Yuca root is a nutritious and versatile root vegetable. It originated in the tropics and subtropics of South America. Its Latin name is M. esculent, and sometimes it’s also referred to as cassava. The roots can be eaten as either a vegetable, like a potato, or it can be ground into a flour called tapioca. This plant should not be confused with yucca, a plant used mostly for its ornamental flowers.
Value of Yuca Root
Yuca root is a valuable root vegetable for many South American cultures. This is because it is a low-calorie source of carbohydrates, vitamin C, and dietary fiber. There are only 120 calories per serving, which is usually about 3.5 ounces. Yuca, or cassava, is versatile in cooking, and it can be used as a basic vegetable, flour, pudding or bread ingredient, or as a stew thickener. Unfortunately, yuca root is difficult to export because of its short shelf life. This is why local growers of this root have found it difficult to make money with this crop.
Threats to Yuca Roots
Growing cassava is easy to do because it is partly self-sustaining. It is a plant that is used to desert conditions, so it requires little added water and soil nutrients. However, while growing yuca plants is simple, getting a good harvest of edible roots is difficult to do. This is because the tubers that develop in the roots, or the edible parts of the plant, are sensitive to damage and insects once they have been removed from the parent plant.
Harvesting Yuca Roots
When you harvest yuca roots, you need to make sure you have perfect timing. If you harvest the root too early, the tubers will not be developed, and if you harvest the roots too late, the tubers will be hard and woody or rotten. This is why you need to follow a time-tested harvesting schedule for your specific area.
The next challenge to overcome when harvesting these vegetable roots is avoiding damage to the roots as they are dug up. The steps for digging up other root vegetables, like potatoes, are similar.
First, position the shovel just outside the perimeter of where you think the roots will be located. Then, you should dig under the root system and gently lift up as you hold the stem of the plant. As the shovel lifts the roots from the ground, gently pull on the plant, removing the entire root system and plant from the dirt.
If you happen to damage the tubers, you are in trouble, as they will produce coumaric acid as a healing agent. This chemical is great at healing tuber damage when the tubers are still connected to the parent plant and safely in the ground; however, when it is produced by tubers that have been removed from the parent plant, it discolors the tubers and renders them useless.
Yuca roots quickly deteriorate after they are removed from their parent plant. This means that you either have to process the cassava roots quickly, or you need to preserve them. Coating the yuca roots in wax and freezing them are the two most commonly used preserving methods for yuca roots.