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The Mexican Potato: Jicama, a Lesser Known Edible Tuber

Marie has been vegan for over five years and enjoys experimenting with traditional recipes.

Diced, Raw Jicama with Seasonings of Chili Pepper, Lime, and Salt

Diced, Raw Jicama with Seasonings of Chili Pepper, Lime, and Salt

Discovering the Jicama in the Grocery

While living in Florida, I was exposed to many new things. Shopping at a local grocery store, I decided I was hungry for potato, but remembered that these, in spite of their popularity, are of the nightshade family. Then I saw something that looked rather like a potato near the organic foods section. "Is that a jicama (HEE-kuh-muh or HICK-uh-muh)?" I wondered and picked up the vegetable. The label confirmed my guess.

The vegetable smelled and looked like a potato. The small selection in the store had specs of white mold in a few places. I decided I wouldn't let the mold stop me and chose the largest of jicamas available for $1.80 (the tuber weighed 1.21 pounds and cost $1.49 per pound).

Preparing the Jicama to Eat

Since I had never eaten this vegetable before, I simply followed my instincts and peeled off the outside skin as if it were a potato. I noticed that once the skin was broken with the knife, I could actually pull off skin pieces in strips, a bit like peeling an orange. As I peeled, I sniffed the open meat and decided it was more like a turnip.

I continued peeling and, when finished, I cut the vegetable into sticks (jicama is softer than a potato to cut or chop), oil sprayed a pizza pan and placed them in the oven at 350° F for half an hour. About half way through the baking, I decided to look at the jicama to see how it was doing and observed that the sticks had puffed a bit. How fun!

After 15 minutes of baking, the jicama sticks appear slightly puffed.

After 15 minutes of baking, the jicama sticks appear slightly puffed.

Tasting the Jicama

When I bit into one of the sticks, I was pleasantly surprised--it was sweet! I offered one to my son-in-law.

"It's raw," he said.

"They eat them raw, too," I replied.

"It's good!"

I also offered a sample to my daughter, but she refused. So, I ate the batch myself with a little Thai sauce, a tomato-based curry sauce. The spiciness of the sauce balanced the sweetness of the jicama.

Texture

The texture of this Mexican vegetable could be described as "juicy crunchy." If you have ever eaten a Bosc pear, water chestnut, or grapple (a grape-tasting apple), you'll be familiar with the texture of a jicama.

Ways to Flavor Jicama

This root vegetable is very mild in its flavor and can be combined in many different ways because it takes on the flavor of the other ingredients in a recipe. The table below shows some of the most popular flavorings used for a raw treat.

*The fruit may be dehydrated powder, juiced, or eaten on the side (oranges).

SpicesHerb or Fruit*Other

chili powder

cilantro

salsa

ginger

lemon or lime

sesame oil

red onion

orange

soy sauce

Interestingly enough, the Nutritional Data website usually lists pros and cons for every food analyzed. The jicama had no adverse or bad elements listed. Because of its high fiber content, the small amount of sugar in this vegetable is safe for diabetics, as it does not cause a high insulin reaction.

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Read More From Delishably

A cup of raw jicama provides 40% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C. The mineral content, from greatest to least, is as follows: 180 mg potassium, 21.6 mg phosphorus, 14.4 mg each of magnesium and calcium, 0.7 mg iron, 0.2 mg zinc, 0.1 mg each of manganese and copper, and 0.8 mcg selenium. In terms of recommended daily requirements for minerals as a percentage, the minerals break down as follows: potassium 5%; iron, magnesium, and manganese 4%; copper 3%; phosphorus 2%; and calcium, zinc and selenium with 1%.

Choosing and Using Jicama

How Jicama Grows

The jicama plant, which is poisonous except the tuber, grows best with the following conditions:

  • full sun
  • rich soil full of organic matter
  • spacing similar to squash
  • nine months (9 mos.) of hot weather or accommodation for same
  • pinching tops to encourage useable tuber size
  • frost protection
  • weevil protection

The tubers do not develop until daylight hours begin to diminish (less than nine hours, according to Colleen Vanderlinden). Harvest may take place immediately after the leaves have been damaged from frost and the plant has died. The peak time for jicama is from December to June.

Other English Names for Jicama

  • Mexican turnip
  • Mexican yam
  • Chinese potato
  • Chinese turnip
  • yam bean

A Bit of Science and History of the Jicama

The scientific name for this tuber is Pachyrhizus erosus, akin to the bean family. References suggest that the first known use for the plant was by the Aztecs, as recorded by Alonso de Molina, a Franciscan priest and grammarian who studied Nahuati, an Aztec language used by some natives of Mesoamerica.

Alonso's Spanish-Nahuati lexicon was published in 1571. The Spanish then introduced the vegetable to the Philippines, and, from the Philippines, cultivation spread to China and other parts of Southeast Asia, as well as Japan and India.

Bon Appetit

Although I had heard of the jicama from somewhere in my past, I couldn't even properly pronounce the name of this vegetable tuber, let alone know how to use it. In following my personal experience in food preparation, I successfully created some baked fries and enjoyed eating them.

I discovered the nutritional value of the jicama, researched how its grown, and learned some interesting history of the plant's cultivation in the process.

Jicamas can be used in soups, salads, and a variety of dishes where, perhaps, an apple, pear, or water chestnut is an ingredient in a recipe. The most popular dish is raw jicama with a little chili powder, lime juice, and a pinch of salt. More exotic recipes call for such things as mango, cucumber, sweet peppers, and even watermelon as a shish-kebob. Some raw food advocates use them in their green drinks because of the Vitamin C and enzyme content. One spice that comes to mind after sampling the jicama is cardamom. Cinnamon might also work.

Whatever your culinary persuasion, you might pick up a jicama from the specialty area of your local grocer's next time you are shopping and try the tuber, if you haven't already. You just might find a new like.

Credits and Resources

The photograph of the baking jicama sticks is my own work.

© 2014 Marie Flint

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