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Pan de yuca is Spanish for “bread of yuca." The yuca is a hardy plant of the equatorial latitudes and is commonly called cassava, or manioc. The starch in the yuca's roots is extracted, processed into flour and notably used in Latin American cuisine. Baked quick bread served with a mug of hot chocolate is the breakfast of choice for many people in Colombia and Brazil. Elsewhere around the world, cassava is cultivated for its starch and cooked into regional breads.
The cassava is a small, woody, perennial shrub that shelters long, nutritious, tuberous roots. Originally native to South America and known to have been cultivated in Central America as early as 1600 B.C., it has since become the third-largest crop for carbohydrates in the world. Nigeria is the world’s largest producer, followed by Thailand and Brazil. Growing to full maturity in just 10 months even in poor-nutrient soil with low rainfall, the harvested bitter flesh of its roots is first treated for removal of toxic compounds and retention of significant calcium, phosphorus and vitamin C. The final flour, as finely textured as corn starch, is commonly called tapioca.
Pan de yuca is sometimes referred as the “bread of the tropics.” In Brazilian cuisine, tapioca flour is so widely used that restaurants called tapiocarias specialize exclusively in dishes made with it. When baked or fried as a bread, its neutral taste readily complements a variety of fillings and toppings, from cheese and meats to chocolate and bananas. Though consumed both night and day, in part because of its high content of carbohydrates, pan de yuca is most popular as a breakfast dish.
In Colombian cuisine, a flat cassava bread called arepa is made. In traditional South American and Caribbean cultures, it is called casabe. The thin, crispy type of bread, sometimes up to 2 feet (0.61 m) in diameter, is toasted on a large grill and broken in pieces to be eaten like crackers. Both the cassava plant and this simple bread were introduced to Africa by Portuguese traders during the 16th century, and they have become the continent’s most important food source.
The typical recipe for a pan de yuca that might be sold at a Latin American bakery or market is: 1 cup (about 200 g) tapioca flour, two eggs and 1.5 teaspoons (about 6.3 g) of baking powder. Additional taste, body and liquid are frequently supplied by 2 cups (400 g) of crumbled queso fresco or a similarly fresh and wet cheese such as ricotta. A little bit of sugar also can be added. The resulting dough is portioned, formed into balls or crescents and baked in an oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius) for about 20 minutes.
This type of unleavened, gluten-free bread has a thin crust and a soft, chewy interior. Even without cheese, it is moist because yuca starch has a high capacity to absorb liquid. The bread has a tendency to expand in volume with the introduction of saliva and can present occasional difficulty in swallowing. This is all the more reason why it is traditionally served with a cup of hot chocolate. Pan de yuca also has a tendency to toughen relatively quickly, so it is best served soon after it is made, fresh and warm.