Would a yam bean by any other name taste as sweet?
No matter what you call it—Mexican potato, chop suey yam, Juicy Root, poison-pea tuber—(okay, I made those last two up), jicama is a refreshing, crunchy veggie treat.
Fleshy root of a plant that’s a member of the pea family, jicama (pronounced HEE-ka-ma) is about as happy-go-lucky as a veggie can get, with a mellow disposition and a texture similar to that of a ripe apple—crisp and juicy, without the slightest hint of mealiness. Peeled and sliced, jicama is tasty out of hand, but it also plays well with others, melding seamlessly into salads both savory and sweet. What’s not to love about a veggie so laid-back and versatile?
Funny you should ask: like so many who put on innocent airs, jicama actually harbors a dark secret…
Poison Peas and Pesticides
While its root benefits are plain to see, travel above ground and the jicama plant turns toxic, churning out seeds containing the poison rotenone. While this substance can be lethal to humans in large quantities, it’s most dangerous to bugs and fish and is used as an insecticide and piscicide. (For all your pesky fish-infestation needs.)
Cool Crunch Takes Root
Luckily the jicama plant’s tuberous, refreshing root is not only nontoxic, but a great source of both fiber and vitamin C. And the sweet taste that makes it so delicious? That comes from the prebiotic fiber inulin, a favored fuel of good bacteria in your gut. (Not sure what a prebiotic is? Check out this Mayo Clinic page.) So stick to the root of the jicama plant—which shouldn’t be too hard to do, considering that tropical jicama doesn’t grow well in most of the continental United States—and you’re in for a non-poisonous, crunch-tastic veggie experience.
Buy: Find jicama at your local supermarket, Whole Foods, or international grocery; choose roots that are smooth and heavy for size. While an unblemished jicama with a satiny sheen is ideal, in the real world you’ll want to avoid dried-up-looking, wrinkly, or molded specimens. (I had a run-in with the latter: my jicama, which had just a few moldy spots, magically sprouted all-over white fur within two days of purchase—extreme ick!).
Store: Keep whole, uncut jicama in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks. (The same way you’d store potatoes.) Contrary to what some websites say, don’t store whole jicama in the fridge—according to this University of California-Davis page, they are susceptible to “chilling injury” (decay, discoloration, and loss of crisp texture) at temperatures below 50oF. I’ve seen this firsthand—the mold-bitten jicamas I came across at one store were displayed in a refrigerator case; the best-looking ones I found were at my local H-Mart, stashed in a cardboard box just off the floor.
Once cut, store jicama the fridge and use within a week.
Jicama doesn’t turn brown when cut, so it makes for a conversation-starting addition to veggie trays and bag lunches. You can also dice jicama and toss it into salads; shred it and make slaw; or even add cubes to stir fries. (Although, I can’t say I’ve tried cooking it yet—tell me all about it if you try it!)
Mellow jicama meshes nicely with cilantro, mint, chiles, lime juice, and most fruits. (Though not necessarily all at once.)