Jicama is an ancient food-tuber, purportedly eaten by the Mayans. It’s a vining plant that grows in Central America and as far north as Mexico. It also has naturalized in Asia, but it is not native to that region. While people have tried to grow jicama in the states, the jicama roots are piddly in comparison to the monsters of Mexico. In Mexico, the days are long enough that the root can grow into its maximum, a six pound tuber with a round mass a bit smaller than a volleyball.
Other names for jicama are the Mexican yam, Mexican water chestnut, or yam bean, and with all of these, one can see how the names fit well. After you peel the jicama and chop it up into bite-able portions, there’s definitely a water chestnut flavor to the plant. Also , it’s called a yam because its a big tuber that grows by vine. And as far as the bean goes, the plant is actually a legume. This is certainly the largest of all tuberous legumes. Some of the other tuberous legumes in the states, ground potato, earth pea, air potato, even peanut have much smaller tubers in comparison.
Like the roots of dandelions, chicories, and sunchokes, jicama is high in the pre-biotic inulin. Many tout the health benefits of pre-biotics, such as inulin, as these prebiotics have been shown to increase good bacteria in the gut. Folks suffering from IBS might want to stay clear of the plant though, as inulin is also one of those fructans that can irritate the gut in people who are sensitive.
Tastes like …, smells like … ??
My initial observation on cutting into the jicama is that it smells like the combination of apple and soil. My kids described it as having a compost smell, and I could see how they would say this. Though, “apple and soil” sounds more like something a person might want to eat, so let’s go with that. A few weeks ago, we made jicama into a salsa that turned out delicious. The recipe is below. After you get past the unusual smell, the flavor is actually quite good. Mixed with the other ingredients in the salsa, it gave the entire dish a sweet flavor that even my kids were happy to eat.
Here’s a rough recipe for Jicama salsa. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down a formal recipe at the time, but these ingredients should give you a good guide as to what to put in. My amounts are just educated guesses. You’ll have to discover your own preferred amounts through taste and experimentation.
This is a sweet salsa and an excellent way to try out Jicama for the first time.
- 1 diced large Jicama tuber
- 2 diced Tomatillos
- 4 diced Tomatoes
- 1 large onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 diced pepper (hot or mild)
- olive oil
- apple cider vinegar
Put ingredients in a pot. Drizzle olive oil and apple cider vinegar over the mixture. Add cayenne and salt to taste. Heat mixture until boiling. Let cool. Put in blender on high until mixture is thoroughly salsa-fied. Put in the refrigerator until it's ready to eat.