A Staple Starch: Cassava, Manioc & Yuca

Ingredient Spotlight

Cassava, manioc, and yuca are all names for the same starchy tuber grown throughout South America, Africa, and Asia. You might be more familiar with it in its dried and powdered form: tapioca. This root is a dietary mainstay in many parts of the world and forms the carbohydrate base for many excellent meals. Do you ever cook with cassava?

Cassava is a highly drought-resistant crop that was first cultivated in the northern parts of South America before spreading to other tropical regions in Africa and Asia. The root itself is long and narrow with tough brown skin covering dense creamy-white flesh. Cassava is extremely hardy, lasting for weeks in storage or up to several years if left in the ground.

Something to know is that all cassava produce toxic cyanide, but the two main edible varieties produce it in different amounts. "Sweet" cassava is the root most often sold for home cooking and has its cyanide concentrated near the surface. After peeling and normal cooking, it is safe to eat. "Bitter" cassava has cyanide throughout the root and can only be eaten after extensive grating, washing, and pressing to remove the harmful toxins. Bitter cassava is not typically sold for home use, especially here in the US, and is more commonly used to make tapioca and other cassava by-products.

Think of cassava like potatoes: it can be steamed, boiled, baked, or fried before being eaten on its own, mashed, or added to other dishes. It has a very mild flavor that takes seasonings very well. To prepare it for cooking, just peel off the outer skin, chop it into pieces, and cook until soft and no longer crunchy.

Do you use cassava in your cooking? What are your favorite dishes?

Related: What's the Difference Between Yuca and Yucca?

(Image: Tristan Tan/Shutterstock)