What's This?

Oh, it's Jicama!

 


Every once in a while, we like to explore a seasonal ingredient that may or may not have made its way into your culinary repertoire.  And we’re naming the effort after the thought that (quietly) crosses our minds when we stumble upon something unfamiliar, but clearly, probably, edible: What’s this?

 

Because it’s only two months away from season’s end, and because it’s so knobby and imposing, we figured we’d tackle jicama. Admittedly, jicama isn’t entirely unfamiliar, especially given the popularity of Latin American cuisine. But it’s also not as common as it could be, considering what it has to offer (low calorie, high fiber crunch-factor, potential chip substitute for snack addicts). So without further ado, a few facts to get you acquainted (and cooking) with Jicama...


Jicama image via Shutterstock

The Facts:

Plant Name: There are actually two jicama varieties, but the more commercially common variety is Pachyrrhizus erosus. We know, that’s about as helpful as knowing the Latin name for the muscle you just pulled.
 

Native to: Mexico, where it’s also referred to as the yam bean, Mexican potato, or Mexican turnip; also grown in Central and South America and California, and—thanks to Spanish explorers—also popular in the Philippines and East and Southeast Asia.
 

Season: Nearly year-round, but best from December to June in the Northern Hemisphere.
 

Plant Stats: It’s actually the root of a larger vine plant, the only edible part, in fact (the rest of the plant is fairly toxic, used in some animal poisons; but don’t let that deter you, people have been eating xicamalt successfully ever since the Aztecs first dug it up).
 

Selling Points:  Nutritious—50 calories, 6.4 grams of fiber, and 40% of daily Vitamin C per cup. Also easy to eat: just grab some lime juice and chili pepper for a traditional, refreshing, low-cal summer snack.
 

Drawbacks: Like many fruits and vegetables, jicama can be a possible, but not extremely common, source of bacterial contamination—mainly shigellosis, a not-so-fun intestinal situation that tends to go away on its own after a week or so. Buy unblemished, smooth jicama from a trusted source, and wash and store properly. When in doubt, throw it out.
 

Looks Like: Sort of a squat globe in brown paper bag-colored skin. More simply, resembles a flatter turnip, with skin like a potato but thicker and often waxy.
 

Tastes Like: Slightly sweet and very delicately earthy, with a great crunchy and watery texture when eaten raw (like a water chestnut, but giant, and more flavorful).
 

Sourcing:  You can buy jicama at many Latin groceries, and even well-stocked standard grocery stores.  Look for medium-smaller roots, as larger roots are more watery and so less flavorful. Also choose jicama with smooth skin; marks indicate bruising. 
 

Storage: Store uncut jicama in a cool, dry place for no more than a couple weeks; store cut jicama in a loose plastic bag with a paper towel, to absorb excess moisture and prevent rotting. 
 

Preparation: You’re buying the root, but be sure to cut off any green stem poking through. Then simply rinse and peel the rough outer skin (this may require some elbow grease and a good paring knife). Use either raw—cut jicama won’t brown—or cooked, where it can be treated similar to a potato. 

 

A Few Jicama Recipes to Get You Started:

Grilled Jicama, Radishes, Scallions, and Chicken with Asian Style Chimichurri

Penang Fried Rice Noodles with Jicama

Red Pepper and Walnut Dip on Jicama Slices

Steamed Pork and Jicama Dumplings

Jicama Slaw

 


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