When you look at the solid brown orb known as jicama the word "bean" probably won't be the first thing you think of. Jicama appears to be a root vegetable, but it's also a member of the Fabaceae family, the same group that counts peas as the main member. Jicama (pronounced HEE-kah-mah) doesn't look, feel or act like a pea or bean, though there may be the smallest bit of the flavor ensconced in this ingredient's crunchy white flesh. This veggie is commonly used in Mexican cuisine, and there is plenty you can do with it.
What Is Jicama?
Jicama is a member of the bean family but its tuberous root is what is consumed and so it often is treated much like one of many root vegetables. Jicama is a crunchy root that's native to Mexico where the food also goes by the names yam bean, Mexican turnip, and Mexican potato. But unlike many other root vegetables, jicama has a snap to it and a juiciness that's refreshing, not starchy. Jicama also differs from other similar foods insofar is that jicama tastes delicious when peeled and eaten raw; that's not something you can do with a potato.
In the garden, the jicama grows on a vine up to 20 feet tall, but the only edible part of the plant is the bulbous root underground, which can be as small as a Gala apple or grow as big as two fists put together. This plant thrives in areas where it's hot all year round, such as Mexico and South America. Harvested for centuries in those regions, jicama is now grown in parts of Asia and in the Philippines as well.
How to Use Jicama
The most traditional way to eat this food is by peeling, slicing it into strips, and munching on it raw, usually with lemon or lime juice and chili powder. Street vendors in Mexico sell bags of this treat, which proves particularly satisfying on a hot day.
Because the flesh is so porous, jicama picks up flavors well. Marinate it with citrus and the spices of your choice and add chunks to a salad. Or make it the main component and use a tangy dressing to give it flair. Jicama goes great with greens, olives, avocado, hummus, lime, grilled fish, and roasted pork. It can be sliced thinly and added to a sandwich for some crunch; it can also be used in lieu of a corn tortilla for tacos.
Cooking jicama proves tasty, too, though it needs a gentle touch when it comes to heat. Instead, pan fry over medium-low heat, steam lightly, or roast until just tender. Add it to the end of the cooking process if you're making something like chili or a Mexican-style soup. Jicama is similar in texture to an apple and, likewise, you can keep that famous crunch as long as you don't overcook it.
What Does Jicama Taste Like?
There's a slight sweet starchiness to the food, which adds a bit of heft to jicama, making it feel more filling, though it's still light enough to eat a whole root in one sitting. Jicama has a pleasant crunch and an almost nutty flavor, similar to a fresh water chestnut.
Most of the time jicama is eaten raw, with or without a marinade, making it an easy addition to all sorts of dishes. Cut into small chunks or shred and try jicama out in slaws, chili, or salads.
- Mexican Chicken Salad
- Asian Coleslaw With Rice Vinegar Dressing
- Crock Pot Vegetarian Black Bean Chili
Where to Buy Jicama
Even though jicama mainly makes an appearance in Latin American cuisines, you can find this food in the produce section of most grocery stores and in specialty markets all year long.
Select a firm, dry bulb with smooth, unblemished light brown skin. Avoid jicama that's soft to the touch or has a shriveled, bruised look to it. The circumference will vary, too, from as small as a green apple to the size of a softball. As far as taste goes, size doesn't matter.
Keep jicama whole and unpeeled in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or for about a week on your counter as long as it's not in sunlight or the kitchen gets too hot. Once peeled, you can slice the vegetable and keep it in water in the refrigerator for a few days, but it's best to eat it fresh, soon after cutting.