Cassareep is the juice of the cassava, a shrub native to South America. The juice is boiled until it reduces and caramelizes, forming a thick and delicious syrup. It's the creation of the Guyanese Amerindian, indigenous peoples to Guyana, and an important ingredient in Guyanese pepperpot.
How to Make Cassareep
Cassareep is made from the juice of the bitter cassava. The cassava is peeled, washed and grated, then the pulp is placed in a porous cloth and squeezed to extract the juice. The juice is boiled for a considerable time, often with cinnamon, a bit of brown sugar, cloves, and sometimes even a bit of cayenne pepper for a spicier version. It's then simmered long and slowly. The result is a thick brown liquid.
Not all cassavas render the same amount of juice. It depends on their size and maturity. Older cassavas tend to produce little juice. Signs of age include small, dark spots in the flesh or traces of mold.
Do not drink the cassava juice without boiling it first and reducing it to cassareep. Discard the pulp after extracting the juice. Cassava juice can convert to cyanide in its raw state when it combines with human digestive enzymes. Eating even two roots—or drinking the unheated and uncooked juice of two roots—can be fatal.
This is particularly true of the skin of the cassava, which looks a little like bark—it's brown and fibrous. Always peel the cassava well and boil, then simmer, its juice for a prolonged period of time. This kills the poisonous compounds. You'll know it's safe when the juice reaches a consistency almost like molasses, but not quite as thick.
Cassareep is used to make one of Guyana's great national dishes, pepperpot. It not only gives pepperpot its distinctive flavor, but it also acts as a preservative. Once cooked, pepperpot can remain at room temperature for days without spoiling because of its cassareep content. Cassareep has antiseptic qualities that act to preserve cooked meat. Just bring the dish back to a boil in the morning and again in the evening of each day if you want to leave it on the stovetop.
Cassareep can be used to add color and depth of flavor to any dish. Trinidadians like to use it in place of burnt sugar to make brown chicken stew and their famous pelau. Some people even add cassareep to their Caribbean Christmas cake to add to its signature dark color.
Buying and Storing Cassareep
If you don't want to make your own cassareep, you may be able to purchase it in Latin American markets. It's imported from Guyana. You can also purchase it online, but make sure the seller is reputable, such as with a starred rating from Amazon.
Cassareep will keep in an airtight glass jar or container for up to three weeks.