Feeding the world, one Yucca at a time

yucaRest assured, yuca will not be winning any beauty contests for Best Looking in the fruit and vegetable category in the near future. Its rough, brown skin looks more like burlap than silk or satin, and when peeled and cooked, its white flesh is, well, white flesh. But what it lacks in beauty, it makes up for in taste and versatility. Wildly popular throughout Guatemala and surrounding countries, you will be hard-pressed to find a chapín district that does not prepare this tuber in one manner or another. The fact that is it a sturdy crop, costs next to nothing (about Q2 per pound), and is available in the market year-round only adds to its popularity.

The first evidence of yuca cultivation in Mesoamerica dates back to 1,400 years ago, to the Mayan site Joya de Cerén in El Salvador. Also known as cassava or manioc, yuca is a dense, nubby tuber of the Euphorbiaceae plant family (which also includes Poinsettia plants, or, in Guatemala, pascuas), root beer-colored on the outside and, of course, white on the inside. The texture is similar to a potato, but slightly more fibrous. In Guatemala, it is found floating in rich caldos or broths alongside chicken, beef, and corn; mashed together with green plantains and butter for a quick side dish; or shredded, battered, and fried into sweet tortitas drizzled with honey for a quick dessert or afternoon snack. (See the recipe.)

And no, yuca will not be taking home any prizes for beauty, but it is definitely in the running for the Humanitarian Award, as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that millions upon millions of people in Asian, African, Central and South American countries depend on it as one of their prime sources of daily caloric intake. In Guatemala, it is behind only maíz, beans, and rice in popularity. So take that, beauty queens!

yucaThe first evidence of yuca cultivation in Mesoamerica dates back to 1,400 years ago, to the Mayan site Joya de Cerén in El Salvador.

  • Sweet Yuca tortitas recipe

Cut 1 1/2 pounds of peeled yuca into four-inch pieces. Boil with a pinch of salt and half a teaspoon of baking soda until yuca can be pierced with a fork. Remove and let cool. Shred yuca and mix well with two eggs (beaten), one tablespoon flour, and one tablespoon sugar. In a pan, heat two tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil until popping. Drop batter, one-fourth a cup at a time, into the hot oil to make 1- to 2-inch pancakes. Fry on each side for three to four minutes until golden on each side. Serve hot with a drizzle of honey.

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Photos byNatalie Rose

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