Tucupí, a byproduct in the making of farofa, or manioc flour, is an essential ingredient in the traditional foods of the upper Amazon Basin, especially in the Brazilian state of Pará. An extract of manioc (yuca/cassava), the acidic, fermented yellow sauce is used in many of the region’s best-known recipes, such as pato no tucupí and tacacá.
Scientific data: Tucupí is extracted from yuca brava, the poisonous, often wild form of manioc (Manihot esculenta), an edible starchy tuberous root that is a major source of carbohydrates for communities throughout the Amazon Basin.
Geography: While yuca is found extensively in tropical and subtropical regions of Latin America, tucupí is primarily limited to Amazonian regions of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. It’s most common in the Brazilian states of Pará, Acre, Amazonas, and Rondônia.
To make tucupi, manioc is peeled, grated, and then the juice is squeezed out through a basket-like instrument called a tipiti. Afterwards the juice is left to rest for 5-7 days so that the starch and liquid separates. Afterwards, to remove the cyanide, it is boiled for several hours. It’s then can be seasoned with salt, garlic, basil, chicória (chicory), and various peppers.
Ají Negro: In Colombia, tucupí refers to an ingredient known elsewhere as ají negro or tucupi preto, which is tucupí that has been further fermented and reduced.
In the state of Pará, tucupi, usually sold in plastic bottles in markets, is most commonly eaten with farofa, toasted manioc flour, however, it is the central ingredient to several traditional recipes:
Tacacá: In this soup, tucupi is cooked with jambu (Acmella oleracea), a mouth tingling, flowering herb, as well as yellow chile peppers and dried shrimp. It’s served hot in a cuia, a small gourd, from street stalls in cities like Manaus and Belém.
Pato no Tucupí: Duck cooked in a broth made of tucupí and jambu, usually served over rice.
Vatapá Paraense: While the more common in the state of Bahia form of vatapá – a hearty paste made from bread crumbs, shrimp, coconut milk, ground peanuts, and dendê oil that’s served over white rice – the version from the state of Pará does add it.
Alex Atala’s Shrimp with Tucupi: A modern re-interpretation of tacacá from one of Brazil’s most famous chefs.