I love tropical starches like malanga, taro, yuca, and plantains. Potatoes are excluded on the autoimmune paleo protocol because they are nightshades, and most people recommend sweet potatoes as a starchy substitute for potatoes. Sweet potatoes are great and I do love them, but they're sweet, not savory, and sometimes that just doesn't cut it.
Malanga, taro, and yuca to the rescue!
Luckily, malanga, taro, and yuca all make excellent savory potato substitutes that actually remind you of eating potatoes. You can treat them like potatoes, making chips, fries, or mash from them. Lately, I've been preferring mashed since it's just one more way to add bone broth to my diet. If you can have ghee or butter, of course mashed starch is an excellent vehicle for that, too!
They each have their own unique, delicious savory flavor. Yuca is probably the most familiar of the three and I'd be willing to bet you've eaten it before. You've probably at least heard of taro, but, unless you've seen my Puerto Rican Sancocho recipe, you're probably saying "what the heck is malanga?"
It is a starchy root (botanically speaking, a corm) with a rough, hairy skin and pure white or slightly pink flesh. It looks very much like a piece of yuca (not yucca -- that's a type of agave. This mix-up bugs me as much as calling sweet potatoes yams). The flavor is actually quite strong and actually reminds me a bit of beef. Others say it is nutty, but I've never tasted a nut that tastes like malanga. It's earthy, deep, and husky. It does hold its own very well with beef main dishes and when making mashed malanga, you can use either beef or chicken bone broth with it, but I prefer using beef. You can easily peel malanga with a kitchen peeler.
Mashed malanga with bone broth is the perfect autoimmune paleo topping for shepherd's pie :)
Yuca is a tuberous root with a thick, hard, smooth, dark brown skin with a pinkish layer just underneath. You must peel yuca with a sharp knife, and be sure to remove all of the pink layer when you do (this is where the antinutrients/toxins are concentrated -- more about that below). Yuca is coated in a thick wax to keep it fresh for transport, and for this reason I dislike buying fresh yuca. I never feel like I can completely wash off all the wax (and I don't want to eat it), so I typically purchase frozen pre-peeled yuca. Yuca has a very bland flavor -- almost like pure starch. It has a slightly gelatinous texture. I recommend only using chicken broth to mash with yuca, unless you are serving it as a side dish with beef.
There is some confusion about malanga and taro, and some people say they are the same thing. They aren't. While they are in the same family (Araceae), Malanga belongs to the genus Xanthosoma and taro belongs to the genus Colocasia. They are related, but definitely not the same thing.
The fact that some stores and vendors label taro as malanga isleña only adds to the confusion. But, you can easily tell malanga and taro apart when you see them. Taro is more bulb- or barrel-shaped, has a smoother, not hairy, and lighter colored skin marked with rings, and the flesh inside is speckled with tiny pinkish-purplish dots.
I love the flavor and texture of taro. It is nutty and smooth and makes the best tasting fries. I prefer mashed taro with beef broth, but it tastes great with chicken, too.
To learn more about these and other tropical starches (including how to select good ones), I highly recommend this article from Food Arts:
An important note: all three of these roots need to be thoroughly cooked before consumption to deactivate the antinutrients and toxins found in them (this is true with most roots, tubers, and corms). It is generally recommended to always boil malanga, taro, or yuca first before frying or grilling. Not every recipe will tell you this, but based on my research, I prefer to boil these starches first before making fries from them.
You can actually get cyanide intoxication from eating improperly prepared yuca root (yikes!). Again, boiling for at least 20-25 minutes is the answer, as this will bring the levels of hydrocyanic acid (HCN) down to almost nothing (source). Soaking and fermenting is another effective method at reducing HCN and is a traditional method of preparation in many parts of the world.
Malanga and taro both have calcium oxalate crystals throughout the root, and some individuals may experience skin irritation when handling the raw, peeled roots, so you may want to wear gloves when handling (I don't, though). Boiling will significantly reduce the oxalate levels in these roots, and Wikipedia says to add a pinch of baking soda for effectiveness, but I can't access the source they cite to confirm that.
You can treat all of these roots the way you would potatoes and make chips, fries, or mash from them. I wouldn't recommending pigging out on yuca chips too often, because you can't boil them first before frying, and there is still residual HCN after frying only (source).
Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load
The following numbers for glycemic index (GI) and glyemic load (GL) are taken from the University of Sydney's extensive database. For reference, 55 and under is considered low for GI, while 10 and under is considered low for GL. I'm providing these numbers for those of you who are watching the GI/GL of your food.
Malanga: serving size tested = 150 g. Glycemic Index ranges 50-63; Glycemic Load ranges 23-33.
Taro: serving size tested = 150 g. Glycemic Index ranges 48-56; Glycemic Load is 4.
Yuca: serving size tested = 100g. Glycemic Index 46; Glycemic Load is 12.
Making mashed malanga, taro, or yuca is super easy! Here's how to do it with malanga.
Peel, chop, boil, and mash! That's it.
Malanga is very dry and crumbly before adding broth and fat. The final product, though, is smooth and creamy, just like mashed potatoes.
Mashed Malanga, Taro, or Yuca with Bone Broth
The tropical roots malanga, taro, and yuca all make excellent savory, starchy mashed potato substitutes. These are a great way to incorporate more bone broth into your diet!
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25-35 minutes
Total time: 30-40 minutes
- 1 lb malanga, taro, or yuca, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3/4 - 1 cup beef or chicken bone broth OR about 1/4 to 1/2 cup broth and 1/2 cup coconut milk
- (optional, but recommended if not using coconut milk) 2 - 4 Tbsp fat of choice (olive oil, lard, ghee, butter, palm shortening)
- salt and black pepper to taste
- Begin by rinsing your root well under running water. Then, use a kitchen peeler to peel taro or malanga. Use a sharp knife to peel yuca. In all 3, look for any soft or discolored parts and cut those out.
- Chop into chunks about 2" long and add to a pot filled with filtered water.
- Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook for about 25 minutes or until very tender and easily pierced with a fork.
- If using yuca, remove the stringy, tough, fibrous center from each piece.
- Strain in a colander, then add to a large bowl.
- Mash with a potato masher. Add bone broth, coconut milk, and/or oil to desired consistency (may require more or less than what is suggested here - please just keep adding and mashing until the consistency looks good to you).
- If you like, use a hand mixer to whip your mashed starch.
- Serve immediately and enjoy!
- You may also use any of these mashed starches as a topping for shepherd's pie.
Recommended Tools and Ingredients
The following links are things that I use in my own kitchen and believe you will enjoy, too. They are affiliate links. My full affiliate disclosure is here. Thanks for your support! :-)
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