Jicama: Kitchen Basics

JicamaJicama snack time.

Drizzle lime juice over thin jicama slices and sprinkle with chili-seasoned salt.

Jicama is a squat, knobby, earth-colored root vegetable that resembles a turnip with an apple-like, nutty flavor. Its stark white flesh is cool and crunchy and perfect for eating out of hand after peeling. Jicama can be diced and added to fruit salads or speared and featured on dessert trays next to cantaloupe and pears and cheese cubes.

But the jicama is not just for snacks or desserts. You can combine it with other vegetables in stir-fries or add it to savory soups and green salads or stew it with meat and poultry. You can mash jicama like a potato.

The jicama (pronounce HEE-cah-mah) is native to Mexico and Central America and so is popular in the cookery there. If you can’t find jicama at your farm market, you’ll find it at your local Latin market.

The jicama’s introduction to the Philippines more than three hundred years ago has given it wider acceptance. It is now used in Southeast Asian and Chinese cuisines because it easily absorbs the flavor of other cooked foods without losing its texture. You will find it often in sweet-and-sour dishes. But if you are looking for jicama at your local Asian market, you may have to ask for it by another common name: ‘chop suey bean’.

The jicama is the tuber of a twining herbaceous plant that grows as a perennial in the tropics and as an annual in temperate regions. The jicama usually produces one or two dust-brown tubers.

There are two varieties of jicama. The first, Pachyrhizus erosus, is smaller than the second and most popular in Mexico and Central America. This jicama grows 6 to 8 inches long and is slightly flattened at the ends. This jicama can be eaten raw or cooked. It is crisp, juicy, and sweet.

The second variety, Pachyrhizus tuberosus, is the larger of the two and grows in both tropical and temperate zones. It can be found the Andes region of Ecuador, in the Caribbean, and in China. This jicama grows from 8 to 12 inches long and is harvested when about 1 inch in diameter. It is juicy and almost always eaten raw.

Jicamas range in weight from a few ounces (100 g) to 6 pounds (2.7 kg); most weigh about half a pound (220 g).

Local season. The peak season for jicama is autumn through late spring, October through June in the northern hemisphere.

Choose. Select well-formed, small- to medium-size jicamas with smooth unblemished skins. The skin should be thin and easily scratched with your thumb nail to reveal the creamy white flesh. Avoid thick-skinned jicamas or those that are cracked or bruised or shriveled. Large jicamas will be thick-skinned, fibrous, and dry.

Amount. Allow about ¼ pound per person when used for appetizers and salads.

Store. Jicamas, like potatoes, will keep in a cool, dry place uncovered for up to 3 weeks. Avoid exposure to moisture which will cause mold. Once cut or sliced jicama should be wrapped in plastic and can be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Prepare. The skin of the jicama is not edible. Scrub well removing any dirt and peel with a paring knife before using. Grate or cut into cubes, julienne strips, or slices. To avoid discoloring after cutting, submerge jicama slices in a bowl of acidulated water before cooking.

Cook. Jicama cooks like a potato and can be boiled, baked, steamed, and fried. If cooked briefly it will retain its starchy but apple-like texture.

Jicamas are used as a substitute for water chestnuts in Asian cooking. They have the same refreshingly crisp texture.

Serve. Jicamas can be served raw or cooked. Here are some serving ideas:

  • Cut into spears and use for dipping and appetizers.
  • Cut into squares and add to fruit salad.
  • Serve mashed or baked like a potato.
  • Add diced to seafood, poultry, mixed green or orange and onion salads.
  • Julienne-cut and stir-fry with other vegetables
  • Add to soups, vegetables, rice, quiches, meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Sauté with carrots or green beans.
  • Stir-fry with chicken or shrimp.
  • Simmer in savory stews like a potato.
  • Serve cut sticks with squeeze of lime and a chili powder.

Flavor partners. Jicamas have a flavor affinity for chili powder, cilantro, ginger, grilled fish, lemon, lime, oranges, red onion, salsa, sesame oil, soy sauce.

Nutrition. Jicama is high in potassium and fair source of vitamin C. One cup of shredded jicama contains about 50 calories.

Jicama facts and trivia. Jicamas that grow in Central America and Mexico are sometimes called ‘yam beans’.

The ancient Mayans and Aztecs cultivated the jicama. Spanish explorers took the jicama to the Philippines in the seventeenth century. From there, it spread throughout Asia and the Pacific.

The botanical name of jicama is Pachyrhizus erosus.