Costa Rica's Yuca
The ‘Costa Rica vacation experience’ includes encountering new and sometimes unusual foods. In this blog we introduce a delicious vegetable you'll come across called the Yuca, also known as Cassava; fun to eat, it is a typical Costa Rican favourite. And after tasting, we believe you'll want to know how and why Yuca is grown, its nutritional value, and most of all recipes to prepare it in the comfort of your home. Enjoy!
Yuca is a tuber used in cooking many Costa Rican delicacies; it is comparable to the potato. Both are a staple, low in fat and a good starch option in a balanced diet plan. Put the Yuca on your list of ‘things-to-try’ on your vacation. Readily available, it is prepared in various forms inSodas and restaurants. Yuca is a great complement to Costa Rican meals, pastries, snacks and beverages. Munch on a dish fixed like potato mojos. Tasty and nutritious, the entire plant is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Farmers on the plains of Guanacaste grow it in their fields and pockets of land throughout the countryside. In fact, next- door to Blue River Resort & Hot Springs are small farms, most have a small patch or garden for growing Yucas.
What is ‘Yuca’?
Yuca is the same as Cassava and is widely eaten worldwide. Other names for the crop include- Maniot Esculenta, Aipim, Kappa, and Tapioca, depending on where you are. Yuca’s roots and leaves are edible. But do not confuse ‘Yuca’ with ‘Yucca’ that perennial shrub grown for decorative purposes.
The leaves of the mature Yuca plant are short green, pointy-leaves, with a starchy fibrous root in the ground. The plant is grown abundantly throughout the tropical and sub-tropic regions. It is eaten as a staple by people in Africa, the Caribbean, India, Europe, South Pacific, Central and South America, Asia, Southern U.S.A., and Indonesia. In lesser-developed countries Yuca is an affordable substitute for rice, maize and wheat in people’s daily diets.
Two Types of Yuca
- Sweet Yuca - smaller tuber, shorter roots, mildly toxic; boil to remove toxins.
- Bitter Yuca - larger tuber, longer roots, toxic; requires processing before eating.
Is Yuca Poisonous?
All Yuca contains toxins!
Both Sweet, and Bitter Yuca contain toxic chemicals; their leaves and roots need to be boiled to release these toxins. Scientific data accumulated by researchers over years suggest-
‘… the Yuca plant contains 3 carcinogenic glycosides*-
- 95% Linamarin
- 5% Lotaustralinthe
*It is important to remember, these toxins are also found in raw Lima Beans and Flax.
There are several ways of processing Yuca for safe consumption.
The most common methods are-
- Pounding/ grating and boiling removes 99%
- Pounding/ grating and sun-drying removes 96%-98%
- Pounding/ grating, soaking and sun-drying removes 98%
- Pounding/ grating and fermenting oven drying removes less than 86%
Boiling the Yuca is the surest method of releasing most of the toxic compounds. When boiled Yuca is perfectly safe to eat. Bitter Yuca requires more processing to remove the harmful content. It is boiled, grated, soaked in water, to create a paste. That process is repeated to squeeze the toxins out and then dried. When dried, the ‘mash’ is pounded into a floury state to be used in recipes.
The world’s daily consumption of Yuca is testament to its safety as a food source. Costa Rican Ticos are experts at preparing this dish and visitors can enjoy eating it.
The space available to small-scale farmers is always limited and their budgets are equally small. For them, crops need to grow on a low budget and produce the highest yields possible; during growth Yuca plants need less, or very-low maintenance. Yuca is the crop of choice for subsistence farming.
Each hectare cultivated can yield as much as, 70 tons*; as an energy source that converts into 1,000-kJ/hectare*; a yield greater in tons of product and nutritional value than most other crops.
- Soil- The plant it is forgiving and grows easily in the poorest of soil conditions.
- Weather- Yuca fields do best in brilliant sunshine; but also fetch a good harvest in shaded fields.
- Irrigation- During periods of torrential rains or scalding droughts the Yuca grows well and requires little care.
Cuttings from the stalk of a mature plant are called ‘slips’ and used as starters for the next crop. The ‘slips’ are planted in shallow holes in the ground. After a few weeks green leaves will appear and it will take root.
Growth & Storage
Mature plants can stay in the ground for two years, but as they age the root will be less tender. It is nice to produce a crop that can stay in the ground until needed; that eliminates storage costs. Once reaped the unpeeled Yuca will last a few weeks in its skin; when peeled it must be cooked, frozen, or converted to flour.
Pest & Insect Control
The toxins in the Yuca plant discourage pests and insects from eating the roots and leaves. Less chemicals used in production makes the crop more economical, healthier and cheaper than corn or rice.
Above ground the green leaves are ‘arrow-shaped’ and bloom a tiny flower with seeds. They contain more protein than the tuber, and are boiled before cooking in soups, stews, or mixed into salads.
Below the surface the white starchy, edible bulb is encased in a ‘bark-like’ skin, it peels easily with a knife for cooking.
Yuca Tastes Good and Is Healthy Too
In the lesser developed country’s of the world, providing proper nutrition is always a challenge. Many depend on Yuca, or Cassava, to deliver vitamins and minerals on a daily basis to their people.
Yuca’s Vitamin & Mineral Content
- The mineral content is high delivering, fiber, calcium, copper, iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.
- The vitamin content includes- B; B Complex, Folates, Thiamin, B-6, Vitamin C, Thiamine, Riboflavin and Nicotinic Acid.
Yuca flour can be used like any other flour and is good for your health. Commercially prepared it is available in most supermarkets, see Tapioca; it is purified and does not require further processing (Always check manufacturer’s recommendations).
The starch of the root contains Antinutrients, natural compounds that interfere with the absorption nutrition in the body. That is not an entirely bad thing as they can sometimes block unwanted elements in the process, like sugars or glucose in the diets of diabetics.
Those are the facts on Yuca.
Intro to Yuca Recipes to Try at Home
When vacationing in Costa Rica’s scenic, rural countryside, visitors should have opportunities to stop at local farms producing a wide variety of crops. All around Blue River Resort and Hot Springs the Ticos are involved in agriculture, growing a wide variety of crops including Yuca on farms. The Resort’s ‘Tour Desk’ will arrange visits and guided hikes for guests. Ask someone to show you; sample what delicious Yuca dishes are; and remember to ask for their recipes. On arrival back-home, a trip to the supermarket will be all it takes to relive the memories. Follow the recipes in that section of the Blog. Stop in a neighborhood Soda and enjoy this and other native cuisine and refreshing beverages, prices are very affordable. Larger plantations offer scheduled tours of their properties; the Resort’s Tour Desk will arrange to get you there. Check with your ‘Customs’ authority before heading for Costa Rica. Familiarize yourself with their ‘rules’ on importing agricultural produce.
Next installment – Yuca Recipes
> Baked Yuca Wedges