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yuca; yuca root

Pronunciation: [YUHK-uh]

Though native to South America, the majority of yuca now comes from Africa, where it's an important staple. Also called cassava and manioc, the yuca is a tuber that ranges from 6 to 15 inches in length and from 2 to 3 inches in diameter. It has a tough brown skin which, when peeled, reveals a crisp, white flesh that's bland and starchy. There are many varieties of yuca but only two main categories, sweet and bitter. Both contain a poisonous compound, which is why yuca should never be eaten raw. The toxins found in sweet yuca are concentrated in the skin, so peeling is mandatory. The bitter form is specially processed to make cassareep and tapioca. Sweet yuca is available year-round in Asian and Latin American markets. Choose hard specimens that are evenly shaped, and don't be surprised by a waxy coating, which is there for the tuber's protection. Store yuca in a cool, dark place for up to a week; refrigerate (wrapped in paper towels and then a plastic bag) for up to two weeks. Peel until only the white flesh remains; the inedible fibrous center may be removed before or after cooking. Yuca is typically boiled, roasted or cut into thin slices and fried for chips.