I have food sensitivities – not just lactose intolerance or a curious allergy to cucumbers; I mean I’m queasy about the appearance, texture, and even names of certain foods. By my early 20s, I overcame most of my childhood food aversions, but occasionally some still crop up. Like yuca. It sounds so bad; it has to be good. Also known as cassava, the yuca root is like a high-starch potato with a waxy, bark coating and white flesh inside. Yuca is a dietary staple, being largely grown and eaten in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Yuca can be used in similar ways to potatoes, and because of its high-starch content is an excellent thickener for sweet and savoury dishes. After simmering for about 20 minutes, yuca can be mashed, then kneaded into a dough. I must admit I was very impressed with the ability to make dough without adding flour, water or any other ingredient. And despite its name, yuca tastes just fine. It can be sweet or bitter, with the latter being a rare commodity in North America. This is good news as the bitter variety contains trace amounts of cyanide that is harmful if eaten raw in large quantities. I tried some raw and it tasted sweet, so I had a bit more and I’m not dead yet. In fact, yuca is quite good for you; it’s high in Vitamin C, is a good source of fibre and contains about 120 calories per cup. You, see there is nothing to fear about yuca root. Except, after further research, I discovered that the starch extracted from yuca is the ingredient of one of my most dreaded childhood foods. Tapioca. I’ve never tasted tapioca but despised it since I was five. It all started one day when my mother informed me that I had to have my tonsils removed and would be going to the hospital in a couple of weeks for the surgery. This didn’t bother me in the least. I knew all about tonsillectomies from my ‘Little Audrey and Melvin’ comic book. When Little Audrey and Melvin got their tonsils out, they just fell asleep and when they awoke, were treated to unlimited amounts of ice cream. I was actually looking forward to it. Well, the first night at the hospital wasn’t as pleasant as I had hoped. I had to suffer the indignity of being placed in a crib, as did all patients under the age of seven. After the surgery, my first meal and every meal after, included a small cup of tapioca. The sight of lumpy, green globs in a little dish looked more like a science experiment than acceptable food for a five-year-old. Where was my ice cream?! Now, I haven’t yet used yuca to make tapioca, but I’m sure that will come in time. For now, I’m just happy that I’ve conquered my fear of a name and aversion to a texture all in one root.
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