Casabe – Keeping an ancient tradition alive

Casabe – Keeping an ancient tradition alive

A crispy flat bread made from cassava (yuca) flour – was at the centre of the Taíno diet. When the Spanish first arrived on the island, they soon found that casabe had advantages over their traditional European bread, in that it does not go stale or mouldy. For this reason, it is said that the conquest of the Americas was fueled by casabe, taken by the conquistadores from Hispaniola as they continued their push into Mexico and other parts of the continent.

You can find the casabe recipe here.

Casabe

Over 500 years later, casabe is still a popular food in Dominican households. As with conventional bread, it can be eaten at different times of the day, in many different ways. Most commonly for breakfast, consisting of a coffee and a piece of casabe. It is also used to accompany soups and stews such as asopaos and sancochos. Other ways of consuming casabe include soaking it in water and serving it with fried eggs or avocado. It can also be baked and served with a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. For a light supper, accompany it with a mug of hot chocolate. It can also be used as a buffet food with dips, in the same way as tortilla chips, crackers or pitta bread. There may be more traditional ways of eating casabe that may have escaped my notice, if so please let me know. It is certain that there are endless new ways that could be devised for this versatile food, and suggestions for this would also be welcomed.

Casabe – Keeping an ancient tradition alive

To make casabe, the yuca has to be peeled, washed, ground up, compressed, sieved and then finally shaped into large circular moulds and baked on a hot plate. To make a large, commercial quantity is not an easy task using the traditional method, which is more appropriate for producing the amount needed to feed a household. Up till a couple of decades ago, casabe production was a dying tradition in the Dominican Republic. The ultimate cottage industry, it was restricted to several very small producers mainly in the northwest of the country, and distribution and sales beyond the local area were close to nonexistent. Casabe was revitalised by enterprising producers such as Nicolas Almonte of Casabe Guaraganó, who in the 1970s adapted this labour-intensive craft to a larger scale process where much of the production is done by machinery. This allows for increased volumes of production. Now other producers have followed suit and casabe is being produced on a much larger scale, and being distributed to colmados and supermarkets around the country, as well as to overseas markets, especially the United States.

An additional benefit of the increased production is that is employs a significant amount of people – especially women – in rural areas, and acts as an incentive to keep people from migrating to the cities or overseas. Monción has a population of 14,000 and it is estimated that 4,000 or so owe their living directly or indirectly to the casabe industry. Although the Monción area is home to many small and medium sized producers, they are working together as a casabe producers association in order to promote the product.

Making casabe

The challenge for these producers is to increase the popularity of casabe, which is still seen as a ‘humble’ food. They stress its versatility and health benefits as selling points. It is fat-free and rich in fibre, for example, and although not formally certified, yuca is always grown organically. Despite being preservative-free, casabe has a shelf life of up to eight months, as the Spaniards were so grateful to find. The producers also want to develop the image of casabe and turn it into a gourmet product for the domestic and international market. There are already some good ideas in action – many producers are making several varieties including garlic flavoured casabe, or as a dessert – casabe filled with guava or pineapple jam, and different sized casabe such as ‘buffet’ to serve with dips.

 

*Nicolas Almonte’s definition of gourmet casabe is ‘un casabe hecho con amor’ — casabe made with love.

Aunt Ilana

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“Casabe lady” photo courtesy of Pedrito Guzmán. Used with permission. Originally published on Feb 5, 2003.

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{ 22 comments… add one }

  • Jennifer April 7, 2011, 9:01 AM

    I've never had casabe. Are you going to sell it on your site? Or perhaps lead us to where we can buy some?

    • Aunt Clara April 14, 2011, 1:01 AM

      I don't know where you can buy casabe outside of the D.R., perhaps a bodega or latino store in your area carries it. In the DR you can buy it practically anywhere where groceries are sold.

    • anouk November 3, 2013, 8:59 PM

      dear Clara,

      I really like your website, and the way your beautifull dishes are displayed on the very beautiful photographes. I came on your website by accident, since i was looking for some recipe of casavabread.

      my name is anouk, i am a 28 year old woman from Belgium, and I
      was asking myself, if it woulden’t be possible to by the bread on your website.
      Or atleast the organic tapiocaflower. It’s very hard if not poosible to be found in Belgium.

      kind regards, and to here you soon, Anouki :)

      • Aunt Clara November 6, 2013, 3:09 PM

        Hi Anouk,

        I don’t know about buying cassava in Belgium (pretty country, I visited about 3 years ago). If you can find cassava you can make it yourself.

  • Patricia April 7, 2011, 12:09 PM

    Pondran una receta para hacer casabe "estilo urbano", o algo que se le parezca?

    solo una idea…

  • Aunt Clara April 7, 2011, 12:12 PM

    Me adivinaste el pensamiento. Estoy trabajando en eso, la primera foto es una de las opciones que les voy a traer proximamente.

  • Bren April 9, 2011, 12:06 PM

    Qué bueno, a yo también tengo ese deseo de preparar cazabe en casa, pero decía con cúal receta!!

    Perfect thanks, I'll be waiting the recipe..

    Thanks advances aunt Clara

  • karina castillo soto April 12, 2011, 12:09 PM

    Hola tia clara.

    yo tengo harina de yuca y quisiera saber como usarla para hacer casabe o saber como usar la harina en sentido general .

  • Kari Kunze April 13, 2011, 9:16 AM

    También tengo ganas de prepararlo. Podrías agregar la receta al sitio?

    Gracias.

    Kari

    • Aunt Clara April 14, 2011, 12:55 AM

      Dominicans don't make casabe at home, we just buy it from the supermarket. I will add some recipes based on casabe, but the recipe for casabe itself.

  • Ben April 14, 2011, 8:25 AM

    Oh yummy! I've never had this bread but I can see how this would have a lot more advantages over wheat flour bread. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sonia November 19, 2011, 1:02 PM

    Casabe scrambled with egg, served with a side of avocado w/olive oil and a little salt on it is fantastic. To accompany it with a nice cup of Dominican coffee or hot chocolate. Yummy! Mama used to make that for me and I loved every bit of it. Now, I buy casabe (from DR) at the Cuban market close to me. There's nothing like having a little of bit from the country land to warm your spirit (and remind me of Mama).

  • haidee December 7, 2011, 7:05 PM

    I eat Casabe as a snack with garlic and olive oil and black olives.. :)

  • Angelita Gonzalez January 29, 2012, 1:25 AM

    I live in California and I am selling casabe from Dominican Republic. Let me know if you need my information.

    • Héctor Bilbao February 2, 2012, 10:27 AM

      Quisiera saber el precio del casabe y si tendrá la misma apariencia del que se vende en Cuba de donde yo soy. En fin páseme un e-mail con su información sobre el casabe. Gracias anticipadas por todo. Héctor.

    • Rolando March 6, 2013, 10:22 AM

      Angelita,

      I live in california and would love to get casave from you. Where can I contact you?

      Thanks

  • Lawrence Tenzer August 24, 2013, 9:58 AM

    Many pesticides are imported into the Dominican Republic. Is yuca still grown organically today?
    Thanks
    Lawrence

    • Aunt Clara August 25, 2013, 7:44 PM

      For the most part, yes. Yuca is a native crop, and very resilient, so it doesn’t need pesticides the same way imported crops would.

  • luci December 31, 2013, 2:48 AM

    Hi there. Casabe is a must have in the Cuban CULTURE especially during Christmas holidays (NOCHE BUENA). It is served with roast pork. However any meet prepared in a fricase style is equally delicious. Also scrambled eggs with choice of drink (does not have to be coffee/care) is amazing! Casabe can be served as a breakfast bread lunch or with dinner. I too am currently living in California’s Bay Area and yet to find it sold here. My Mom actually ships it to me from Miami Florida. All Latin markets carry it there and I believe the leading American supermarkets (Public) may sell it as well. The cost for such a healthy bread is extremely inexpensive. The cost for shipping is anotherthing. I had an idea today….but it will take a lot of people requesting it to make it happen here in California. We have a market that specializes in foods globally called Trader Joe’s. If a ton of people begin to request this bread we may get lucky and able to buy it locally. If you want to know how this bread is made (it has indegenous origins) youyube casabe and learn on….by the way…..casabe is 100% fat free and organic.

  • Ana Gröner Reza February 7, 2014, 1:59 PM

    Found your site accidentally looking for a recipe for queso frito. I LOVE THE PHOTOS and the recipes. But more importantly, the stories behind the food of the Americas. My mother is Guatemalan & my father is from Argentina. I myself have lived in Argentina until the age of 4 and go back often to visit family- anyhow- I’m fascinated with the history behind foods. Can you imagine what it was like, before television… Food network… PF Chang type fusion bistros to discover these beautiful pristine places- coming from a dirty and overcrowded Europe?? No wonder the Conquistadores were looking for a fountain of youth or so etching equally magical! Keep sharing food history with us! I hope to see you on TV soon with your own show. Salud, paz y amor xoxo
    Ana Gröner Reza