Jicama is a crispy, sweet, edible tuber that resembles a turnip in physical appearance, although the plants are not related. It has been cultivated in South America for centuries, and the vegetable is quite popular in Mexican cuisine. Jicama's unique flavor lends itself well to salads, salsas, and vegetable platters. The tubers can sometimes grow to be quite large, although when they exceed the size of two fists, they begin to convert the sugars that give them their sweet flavor into starches, making them somewhat woody to the taste.
Actually the tuberous root of a legume plant, jicama grows on vines that may reach 20 feet (6 meters) in length. The vines tend to hug the ground, ending in tubers that may grow up to 50 pounds (22 kilograms) in size, although the majority of those sent to market are approximately 3 to 4 pounds (1.3 to 2 kilograms) in weight. Before eating, the coarse brown outer layer should be peeled to reveal the white inside.
When choosing jicama at the store, shoppers should look for medium sized, firm tubers with dry roots. Wet or soft spots may indicate rot, and shoppers should not be drawn to overlarge ones, because they may not be as flavorful. They should not be refrigerated, as temperatures of less than around 50° F (10° C) will damage them..
Jicama is excellent raw and is sometimes eaten plain. It can also be used as a substitute for water chestnut in Chinese dishes, in which case it should be thrown in right before serving. The roots also appear in stews, juiced drinks, stuffings, and a variety of other recipes. In addition to having a unique flavor and texture, jicama takes flavor well, making it well suited to culinary experimentation. It's a great source of vitamin C and is fat free — making it a great on-the-go snack.
The plants grow best in warm, dry climates. They can be planted and grown year round, although tubers form better during the winter time. Jicama plants sprouted in the late spring tend to produce extremely robust tubers by the winter, while those planted in the summer produce the most flavorful ones, although they are typically somewhat smaller. The plant prefers full sun and moderate rainfall, and it is subject to frost damage, making it a poor choice for northern climates. In addition, jicama produces a natural insecticide in the above ground vine, meaning that the plant protects itself from harmful pests.