*Edit! We went vegetable shopping today and got to looking at the various brown roots at the vegetable shop. So with the help of clearly marked bins and the internet, I have determined what we’ve been eating here in Panama. Therefore, I’ve corrected the descriptions below.*
Yuca and Yams have turned out to be one of the most confusing food discussions Daniel and I have had down here. I thought we were buying two different varieties of yuca, when in fact, it’s two different roots. I can’t help it when I bought what I thought was yuca, and it turned out to be a yam but it was in the bin labeled yuca! My very untrained eye couldn’t tell the difference!
Anyway, here we have “name” or “yam”. It is easy to slice and gets slimy when you cut into it. It is soft and cooks up easily.
Now, this is not a yam like what we sometimes call sweet potatoes in the States. Here’s a link to straighten THAT out. Briefly the story goes like this: When the slaves were brought from Africa, they realized that sweet potatoes were very similar to the yams they were familiar with in Africa. They could prepare them the same way, and somewhere along the line they started calling sweet potatoes, yams and the two names have been somewhat interchangeable ever since. So if you’ve never seen a genuine yam, here’s what it looks like:
THIS is yuca or “cassava”. It is very hard, and has a thick fibrous root running through the middle. It takes a lot longer to boil, and is hard to cut. We discovered we actually don’t prefer yuca. It’s kind of bitter (and I’ve learned there is a bitter and a sweet variety, so maybe we need to try the sweet kind) and like I said, it is awfully hard.
As you can see, they look almost identical. Especially when they are covered in soil and viney roots and the bins are right next to each other in the vegetable store. Viney? Is that a word? If not, I just made it one. :)
Both yams and yuca are similar to potatoes and can be prepared almost the same way. We’ve had them both fried, and I’ve attempted to mash both of them (yams did better) and I tried grating the yuca once. When I did that, it ended up in a broccoli casserole and it acted like rice. Worked quite well, in fact.
We’re still experimenting with each of them and I’d like to try taro or otoe sometime. Yet another brown, hairy root, next door to the yuca and yam bins. Confusing!!