Culinary diversion: Yucca and Otoe

The markets in Panama are full of things unfamiliar to many North Americans and Europeans. Two of those of Yucca and Otoe are known by different names in other places. Yucca is known as cassava and Otoe as Taro. Each is potentially toxic unless cooked correctly, both are common here and can be enjoyed instead of ignored.

I prepared both this week and want to share.

First the Otoe. According to Wikipedia, “The plant is inedible when raw and considered toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate[6][7] crystals, typically as raphides. The toxin is minimized by cooking,[8] especially with a pinch of baking soda. It can also be reduced by steeping taro roots in cold water overnight. Calcium oxalate is highly insoluble and contributes to kidney stones. It has been recommended to consume milk or other calcium-rich foods together with taro.[9]

My preparation is simple and simply excellent. Below is the plant, so common here as to be a road side weed, or on my finca a prized food crop. The difference between many weeds and desired plants is just where they grow.


Below is the tuber as you would find in bins at the market. I cleaned of the skin and cut it into thick slices for boiling. Then boiled it until soft like a potato.

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When it was soft I mash the Otoe and add a mixture of pureed garlic, butter, salt and milk.  Then mix again,  just like garlic mashed potatoes. The result is a savory treat great with a roast pork sandwich.

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Yucca or Cassava is also toxic is not boiled. It is slow to soften, about 45 minutes in boiling water to soften and to eliminate the toxins.

From Wikipedia, “Cassava is classified as sweet or bitter. Like other roots and tubers, cassava contains anti nutritional factors and toxins.[5] It must be properly prepared before consumption. Improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication and goiters, and may even cause ataxia or partial paralysis.[6]



Like Otoe, Yucca is very common here and when we harvest the tuber we just replant the stem and have yucca again in a few months. It is grown in large quantities in Panama because it produces the most calories per hectare of any crop.

These are the roots. Select carefully because some are too big and woody to eat.  When peeled and cut it should be white inside not woody.


I have two favorite preparations. Each starts by peeling and cutting into large steak fry portions.


Then boiling with salt for at least 45 minutes until soft.

One method that goes over with all takers is to take the cooked yucca and deep fry it, then salt it. Yucca Fries are always a hit. Sorry we finished them before I remembered to snap a photo.

The other is the make a sauce of olive oil, Culantro, garlic and salt and pour it over the boiled yucca, yum.

So next time you see a bin of roots at the local vegetable vendor try buying some Otoe or Yucca and give it a try. They are nice substitutes for potatoes and other starches in a balanced local diet.


  1. Interesting article on yucca and otoe and how to prepare it. We now can find these kinds of vegetables here in Florida in our grocery stores as there is a ready market for them by the thousands of people from Latin America who have come to the U.S. for a better life. I guess we should call them expats similar to Americans who have escaped their home country for a better life. Ironic isn’t it? Interestidng article in one of the weekly business journals last week about exports from the U.S. and especially Florida. The Florida commissioner of agriculture to a small delegation from Polk County FL to Panama to sign a deal to begin shipping Florida produce (example–strawberries and blueberries) to Panama to meet the growing need there. Evidentally the U.S. can meet or beat the price of the locally grown fruits and vegetables grown in your section of Panama? Perhaps Panama because of its climate cannot produce strawberries and blueberries of good quality as they can in Florida. Would be interested in your take on this. What kinds of fruits and vegetables do you grow there and which need to be imported. I know you grow banannas and coffee but what about the other stuff. Thanks again for your interesting informative articles about Boquete!!

  2. The reality is that the US Panama Fair Trade agreement is not at all fair. The US government subsidizes farmers with tax dollars giving them an unfair advantage over non subsidize Latin American competition.

  3. It seems since I was a kid in the ’50s that yucca was much grainier, stingy, but maybe that is how it was prepared in those days? But yucca & plantain remains some of my favorite Panama foods along with Papuya (check my spelling), pineapple, other fruits & of course corvina.

  4. Papaya? And yuca (you kah). Yucca must be the English version.

  5. Somewhere on the east coast of the US, possibly in a “Peruvian” eatery in Hialeah or the Jackson Heights part of Queens, a Dominican, a Puerto Rican, a Cuban, a Chiricano and a Panamanian from someplace other than Chiriquí are studying the menu together.

    They will decide against the “otoe?”-“yautia??”-“malanga???” because there are not sure whether this is the kind that absolutely must be carefully prepared.

    Instead they will have the “yuca” fries. They will do this because regardless of the great boil-before-frying debate typified by http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/guy-fieri/yucca-fries-recipe.html they are confident that it will do them no harm.

    They will not order anything called “yucca” because it is not on the menu. It is in a large urn near the front door.

  6. You are correct the yucca with two c’s is not the correct spelling here, yuca would be correct. However as in your Food Network link up north they are used interchangeably.

    As to boiling, it is the correct and safe way because as you said, unless you are sure of the exact type of yuca or yucca it is better to be safe than poisoned. I prefer safe to uncertain.

  7. Every time I see a discussion about the root crops that are commonly eaten here I get confused all over again.
    Lee, I may well be wrong, but I think that taro generally refers to the plant Colocasia esculenta, the plant that your Wiki article dealt with.
    Otoe, or otoy, on the other hand, refers, I believe, to a closely related plant native to the Americas- Xanthosoma sagittifolium.


    To add to the confusion, in addition to these plants looking very much alike, the plant known as otoy is sometimes referred to as American Taro.

  8. In response to DML Blaine,
    Panama grows a lot more than just bananas & coffee. The slopes of Volcan Baru are known as Panama’s bread basket. Many varieties of crops are grown here, including lettuce, cabbage, carrots, beets, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes, celery, onions, and many more, including even strawberries (blueberries, not so much).

  9. I grew up in Panama eating otoes, yuca, etc. and never heard anyone worry about eating the wrong one. We planted yuca and my relatives still plant in their backyard. No one ever worried about being poisoned eating either one. Perhaps the pesticides being used is creating this type of yuca and otoe.

  10. DML Blane says:

    does anyone know if they grow blueberries and strawberries in Panama and in sufficient quantities to meet Panamanian needs? Still puzzeled as to why they would need these from the U.S. tarriff or not? Would they have to be labeled “grown in the U.S.A.?

  11. Otoe is used to make Hawaiian poi. Mmmm. I like 3 finger thickness. My mom used to feed me poi with milk and sugar…like a cereal. I was know as a poi baby. It does put on the weight though so be careful

  12. They do grow Strawberries and Blackberries here, I have never seen a domestic blueberry. As to why they are imported, I can only guess that either the supply is less than the demand or the cost imported is lower than domestic. When sold here they do say grown in the USA.

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