What Is a Yuca Root?

Overview

A source of starch for peoples of tropical regions, yuca root comes from the tapioca plant (Manihot esculenta). It is inedible until it is skinned and boiled. Unfortunately, this underground rhizome, or swollen root, is mistakenly spelled "yucca" which causes people to think this tuber is from the spiky succulent plant that is botanically known as Yucca.

Plant Source

The swollen underground stems, called rhizomes, of the tapioca plant (Manihot esculenta) is what is called the yuca root. This plant is native to South America's Amazon River Basin, but today is grown worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions, especially in Africa. It is attractive, having large, deeply loved round leaves that look like multi-fingered hands. It matures to a height of 7 to 12 feet, and grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 and warmer.

Description

The yuca root reminds many people of a tough, elongated yam. The size ranges from 6 to 12 inches in length and 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The waxy skin is medium and dark brown and tough, and protects the firm white flesh of the root's interior.

Health Concerns

All underground parts of the tapioca plant, including the skin of yuca root, contain compounds that are harmful to humans if consumed uncooked. Thus, the tough brown skin must be removed before the white starchy flesh is thoroughly boiled to remove the cyanogenic glycosides linamarin and lotaustralin. No parts of the roots are to be eaten raw.

Preparation

Peel away all traces of the brown skin from the yuca root with a paring knife or strong vegetable peeler, much like you'd peel a carrot or turnip. Submerge the white fibrous core of the root in water and bring it to a boil on the stove. Pour away the water and refill the pan with fresh, clean water. Bring the water and submerged roots once again to a boil and continue until you can easily poke a knife blade through the root. This process is much like the preparation for a common potato before mashing them.

Uses

Properly prepared yuca root is a good source of vitamin C and acts as a starchy substitute for a potato in stews, soups and other hearty dishes. You can even prepare it like French-cut fries, pan-fried yuca chips, or hashbrowns. The starch is also used as a thickener in tapioca, the coarse pudding-like dessert. Dried yuca root may be ground into yuca root meal, which is like flour.

Keywords: tapioca thickener, yuca root, cassava root

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," non-profit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He holds a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne.