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.
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