Foodstuff: Jicama

One might well take the object above as a potato at first glance but it is, in fact, a Jicama – a tuberous root native to Mexico. Although I have a number of cookbooks (chiefly Mexican) containing recipes for using this vegetable, this is the first time I have ever actually seen one and I am very pleased to finally be able to give it a try…

When I purchased the one you see in the picture, the store had about a dozen or so and this one was about the smallest, weighing in at just over a pound. Some I saw were about three times the size of this one and I gather that the heaviest on record reached an incredible 23 kilograms (or just over 50 pounds!).

Although native to Mexico, they are cultivated elsewhere and are popular in South-east Asia as well as the Philippines and Indonesia. It is a carbohydrate rich food but much of this is in the form of dietary fiber, particularly inulin, which makes the vegetable attractive not only to diabetics and ‘lo-carb’ers’, but also those who particularly enjoy the ‘musical’ side-effects of baked beans and such…

As you can see, the appearance, when cut, is also quite like a potato inside, although the flesh is little more fibrous and a paler white. The skin is quite potato-like as far as appearance and thickness goes but it is much tougher and, I daresay, completely inedible. It is fairly easy to peel with a common vegetable peeler, I found, but it is also possible to slip a knife beneath it and pull away strips without taking any of the flesh.

I didn’t notice any aroma in particular (although I was a little congested) but the taste was very nice. The texture was interesting – somewhere between a rather woody apple and a water chestnut – and there wasn’t really any of the starchy mouth-feel you rather expect given the potato-like appearance. When you first bite into it, the sweetness strikes you (although it is quite mild) and there is a very faint note of watermelon that lasts for a second or so. After that, the taste changes into something quite grassy and reminded me very much of chewing on a stalk of unripe grain. It was pleasant, overall, but not especially exciting.

Jicama is mostly eaten raw, especially mixed in salads, but it is also frequently served in wedges, either with just salt, and maybe some lime juice, or else along with some type of dip. Salsa is quite common in Mexico and my wife and I tried it this way, as you see pictured above. It was pleasant enough but I found that the salsa rather overwhelmed the delicate taste of the raw slices and I would try something else a bit milder and perhaps sweeter on another occasion.

There are also preparations that involve cooking the Jicama, of course, and I found an interesting one for a Jicama stir-fried with Shiitake and Scallops that I would like to try sometime. At the same site where I located that recipe there are also two others: one for ‘Grilled Jicama’ and another for a salad with Jicama, Beef and Snow Peas. It strikes me that it might be interesting to try something that combines the two…

25 thoughts on “Foodstuff: Jicama”

  1. I love making salads with jicama. I usually pair it with lentils, mangos, cucumbers and a lime-ginger cilantro vinaigrette, really tasty! I’ve also subbed them out for water chestnuts in certain recipes.

  2. Gosh, this is something I have never ever heard of and I have loads of Mexican cookery books too – I’ll go back and have a look at them now! An interesting post and great pictures!

  3. I just tried it for the first time when I made my Mango & Jicama salad. There were cucumbers in there, too. I used a honey lime vinaigrette and it was delicious. I was pleasantly surprised! Very boring by itself, but paired with those flavors it was crunchy and appealing. I may have to try it with a little salt like you said. Thanks for reminding me to pick up another one soon!

  4. This is also called a Mexican Turnip or, if you’re in South East Asia, a very common & easily found root vegetable simply known as Turnip or Bangkwang (the Malay/Indonesian/Peranakan word for this Turnip).

    If you get a young, fresh root, it can be very sweet, juicy and lovely as a snack … just peel the skin off, slice it into sticks and just eat it fresh or after chilling it in the fridge. 

    Makes a great alternative to potatoes or carrots as a roasted vegetable … have recently discovered this when substituting Jicama/Mexican Turnip for potatoes cooked with my roast chicken.

    In Singapore and Malaysia, it is also used to make the filling for a Peranakan dish like Popiah rolls (paper-thin wheat flour skins wrapped around a filling of stewed Turnip, lettuce leaves, sweet flour sauce, minced raw & crispy-fried garlic, red chili sauce, par-boiled bean sprouts & slivers of cooked prawns/shrimp) and Kueh Pie Tee (crispy deep-fried flour-based cups containing similar fillings as the Popiah).

    Cheers!
    Aldrin

  5. I love it raw! Other than salads, a good use for it is in a slaw: jicama and carrots, sliced super thin with a mandoline. So refreshing. I have just been browsing your blog and I was reminded, once again, how lucky I am to live in Southern California with all kinds of produce and fruit available at the drop of a hat. As you are so fond of cookbooks, do you find it’s sometimes hard to get the ingredients you want where you live?

    1. Yes … it is a constant difficulty. All our food must come via aircraft except for a few months in the summer when the sea is ice free and we get cargo ships in.

  6. We actually use the word turnip for something else entirely. Thank you very much for those links. I am sure my other readers will find them useful as well 🙂

  7. In Taiwan, these are cut match-stick size, and stir fried with ground pork or beef. In the Philippines, it is called, “singkamas.” It’s eaten raw and tastes best when chilled, especially in the summer. As street food, it is pickled with salt and some people like it with an anchovy-like paste made of tiny shrimps. I find this paste rather salty, though.

    This is a great blog. Thanks for stopping by and liking my post.

  8. I love jicama – lived in Mexico City for almost two years. I have yet to ever buy it (now living in CA). I’m now thinking I should try it out. Thanks!

  9. Jicama is great. You can use it wherever you need crunch. We eat it in salads as well as putting it in stir fries (in addition or as a substitute to water chestnuts)

  10. I love jicama but it’s not often fresh in my market, they should be smooth, firm and heavy. I bought a few that showed signs of drying and they were rotten inside!

    When I do get a fresh jicama, I like to use a japanese tool (Google: MIU France Plastic Spiral Slicer) It turns the jicama into long threads like spaghetti. I use a light cole slaw-like sauce and it is very refreshing! I especially like it with coconut shrimp!

  11. I’m glad you posted this review. I’ve been thinking about trying jicama but honestly didn’t know what to do with it.

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