All Hail the Humble Jicama

Have you heard of jicama? I ask because few of the cashiers at the grocery store where I shop seem to know what it is, even when it’s an advertised special. I’ve been met with blank stares so often that I’ve memorized the price code to save flummoxed cashiers the trouble of looking it up. (The word is Spanish so the “j” is pronounced like an “h.” Much confusion ensues when I tell cashiers they’ll find “hicama” under “j” in their produce rolodex.)

So what exactly is it? Some people refer to it as a Mexican potato, but that comparison is not really accurate. A jicama is a tuber and it’s the same basic colour as a potato, but that’s where the similarities end. Where potatoes have thin skin and starchy flesh, jicamas have thick, fibrous skin and lighter, juicier flesh, closer in texture to an apple. And, unlike a potato, jicama is often eaten raw. It is crunchy and juicy, though not sweet. This tuber has a very long history, having been first domesticated in ancient Mesoamerica. (Diamond, Jared. (1999) Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton, p. 127.) 

For a light-coloured vegetable, jicama is surprisingly nutritious. According to SELF Nutrition Data, 250-mL (one cup) contains 40% of the recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin C and 24% of the RDA for fibre. Although low in saturated fat, jicama also contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Jicama is very refreshing and easy to prepare. When my son was young, I served it to him raw, in small slices shaped like French fries. It also makes a fabulous slaw, as I discovered many years ago. I clipped my very first jicama recipe in 1999 and have a well-worn copy of it in my recipe book to this day. It is still listed on the Vegetarian Times website if you want to give it a try. The slaw, shown below, is so easy–grated carrots and jicama, and a simple vinaigrette of lime juice, maple syrup or honey, olive oil, and a dash of hot sauce. It is perfect for summer and keeps well for a few days in the fridge. (As I’ve noted elsewhere, the grilled tofu in this recipe is pretty tasty too.)

​There are plenty of jicama recipes online. Because citrus is such a wonderful complement to jicama, a lot of the recipes you’ll find will be variations on slaw and salad, most with a citrus component. Jicama is not always served raw, however. Gauging by my search results, fries seem to be a popular method for cooking jicama. It can also be roasted in the oven or grilled. VegKitchen has a few recipes to get you started. I haven’t tried any of them…yet. They all sound delicious, so I plan to put them into my regular recipe rotation ASAP.

Image of jicama by Iamnee | Dreamstime

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