Jicama is a crispy, sweet, edible root that resembles a turnip in physical appearance, although the plants are not related.
Jicama has been cultivated in South America for centuries, and the vegetable is quite popular in Mexican cuisine. Jicama has a unique flavour that lends itself well to salads, salsas, and vegetable platters. The roots can sometimes grow to be quite large, although when they exceed the size of two fists, they begin to convert the sugars that give jicama its sweet flavour into starches, making the root somewhat woody to the taste.
Jicama is actually a legume, and it grows on vines that may reach six metres in length. The vines tend to hug the ground, terminating in tubers that may grow up to 22 kg in size, although the majority of jicama roots sent to market are approximately 1 – 2 kg in weight. Before eating, the coarse brown outer layer of the jicama should be peeled to reveal the white inside.
When choosing jicama at the store, look for medium sized, firm tubers with dry roots. Do not purchase jicama that has wet or soft spots, which may indicate rot, and don’t be drawn to overlarge examples of the tuber, because they may not be as flavourful. Jicama will keep under refrigeration for up to two weeks.
Jicama is excellent raw and is sometimes eaten plain. It can also be used as a substitute for water chestnuts in Chinese dishes, in which case it should be thrown in right before serving. Jicama also appears in stews, juiced drinks, stuffing, and a variety of other recipes. In addition to having a unique flavour and texture, jicama takes flavour well, making it well suited to culinary experimentation. Jicama is a great source of vitamin C and is fat free — making it a superb on-the-go snack.
Jicama grows best in warm, dry climates. It can be planted and grown year round, although tubers form better during the winter time. Jicama plants sprouted in the late spring tend to produce extremely robust tubers by the winter, while jicama planted in the summer produces the most flavourful tubers, although they are typically somewhat smaller. Jicama prefers full sun and moderate rainfall, and it is subject to frost damage, making it a poor choice for southern climates. In addition, jicama produces a natural insecticide in the above ground vine, meaning that the plant protects itself from harmful pests.
Jicama In Cooking
The root’s exterior is yellow and papery, while its inside is creamy white with a crisp texture that resembles raw potato or pear. The flavour is sweet and starchy, reminiscent of some apples or raw green beans, and it is usually eaten raw, sometimes with salt, lemon, or lime juice, alguashte, and chilli powder. It is also cooked in soups and stir-fried dishes. Jícama is often paired with chilli powder, coriander (cilantro), ginger, lemon, lime, orange, red onion, salsa, sesame oil, grilled fish, and soy sauce. It can be cut into thin wedges and dipped in salsa. In Mexico, it is popular in salads, fresh fruit combinations, fruit bars, soups, and other cooked dishes. In contrast to the root, the remainder of the jícama plant is very poisonous; the seeds contain the toxin rotenone, which is used to poison insects and fish.
Spread to Asia
Spaniards spread cultivation of jícama from Mexico to the Philippines (where it is known as singkamas, from Nahuatl xicamatl), from there it went to China and other parts of Southeast Asia, where notable uses of raw jícama include popiah, fresh lumpia in the Philippines and salads in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia such as yusheng and rojak.
In the Philippines, jícama is usually eaten fresh with condiments such as rice vinegar and sprinkled with salt, or with bagoong (shrimp paste). In Malay, it is known by the name ubi sengkuang. In Indonesia, jícama is known as bengkuang. This root crop is also known by people in Sumatra and Java, and eaten at fresh fruit bars or mixed in the rojak (a kind of spicy fruit salad). Padang a city in West Sumatra is called “the city of bengkuang”. Local people might have thought that this jícama is the “indigenous crop” of Padang. The crop has been grown everywhere in this city and it has become a part of their culture.
It is known by its Chinese name bang kuang to the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia. Jícama has become popular in Vietnamese food as an ingredient in pie, where it is called cây củ đậu (in northern Vietnam) or củ sắn or sắn nước (in southern Vietnam).
In Japanese, it is known as 葛芋 (kuzu-imo). In Myanmar, it is called စိမ်းစားဥ (Sane-saar-u). Its Thai name is มันแกว (man kaeo). In Bengali, it is known as shankhalu (শাঁখ আলু), literally translating to “conch (shankha, শাঁখ) potato (alu, আলু)” for its shape, size and colour. In Hindi, it is known as mishrikand (मिश्रीकंद). It is eaten during fast (उपवास) in Bihar (India) and is known as kesaur (केसौर). In Odia, it is known as (ଶଙ୍ଖ ସାରୁ) Shankha Saru. In Laos, it is called man phao (ມັນເພົາ), smaller and tastes a little sweeter than the Mexican type. It is used as a snack by peeling off the outer layer of the skin, then cutting into bite sizes for eating like an apple or a pear.
Substitutes for Jicama
- Water Chestnuts – These are more expensive and sweeter than jicama. Like jicama, water chestnuts retain their crispiness when stir-fried.
- Jerusalem Artichoke – Like jicama, these can be eaten raw and they stay crunchy even when stir-fried. They’re more expensive than jicama, but they have an earthier, nuttier flavour.
- Daikon Radish