Jicama (Pachyrrhizus erosus) is a member of the Fabaceae or pea family, and is also known as the yam bean, Chinese yam, Mexican potato, or Mexican turnip. It has many names around the world, from kuzuimo in Japan and dolique tubereaux or pais patate in France to sankalu in India. It should not be confused with the similarly named African yam bean, a perennial bush bean plant in which both the seeds and roots can be consumed.

Though its origin is not entirely clear, jicama has long been grown in Mexico, as well as Central and South America. It is also cultivated in the West Indies and was taken by Spaniards to the Philippines centuries ago, where it became a popular part of Asian diets.

Like potatoes, jicama is a tuber with brown skin and white flesh. Unlike its root relative, jicama is a juicy, sweet, nutty-flavored treat and can be eaten raw (after removing the skin) or cooked. Similar in texture to a water chestnut, jicama will retain its crispness even after boiling. It is a popular addition to many dishes or as a crunchy apple-like raw snack.

Although growers in Hawaii, California, Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico have achieved success in smaller scale jicama production, most commercial shipments to the United States or Canada come from Mexico for year-round availability.

References: Cornell University, University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of California Cooperative Extension.

 

TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS

There are two principle varieties, jicama de agua (water) and jicama de leche (milk), so named to differentiate the internal juice. Most jicama cultivated for U.S. consumption is the water variety, within a round root shaped like a turnip. The other, less common milk variety has an elongated, knobby root with white juice.

Once planted by seed, jicama grows as a sturdy, fast-spreading vine above ground with a slowly developing root within the soil. Ample white or blue-purple flowers and pods are visible as the tuber grows beneath the plant.

Though immature pods are sometimes eaten, all parts of the plant above ground contain a harmful toxin called rotenone, to keep predators at bay. Care should be taken to consume only the white flesh of the tuber, after cutting away the rough, fibrous skin.

Jicama grows best in sunny, temperate climates and is sensitive to frost. Seeds should be planted in well-drained loamy soil, in rows with plenty of space for its rapidly-spreading vines. Flowers should be culled early for optimal root development.

Growth is slow and takes months, dependent on day-length and temperature.

References: Cornell University, University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of California Cooperative Extension.

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