I had a very fascinating conversation recently with an agronomist who has spent a few years living in the Peruvian Amazon. We were talking about native beers of South America, and having seen references to a few that involve yucca, I asked if he knew of any. Turns out that the people of the area where he lived in Peru brewed with yucca (also known as mandioc, cassava, tapioca root, etc.).
However, you can’t malt yucca, nor does it have any conversion power, so how did they get the abundant starches to convert to fermentable sugars? Turns out they (ingeniously) used purple yams, which are a source of alpha-amylase enzymes.
The process starts with peel, washing, and boiling up the yucca roots in huge pots. Once they’re soft and hot, you mash up the yucca in an oversized mortar and pestle. Purple yams (camote morado) are peeled and chewed up (although the chewing was an afterthought, so I suspect that this was a traditional method that was phased out when graters were introduced) and mixed up well into the mashed yucca (think mashed potatoes). Boiled water was thrown over the mixture and mixed well and left to convert and then ferment spontaneously for a couple days. The resulting drink came out a shade of lavender from the yams and was called masato de yucca.
Really interesting stuff.