Yucca, Yuca And Plantain Explained In Plain English

Ever wonder what some of those funny fruits and vegetables are at the local, produce stands? What is that that thick, brown, tree trunk vegetable that looks more like something you’d throw in your fireplace than eat for dinner?  And how about those oversized bananas that are purchased green or black, neither look good enough to eat.


A recent cooking class was held for CASA (Coronado Area Social Association) members to help explain the unexplained. The class was taught by Millie Rivera, a Puerto Rican that lived many years in New York before retiring to Panama. She was assisted by Panamanian native Dulce Kellam and as two Latino cultures blended together they created some local favorites for students to sample.  

 Plantain to the untrained eye resembles a banana, although they’re thicker, longer and must be cooked before eaten.  Unlike bananas that are sweet, plantains are a starchy fruit used as a vegetable and common in Caribbean cuisine.  High in dietary fiber, potassium and a good source of vitamins A and C, this carbohydrate is a common staple on local tables. Green plantain is firm and starchy like a potato and best boiled or fried in savory recipes.  Yellow plantain is a bit softer, slightly sweeter and grilled or baked.  Once black the plantain appeals to those with a sweet tooth and is used to make delectable desserts. Green plantain costs more than yellow because it’s used to make patacones or tostones, a common side dish here in Panama.

When it comes to yucca, or yuca, the two words are used interchangeably although they’re not the same. Yuca root, that thing that resembles a piece of tree bark that’s sold everywhere is eaten like the potato in many local dishes.  Also known as cassava, this starchy root vegetable is high in carbohydrates, vitamin C, phosphorous and calcium.  The other Yucca is a tree from the family of the Agave that has long leaves and white flowers on its pinnacle and is commonly seen in dry climates.  The root of the yucca tree is not edible and totally different from yuca root.  Used by indigenous people for food and medicinal purposes since 10,000 B.C., yuca root is commonly seen on tables in Latin homes.  Today more than 250 million tons of yuca are produced in tropical regions around the world.  

With it’s mild flavor yuca can be fried, boiled, stewed, grated, mashed, or added as a thickening agent to soups and stews.  Yuca has a short shelf life and should be used within a few days of purchasing when it’s firm and white inside.  Although it’s inexpensive to buy, its hard outer surface makes it a bit of a challenge to work with at first.  

The hard outer shell should be cut lengthwise with a sharp knife and then peeled back to remove it.  Next cut the root in half lengthwise and then in half again exposing the white insides.  Yuca has a yellow fibrous vein that runs along the inside that should be removed and not eaten.  From this point cut the yuca into the desired shape depending on how it’s to be used in cooking.  For yuca fries cut into long, thin strips, or if the recipe calls for boiling just cut yuca into chunks. Be warned that yuca will stain the cutting board so it’s always a good idea to used waxed or parchment paper to protect the surface.

Below are the recipes Millie prepared for the group to sample:

YUCA OVEN FRIES – 4 Servings

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

3 Yucas
4T Olive oil
1T sea salt
1/3 cup milk
ground pepper to taste

Fill Dutch oven with water halfway, bring to a boil on stovetop,  add salt and milk.

Peel yuca`s thick skin leaving the white hard pulp.  Be sure to remove the yellow fibrous vein that runs through it.  Cut into 3 to 4 pieces, then cut in half and again making 8 thin pieces. Wash pieces in strainer thoroughly. Place in boiling water and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender making sure not to overcook.  Strain cooked pieces. Prepare cooking sheet by brushing lightly with olive oil. Place cooked yuca pieces on cookie sheet
Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with pepper to taste. Bake until golden brown.


1 pound yuca (1 to 2 pieces)
1 t. sea salt
6 garlic cloves (crushed)
¼ lb fried pork pieces (or bacon)

Prepare yuca and cut into 2 inch pieces.  Boil until tender but not over cooked. Sauté garlic into pork pieces. Strain cooked yuca and mix into garlic pork mixture. 

PLANTAINS:  (GREEN) Tostones  (aka Platacones)
For tostone (platacones) use only  the green type
Serves 4

3 Green plantains
5 cloves garlic crushed
2 cups warm water
1 t. sea salt
1 cup Canola oil
Deep frying skillet

Crush garlic with salt in a mallet if available.  Cut tips of plantain making a vertical slit. Place in hot water waiting a few minutes, this process will make peeling easier. Peel off the green peel leaving the slightly orange pulp behind that’s usually hard. Cut pulp into 1” pieces that can be straight across or on an angle. Place in hot oil, cooking until golden brown on each side for four minutes at a medium setting. Place cooked pieces on a cutting board and slightly flatten each one in between waxed paper.  Soak a few pieces at a time in salted garlic water just a few seconds or they will fall apart. Put them back into the frying pan again on a medium to high setting and fry until crispy golden brown. Serve with Mojito sauce.


16 cloves garlic (one head)
1 tsp sea salt
½ hot pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 med. Lime (juice of same)
¼ cup extra virgin oil

Crush together garlic, salt and hot pepper.  Add oregano and black pepper.  Stir in lime juice and olive oil.  Serve with patacones or favorite dish.

PLATANOS (made with yellow or ripe (maduro) plantain

Fruit will appear yellowish in color.  The darker the appearance, the sweeter it will taste. Cut tips off, then vertically slice, making sure to handle with care since this type of plantain tends to be soft.

Slice softened pulp into 1 ½ in. pieces diagonally and fry at medium setting.  As they fry, they will appear darker in color and get really sweet. May be topped with cinnamon or sugar and served as a side dish or dessert.

So why not pick up some of these local favorites to try in your own home today.  After all part of the fun and adventure of living in a foreign country is to embrace the culture, customs and food to the fullest!