It’s Yuca, Not Yucca
Except when it’s not.
It’s yuca the word that you are probably thinking,
when writing of a plant that you might be eating.
Yuca with one C is almost definitely the one.
In cooking you can use it a considerable ton.
It’s a tropical tuber that was born in Brazil.
It grows quite easily so have your fill.
It’s sometimes toxic if eaten all on its own,
but why would you want to?
It will taste like a bone.
You’ll need to boil it, fry it or bake it.
Mash it or grate it, grind it or cake it.
You can chew it and spit it and let it ferment.
Or squeeze out the juice and reduce for a scent.
Tucupi, beiju, farofa, mofongo,
casabe, sonso, chipa, masato.
Vigorón, chibé, pão de queijo,
Sopa de mandioca, juanes, pirão.
These are a few of the recipes you can make,
with this humble tuber for goodness sake.
Call it manioc or cassava, that’s OK too.
Just not the yucca that counts Cs of two.
A desert plant in the arid southwest,
yucca with two Cs doesn’t seem like the best.
It has spiky leaves and no tuber to flake.
So, there are certainly no chips you can make.
But to add to the confusion you surely must have,
yucca with two Cs can also be had.
It’s sweet green fruit can be pulped and then dried.
While the soft white blossoms can be battered and fried.
The stalks taste like soap, so they’ll need to be roasted.
So take it from me, yucca need not be ghosted.
Now you know which plant is which.
Spelling yuca or yucca is not such a stitch.
Reading this far you might possibly regret,
but at least now you’ll never, ever forget.
This little rhyme was inspired by the frequency in which I see these two plants confused. It happens a lot. It might seem trivial, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has dug up a yucca plant looking for a tuber by mistake. To clarify, for once and for all, here are the culinary differences between yuca and yucca:
Yucca is a genus of roughly 40 species of succulent plants that have spiky leaves and white flowers. They grow in primarily the southwestern United States, as well as parts of Mexico and Central America. They are a desert plant and sometimes an ornamental one. You probably have one in your house right now and most likely you aren’t eating any part of it. They have, however, been utilized by indigenous groups like the Apache and Navajo, though they are far from a staple food source. The blossoms are the most obvious thing to eat, but there’s more. Some species have a short, green fruit, which can be prepared by roasting or baking, stripping out the seeds, pounding the remaining flesh into a pulp, forming into flat cakes and drying them in the sun. The stalks of most species of yucca are also edible, though they are coated in saponins that need to be boiled down or baked or else they taste like soap. It is sometimes pronounced “yuck-a.”
Yuca (Manihot esculenta), on the other hand, is native to Brazil and it has become a major source of carbohydrates for countries around the world. Also called cassava or manioc, it is eaten by a half a billion people throughout Latin America and Africa. There are thousands, upon thousands of recipes that utilize the plant’s tuber, even though it can be toxic. It can be used like a potato and baked, boiled or fried. Flour made from yuca is used for breads or toasted to make farofa. When extracted, the liquid from within the tuber can be used for sauces like tucupi. Also, yuca starch makes tapioca. It’s pronounced like “you-ka.”
A list of articles in major publications that have confused Yuca & Yucca
“Marking a Different Thanksgiving Tradition, From West Africa” – The New York Times
"Cuban Sandwiches, Available for Takeout and Delivery Across the City” – The New York Times
“JJ Johnson’s Rice-Focused Restaurant, FieldTrip, Opens” – The New York Times
“A Long-Awaited Return Trip to Puerto Rico” – Wall Street Journal
“How to adapt the Mediterranean diet for different cuisines” – Washington Post
“The appeal of the all-American hamburger knows no boundaries” – Washington Post
“Cooking With Colombian Beans” – Smithsonian
“Culinary SOS: République shares its secret to roasted sweet potatoes” – Los Angeles Times
“This cheesy, overstuffed sandwich in S.F. is worth getting your hands dirty” – San Francisco Chronicle
“Wood-fired pupusas on an ample, friendly patio at Oakland's Popoca” – San Francisco Chronicle
“She was an underground food legend in S.F. Now she has a small empire of Brazilian cafes” – San Francisco Chronicle
“Home Is Where the Manteca Is: A Visit to Piñones in Puerto Rico” – Bon Appétit
“Yucca Empanadas” – Food & Wine
“Beef Tenderloin with Cilantro-Wine Sauce and Mashed Yucca” – Food & Wine
“Yucca Fries with Banana Ketchup” – Food & Wine
“Going Beyond the Pisco in Peru” – National Geographic