method involves peeling the yuca as you would any other root vegetable; however, the toughness of the skin may make it a slow and laborious process.
To remove the skin with the knife, start by cutting off both ends of the yuca with your sharp knife. Now, slice carefully down the length of the root. Ensure that you cut through the outer brown peel and the inner white layer underneath.
Once you have made the cut, place your thumbs into the cut at the thickest end, working them under the first white layer. Work your thumbs up the cut and round the body of the yuca. This enables you to peel off the skin in one piece, like a jacket. You may need a little patience the first time you try this, but it is still likely to be less time consuming than using a peeler.
Now that you have removed the skin cut the yuca into similar sized chunks working from one end to the other and place in a pan of boiling water.
Cook the chunks for about 15 minutes. You can check whether they are cooked by poking with a fork – they should be very soft. You should also notice a color change from white to yellow.
When cooked, drain the yuca and cut each chunk in half lengthwise. You should notice a hard spine in the center of each piece. Remove and discard the spines. You can now add to any recipe or fry them up and serve sprinkled in sea salt and cheese. The possibilities are endless.
Checking Your Yuca for Freshness
The hard outer skin can make it very hard to tell whether your yuca is fresh or past its best. The best way to tell is by the color of the yuca once it is peeled. Yuca should be white once the outside is removed. If there are specks, brown areas, or black/grey lines, then the yuca is no longer fresh and should not be used. These colors may appear if there is a time lapse between peeling and boiling the yuca; this is normal oxidation. However, it should not be present when first peeled.