Jicama, yam bean (Pachyrhizus erosus)

FABACEAE, Legume Family

Jicama, yam bean, Mexican potato, or Mexican turnip(Pachyrhizus erosus) has been eaten in Central America for many centuries, and is now a common commodity in U.S. stores. Its sweet below-ground structure is sometimes called a taproot or tuberous root and sometimes a tuber. In our course, we will treat it basically as a mildly sweet taproot that tastes and crunches like a crispy water-chestnut (Trapa). The crop is cultivated in frost-free climates, grown in rows from seeds, and within a year this vine is harvested for its large taproot. To eat jicama, only the fibrous brownish peel must be removed. The rest of the plant, a legume with trifoliate leaves, is thrown away.

Although jicama commonly in California is added raw to salads or prepared as strips, like carrots, in Mexico the ivory-colored flesh is marinated with Mexico lime and then served topped with chili powder. Because Mexican lime is not available around here, you can also marinate jicama in sour orange, to achieve approximately the same flavor--chili powder is optional. There are many recipes in cookbooks and online for cooking jicama as well in order to utilize this high-protein, low fat food, although deep-frying jicama, although tasty, would be counterproductive.

Residents of Mexico also recognize jicama as one of the four elements used for "The Festival of the Dead," celebrated on November 1. The other foods are sugar cane (from southern Asia), tangerines (from eastern Asia), and peanuts (from Bolivia), so this is not a strictly native festival. During the festival, "jicama dolls" are cut from strips of paper.

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