This is a food with an extremely confusing name. Well, one of the common names. In fact, when I pulled this off the grocery store shelf, I thought I was choosing something else—yucca. I figured I was misremembering how it was spelled, or that it could be spelled in various ways. But no—“yucca” and “yuca” are two entirely different plants. Yuca is native to South America, but it’s also currently grown in Africa and
And as it turns out, it’s an incredibly important and popular food—after
rice and corn it’s the third biggest source of carbohydrates in the world, and
is a staple for at least 500,000,000 people.
So, once again, calling this food “exotic” is a little culturally biased
on my part, as it is only so in the U.S. and probably Europe.
I was also surprised to learn that I’ve eaten yucca, also known as cassava, and manioc, among others, many times before. Dried cassava is known as tapioca, which many folks, including me, are familiar with in its weird, eyeball-looking (but tasty) pudding form. But its diversity doesn’t end there. It’s also used as animal feed, biofuel, laundry starch, and as an alternative medicine. Finally, it’s even made into an alcoholic beverage.
Healthwise cassava is an extremely mixed bag. On a positive note, aside from its carbs, it has significant amounts of B vitamins, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin C. On the negative side, it’s very low in protein. Oh, and also, it has cyanide, and if not prepared correctly, can cause goiters, paralysis, or death. So as is the case with picking wild mushrooms, or filleting a fugu fish, it’s best not to harvest and/or prepare cassava yourself unless you really know what you’re doing.
The cassava I bought was canned, grown in
and packed by Goya. It was very
simple. Aside from it, the ingredients
were salt and water. It consisted of
about 10-12 light yellowish stalky-looking pieces. I tried it was various salsas, and this was
okay. But I actually enjoyed it best
plain. Cassava reminded me of a potato,
as it was very starchy, in a good way.
I’d try it again, although I think the next time I’d like it as part of
a meal, perhaps in lieu of a potato.
Given my disdain for cooking, this probably means the next time I have
cassava will be in a South American/African/Southeast Asian restaurant.
But the name “yuca” has to go. It’s way too similar to “yucca.” We don’t have a citrus fruit named “beaf,” or a type of cheese called “kumqqquats.” I’m sticking with “cassava,” or “manioc.”