This is probably one of my favorite fermented foods out there – not particularly healthy, it is quite yummy though. Most of the Asian countries have some sort of yeast mix that is actually made of various fungi and yeasts. While in the western world, we have used yeasts throughout the ages, in Asia, they have also used fungi. The unique aspect is that these fungi will break down starches into simple sugars that will then be used by the yeasts to make alcohol. This is basically what happens here with the sweet fermented cassava.
The fungi will break down the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars to a point where the cassava will taste like a full-on dessert. The yeasts will then convert some of these sugars into alcohol giving the dessert this special kick, kind of like a dessert that has been doused with sweet sake. The fibrous nature of the cassava gives the whole thing a spongy mouth feel The steps are pretty simple as outlined below.
1) Get yourself some Cassava. Cassava, a root ubiquitous around the world, goes by many names: Yucca, Manioc or Tapioca. It is one of the most adaptable and hardy food crops out there. The root needs to be peeled and cooked well (uncooked this root can be poisonous). The middle contains a fibrous part that can be cut out. This time I saved myself the peeling and bought some ready to cook root.
3) Next, you need a starter. This starter is original Ragi Tape starter purchased in an Indonesian store. You can google the fungi and yeasts prevalent in these starters; however, these will change depending on what company makes them.
Ragi Tape can be tough to track down. In this case, you should be able to get Chinese yeast balls at your local Asian store. They serve the same purpose.
4) In the next part, we break up the starter into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle, or whatever method your prefer.
5) Finally it is fermentation time. Sprinkle the stater all over the cassava in a non corrosive container, such as glass or ceramics. Place the container (covered) in a warm spot (80-85F) for 2-4 days. As the fermentation goes on, the yeast and fungi will grow and the alcohol content will increase. Ferment to your liking.