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Grown In Dominican Republic – Yuca

Grown In Dominican Republic – Yuca

Yuca (pronounced jooka in the Dominican Republic) is also called manioc or cassava root. It is a favorite of Dominicans everywhere. This tuber is fairly easy to grow and can be prepared in many different ways.

Wax covered Yuca / Manihot esculenta
Wax covered Yuca / Manihot esculenta

The botanical name for Yuca is Manihot esculenta, not to be confused with yucca which is another plant entirely. The plant was originally from brought South America to the Caribbean islands. It is a woody evergreen shrub ranging in height from 6 to 8 feet tall. Ground, the leaves can be used in herbal remedies and the new flowers can be eaten.

A field full of yuca behind some platyano plants in Salcedo / Hermanas Mirabal.
A field full of yuca behind some platyano plants in Salcedo / Hermanas Mirabal.

Yuca is picked by hand the roots or tubers remind me of a giant, long, hard potato mixed with a deformed pithy carrot. The entire shrub needs to be pulled from the ground and the tubers removed. There are usually many tubers on a single plant. This root is 2 to 3 inches around and can be from 6 to 12 inches (I’ve seen longer) long. It can even look like a kid size, deformed baseball bat. One plant can produce many tubers. The tubers of the sweet yuca are a little smaller than the bitter variety. Yuca grows fast, is plentiful, and can grow from the roots left in the ground or by placing one of the tubers back into the hole where the plant was pulled (just like a potato).

That is one big yuca..or is it a baseball bat?
That is one big yuca..or is it a baseball bat?

Preparing Yuca

The two main types of Yuca are bitter and sweet. The bitter needs to be rinsed well to remove the poisons and the sweet can just be boiled or eaten raw if so desired.

The tuber is brown on the outside and has a white to cream colored hard flesh on the inside. They don’t have a long shelf life so make sure to put them in the fridge and use them within a few days. As soon as the white flesh is exposed to air it will start turning black. Usually the roots that are purchased in the stores are covered in wax or frozen.

Wax covered yuca.
Wax covered yuca.

Peeling is a real chore (you can cheat by putting them in the microwave for a few minutes or boiling with the skin on for a short time as this can make the peeling process a little easier). First make sure you have a sharp knife, as this tuber is quite hard and difficult to peal. Since it is so hard cutting it into smaller sections makes the job easier. As you peel the sections make sure to keep the peeled sections in water so they don’t turn brown. Peel the brown outside layer and the thin layer that is between the skin and the flesh. I find it is easier to boil the tubers in salted water for a short time to soften them up a bit, and then peel them. You can remove the core if it is yucky and stringy, if not leave it.

The sweet yucca, after it is cooked, can be eaten as is. I like to pan fry the cooked pieces and get them a little crispy. They are also great cut into strips and deep fried like french fried potatoes. They can be used like a potato and are good in stews and soups. These starchy tubers are an important ingredient in Sancocho. Yuca can be used to thicken up soup just as a potato does. Get some yuca recipes here.

Fresh unwashed yuca in Mercado Modelo
Fresh unwashed yuca in Mercado Modelo

Casabe

The original inhabitants of the island, the Taino Indians, made a bread using the bitter yucca root. Casabe or Cassava bread is made much the same way then as it is now. It is a Dominican cuisine staple and is a much-desired accompaniment for many typical Dominican dishes. With the commercial preparation of this traditional bread it is again becoming an everyday and readily available food. In the past this bread was made by the locals and distributed only locally by the homemakers that worked hard to make this labor intensive staple. This was a way to make money for their families. Now it is made commercially and is readily available throughout the island. It is even shipped to USA and elsewhere.

To make the Casabe the bitter yucca root must be prepared correctly, as the root is poisonous (containing hydrocyanic acid). The outside brown skin and the hard white layer underneath are pealed away. The core is also discarded and only the inner white flesh is used. The inner white flesh is grated using guayos. Then is soaked. The juice must be squeezed out either in a long canoe type vessel called a matapee or wrung out in a towel to remove the poisonous starch. It is then dried slightly in the open air. Then it needs to be pounded and sifted to make a flour. This flour is then spread on a large, heated, flat round iron pan or mold about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Then it is baked atop a specially shaped oven, called a buren griddle, until set using moderate heat. It is then flipped over and cooked until done and left to dry in the sun until it is crispy.

Casabe bread is high in vegetable fiber, starch, calcium and Vitamin C. It has a very low fat content and is also low in protein. It is can be eaten by persons who are gluten intolerant. This thin, hard round bread can keep for many months without getting stale or moldy. It is used to accompany many Dominican dishes. It is a must have with Asopao/ Soup and Sancocho (I like to just drop it in and let it get soft). It is great baked with a little green (olive) oil and salt. It can be used as a tortilla chip and dipped into just about any dip one could imagine because of its subtle flavor. Slap on some jam and use it like bread. Toast it and use it for dunking in coffee, tea or cocoa. There are so many ways to use this versatile food.

Casabe bread packaged
Casabe bread packaged

Interesting Yuca Facts and Legends

*Tapioca is also made from the cassava flour, which is also known, as tapioca flour. The pearls and starch of tapioca come from this plant.

*Cassava flour (tapioca flour) is commonly used as a food thickener and is also used as a binder in pharmaceutical tablets.

*Yuca is also the name given to rock music in Venezuela

*The extract from the plant has been used with surprising success on arthritis and rheumatism sufferers in herbal remedies/ Hierbas Medicinales

*The bitter variety may be used to treat scabies, diarrhea, and dysentery. Manioc flour may be used to help dry weeping skin.

*The plant has already been used to eradicate brain tumors in laboratory rats.

*If you’re on a diet 1/4 cup of yuca (considered a starchy vegetable) can count as a starch/ grain serving (according to the
South Beach Diet plan). It is a type B carb falling between brown rice and a baked potato.

*Use starch from the yuca the same way you can use cornstarch

*In old times it was added to wet laundry before ironing as a clothing stiffener.

*Dominican empanadas, deep-fried dough pockets stuffed with meat, are made with yucca flour.

*Panesico are baked logs of yucca flour and pork fat and are considered a specialty of the Cibao region.

*Bolas de yuca are deep-fried balls of yucca flour.

*Jojadra are powdery ginger cookies made of yucca starch.

Grown In Dominican Republic Page 1

Grown In Dominican Republic Page 1

Some of the many fruits and vegetables that grow in the Dominican Republic and their descriptions. Try a ripe yellow banana, a sweet, juicy pineapple or a tree-ripened mango. All are just too wonderful.

Lechosa/Papaya | Mavi | Aguacate/Avocado | Guineo/Banana | Piña/Pineapple | Mango

Lechosa/Papaya

Very ripe and juicy Lechosa / Papaya being sold in the streets.
Very ripe and juicy Lechosa / Papaya being sold in the streets.

Lechosa / Papaya is a fruit grown on large trees in tropical climates. There are male and female trees and their offspring are the sweet fruit papaya. Here in the Dominican Republic it is called lechosa.

Sweet Papaya, known as Lechosa in Dominican Republic, cut showing the black seeds inside
Sweet Papaya, known as Lechosa in Dominican Republic, cut showing the black seeds inside

It is a large fruit green when unripe. When the fruit is ripe and ready for eating it is soft and yellow with some darker spots here and there. It is best eaten plain and is quite juicy. One of the best ways to serve it is to blend it with some milk or carnation and ice. It is called Batida de Lechosa. This is really tasty. The little black seeds inside are sometimes eaten, they have a little of a spicy taste. They are used as a substitute for pepper when dried and ground.

Mavi

Dominican Republic Mabi de Bejuco Indio
Dominican Republic Mabi de Bejuco Indio

Mavi also spelled Mabi (pronounced Ma-Vee or sometimes Ma-Bee), is a staple in the Caribbean. This drink is made from the bark of the Mabi tree is also known as mabetree, soldierwood or seaside buckthorn. This bark is rich in glucosides (what is that you may ask? Wikipedia definition here) The bark is removed from the tree and boiled to make a tea. Sugar, usually raw or turbinado sugar is best as it has a little hint of molasses flavor to it. Many make this tea into the fermented drink by adding some yeast and letting it sit for a few days uncovered. It can also be made into a non-fermented drink as well. It is said to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and to make men more potent.

In Dominican Republic Mabi de Bejuco Indio is usually made locally and can be purchased in the Colmados and corner markets. It can be found in almost any type of bottle as the maker uses what is available. It is very refreshing and can be sometimes potent so beware.

Aguacate/Avocado

Ripe aguacates / avocados ready to be eaten
Ripe aguacates / avocados ready to be eaten.

The Avocado of Dominican Republic has a variety of types and flavors. It is one of our most imported fruits. We import both organic and non-organic versions of the fruit.

Some avocados are dry and not as sweet and others have a much different taste than the ones on the grocery shelves that most people are accustomed to eating. When this creamy, nutty-flavored fruit (yes it is a fruit, not a vegetable) is in season it can be found in abundance in every market, on the streets and in most restaurants at a very reasonable price.

Avocado trees in Salcedo, Republica Dominicana
Avocado trees in Salcedo, Republica Dominicana

Dominicans use this beautiful green colored fruit on salads or just eaten plain with a little límon/ lime-lemon to accompany any meal, soup or stew. Make a sandwich using this fruit on some pan de agua and you will be quite pleased. Aguacate is also used in many cosmetic preparations. Just remember, it is fattening (about 75% of an avocado’s calories come from fat) so don’t over indulge. Avocados have more potassium than bananas, have the highest fiber content of any fruit and are rich in B, E and K vitamins. They are also known to lower the bad cholesterol and help with the good HDL levels.

Guineo/Banana

Beautifil and prefectly ripened Guineos / Bananas
Beautifil and prefectly ripened Guineos / Bananas.

Guineo / Banana (the sweet type of fruit you can eat raw) – Platano/ Plantain (the hard fruit that is very starchy and needs to be cooked) are some of the most recognizable fruits of the world.

A truck full of Platano/ Plantain in the market.
A truck full of Platano/ Plantain in the market.

Here in Dominican Republic we love our bananas. They can be purchased in almost every corner store (Colmado) and in the streets. A sweet banana is a very nice fruit to refresh yourself and get some of the sugar your body might need on a hot day.

Rulo, another type of Plantain
Rulo, another type of Plantain

These large, big leaved plants can produce many fruits. They taste better here in the Dominican Republic because they are ripened right on the plant and not picked green like the ones shipped to other destinations. Choose a red, yellow or green banana/ guineo that can be eaten without cooking. Try a green to yellow platano that needs to be cooked to be eaten either plain or served in many imaginative forms. A fresh sweet yellow banana, nothing tastes or smells better.

Baby young bananas growing on a tree
Baby young bananas growing on a tree

For platano cooking information check out our recipes page.

Piña/Pineapple

A beautiful ripe pineapple, known as piña here in Dominican Republic
A beautiful ripe pineapple, known as piña here in Dominican Republic

The pineapple, simply called piña here, can be found growing in Dominican Republic. The ones sold in the streets here are usually vine ripened. This makes the piña taste so much better than ones you get outside of the country.

A truck full of pineapples /  piñas
A truck full of pineapples / piñas

They can be purchased in almost any spot in the country, especially when they are in season. Vendors always have them either whole or cut for you to enjoy right on the spot. Some vendors cut them in a spiral way that you can hold like a lollypop. Do not be afraid to eat the core as it is soft and sweet just like the outside fruit.

A pineapple / piña, sweet and juicy, ready for eating.
A pineapple / piña, sweet and juicy, ready for eating.

Mango

Ripe Mangos being sold in the street.
Ripe Mangos being sold in the street.

The Mango is a well-known fruit that grows on a tall tree. The tree makes lots of fruits that are very sweet and juicy. There are many different varieties of mangos grown in DR.

My favorite type of mango, Banilejo. Very large, sweet and juicy.
My favorite type of mango, Banilejo. Very large, sweet and juicy.

The mango makes for some messy eating and it is well worth the mess. I suggest eating it with a knife instead of just biting into the fruit. This way you get all the juice in your mouth and not down the arm. Also, the pulp is very stringy and if you don’t have dental floss or a toothpick handy you will be digging at your teeth all day trying to remove the little fibers from between and this can get annoying. Another way to enjoy an overly ripe mango is biting through the skin and just sucking out the juice. It may sound strange but you should try it. It is very satisfying.

Mangos ripening in a tree
Mangos ripening in a tree

Mango fruits are wonderful and refreshing so please do not pass them up. They make a wonderful Batida (blended frozen drink) with some ice, milk or carnation, and a little sugar in a blender. I love to freeze this milkshake type drink for a freshening icy treat.

Panadero

El Panadero / The Bread Man

The bread man usually walks carrying a large basket, pushes a cart, rides a bike or motorized vehicle. He has fresh baked bread and at times pastries from a local panadería / bakery. He is heard yelling out “Pan, panadero” (Bread, Bread Man).

Panadero delivering bread by motorbike

Normally el Panadero is out very early in the morning providing the fresh baked goods for breakfast and making deliveries to the local stores and shops. Normally the evening Panadería has a large basket with a variety of breads for dinner or a snack.

This type of vendor sells pan de agua / water bread, both hard and soft. There is sweet bread that is a wonderful with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. My favorite is the garlic bread. It is covered with garlic, salt and oil. Fattening but so wonderful.

Panadero bread man on motorbike

Some of the new-fangled bread vendors now have a motorized cart – motorbike with a nice variety of breads, sweets and even cold sandwiches. One of our local Panaderos has a large display case on the back of a motorbike with all sorts of goodies.

Panaderos in Colonial Zone:

*There is usually on that passes by the park San Jose (in front of the statue Montecino) around 6PM. You can get some great garlic bread or a little ham sandwich from him.