The Mexican Potato: Jicama, a Lesser Known Edible Tuber

Updated on August 11, 2018
Diced, Raw Jicama with Seasonings of Chili Pepper, Lime, and Salt
Diced, Raw Jicama with Seasonings of Chili Pepper, Lime, and Salt | Source

Discovering the Jicama in the Grocery

Now that I'm living in Florida, I am exposed to many new things. While 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?" (Jicama is pronounced 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.

Spices
Herb or Fruit*
Other
chili powder
cilantro
salsa
ginger
lemon or lime
sesame oil
red onion
orange
soy sauce
*The fruit may be dehydrated powder, juiced, or eaten on the side (oranges).

Jicama Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 cup (120 g)
Calories 46
Calories from Fat0
% Daily Value *
Fat 0 g
Saturated fat 0 g
Unsaturated fat 0 g
Carbohydrates 11 g4%
Sugar 2 g
Fiber 6 g24%
Protein 1 g2%
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 5 mg
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

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.

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

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        Frankly, I have not used jicama since originally publishing this article. However, in reviewing it and making edits, I feel inspired to check out the grocer's for this tuber next time I go shopping. Maybe I'll even try growing it in my garden.

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        Thank you, Shades, for the read and comment.

        In looking back over this article, I hadn't realized that I put so much information into it.

        Comments are helpful for the writer because it encourages him or her to reread the article for updates and, possibly, missed typos or other little editorial necessities.

        Thank you!

      • Shades-of-truth profile image

        Emily Tack 

        4 years ago from USA

        Like you, I live in Florida, and discovered jicama. My husband and I love it!

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 

        5 years ago from Wales

        Interesting and so very useful Marie; voted up for sure.

        Eddy.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        5 years ago from The Caribbean

        Jicama in a salad sounds like a good idea. I am encourage to try it. Thank you for sharing way to use it.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        5 years ago from Queensland Australia

        Ok thanks for that Marie. Yes the sweetpotato can be yellow or pinky red but has a quite dry texture, and strong sweet flavour. more similar to a yam. The jicama looks more like a light coloured turnip.

      • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

        Marie Flint 

        5 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        Hi, Jodah! This tuber is different from the sweet potato, which, as I recall is a pale yellow? I always get confused with the difference between the sweet potato and yam. The jicama is a "light" sweet and, unlike the sweet potato or yam, is fairly juicy. Thanks for the visit and comment!

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        5 years ago from Queensland Australia

        Hi Marie, The Jicama sounds like a very versatile vegetable. Never heard of it and I'm sure we can't get them here in Australia. The fact that you said it tastes 'sweet' makes it sound similar in flavour to a sweet potato that we grow in abundance. Anyway I find it interesting to read about foods I haven't heard of. Thanks.

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