Casabe – Keeping an Ancient Tradition Alive

Casabe, a flat bread made from cassava (yuca) flour  was at the centre of the Taíno diet. The conquistadors found that it had advantages over bread.

Casabe — 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 – Keeping an ancient tradition alive

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.

Aunt Ilana

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

“Casabe lady” photo courtesy of Pedrito Guzmán. Used with permission. 

Comments

  1. Joanne Cabe

    I found out about Cassava because of multiple food allergies, so if you are in touch with the industry, you can pass that on as a marketing target. I am eager to try your cassava bread & other yummy looking recipes, Thank You for posting them! While having many food allergies is troublesome, I have discovered some very delicious international foods because of it, that I wouldn’t have found out about most likely otherwise. In my search for foods I am not allergic to [mainly ones I haven’t eaten before or much of] I have discovered Peruvian foods [Lima bean flour recipes], African [Teff flour -Injira], and now Dominican Republic foods – Cassava flour recipes. I have a recipe for Cassava tortillas, that just uses; Cassava Flour, salt & water. I expect it isn’t a traditional recipe [I got it from an allergy cook book], but they are great, and if anyone is interested I would be glad to share it.

  2. Harrison

    LOVE THIS BLOG! Casabe originated in the basin of the Orinoco river in my native Venezuela. The indigenous people who travel the Caribbean settled in Cuba, The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (Taínos o Guajiros ) brought along this culinary tradition with them . When u think of Casabe I think of my lovely grandma ..or the pupilas saying that goes “a falta de pan. ..casabe”

  3. Ana Gröner Reza

    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

      • Ramona Garcia

        Casabe is still part of my life today and always will be. I buy torta de casaba all the time. My kids don’t like it, unless put in the toaster oven with garlic powder and olive oil. They like it that way or with something on type of it. Like cream cheese, or any type of jams, orange, strawberries or any type of flavors. Casabe is delicious with anything on top of it or by itself. is like a flat bread that can be eaten with anything on it. Like a ritz cracker for example but healther; you can buy any where in the Dominican Grocery stores or supermarkets that cells Dominican Products, the main State you have plenty of casaba is New York City, NJ, Philadelphia, RI, Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Florida, California in some areas where Dominican people live. It is expanding to other States, but it is a slow process. Enjoy casaba it is healthier than eating breads or crackers or flat breads.

  4. luci

    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.

  5. Lawrence Tenzer

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

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