What's the Difference Between: Yuca and Yucca?

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We went to lunch last week and had some crispy fries with our sandwich - but they weren't made out of potato. They were labeled "yucca" fries on the menu, and a sharp-eyed friend pointed out that this had to be wrong.

The potato-like starch that you find in Latino cuisines and in some trendy bistros nowadays is cassava or Manihot esculenta, a native of South America and consumed in large quantities throughout Latin America, Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. Yuca – pronounced yoo-cuh - is the root portion of the plant. Tapioca flour and pearls are made from the powdered root, along with many other common foods - check out this Wikipedia article for just a few of the hundreds of uses for cassava.

Yucca, on the other hand, is an ornamental plant:

They are those spiky flowered plants common in Southern and Western parts of the US, including Florida, New Mexico, and California. But they don't have the edible root of the yuca, and are commonly confused.

From Wikipedia: "Yuccas are widely grown as ornamental plants in gardens. Many yuccas also bear edible parts, including fruits, seeds, flowers, flowering stems, and more rarely roots, but use of these is sufficiently limited that references to yucca as food more often than not stem from confusion with the similarly spelled but botanically unrelated yuca."

Oops. Someone should probably let the restaurant know...

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.