Warm weather can make preserving food difficult. But in the tropical South American country of Guyana, people have long had a solution: the thick, black, caramelized syrup of the bitter cassava tuber. Cassareep is a seasoning with a long history, and its antiseptic and preservative properties, it’s said, allow meat cooked with the syrup to last without refrigeration for several days.
To make cassareep, Guyanese people grate and squeeze bitter cassava to extract the juice. Eating bitter cassava raw is a death wish; it contains a compound that the human body converts into hydrogen cyanide. But boiling the juice and adding cinnamon, brown sugar, and cloves makes the sauce both safe and tasty.
Cassareep is a common ingredient in Guyanese sauces. But it’s most essential in pepperpot, Guyana’s national dish, which is a stew made with oxtail or pork, spiced up with Scotch bonnet peppers, and always seasoned with cassareep. The dish is eaten on Christmas morning with slices of plait, or braided bread, and cassareep’s antibacterial properties allow it to sit out for days without going bad. Some accounts describe pepperpots stewed continuously for years, with cooks simply adding more meat and cassareep as needed. Occasionally, they “even lasted the lifetime of the cook.”