This month, as part of Sierra Harvest’s farm to school program 6,500 Nevada County students tried number 4 on the “most feared veggies list.” And what did they have to say about it?
“This is so good. I want to marry this jicama,” said Onika, age 8
“It tastes like I’m in Heaven right now!” said Lucius, age 8
That’s right, this terrifying vegetable is none other than jicama. Pronounced hi-kuh-muh, it’s also known as Mexican yam bean, lo bok, and Mexican water chestnut or Chinese potato.
With an exotic name and bland exterior, it’s easy to see how jicama could be a suspicious vegetable, and it’s easy to be suspicious of what you don’t know. That’s the crux of why it can be hard for people to try new foods! But, as 8 year old Lucius reminded us, what you don’t know can be heavenly.
Jicama is a legume- which means that it’s in the same family as more commonly known fare such as peas, beans and peanuts. All members of this plant family give extra nitrogen back to the soil through nodules concentrated in their roots. Speaking of roots, jicama itself is a tuber, which in botanical terms means it’s a swollen root. Mmmm swollen roots, don’t those sound appetizing? In fact they are surprisingly so! These tubers are sweet, crunchy and filled with vitamin C and fiber. Traditionally served cut into spears and sprinkled with chili and lime, jicama is a popular snack in Mexico, where Farmer Javier was born.
Farmer Javier Zamora founded JSM organics in 2010 in Aromas, California after going to college at the age of 41. His farm grows many crops including strawberries, avocados and jicama that can be found at the Briar Patch Coop where he delivers fresh produce each week. Here’s the mission statement of his farm, “JSM Organics pledges to produce accessible and affordable organic food, to operate with integrity, provide education about their CCOF certified organic products, to respect people and the planet, and to value teamwork.” The farm supports 10 families and is now over 25 acres- starting at just 1.5 acres when they began!
Sierra Harvest has enjoyed working with JSM Organics because they went the extra mile for Nevada County students. Farmer Javier not only cut up the jicama into over 6,500 student sized servings, he also included a whole jicama plant for each classroom so the students could see what it looks like when it’s growing. For most teachers and students, this was a first!
We can’t let the teachers and students have all the fun. Here are some jicama hijinks to get you up to speed:
- A round, bulbous root vegetable with origins in the Mexican peninsula, jicama (pronounced hee-cama) is part of the legume family and grows on vines. This little-known tuber is grown in the warm climates of Central America, the Caribbean, the Andes Mountain regions, and Southern Asia, where it’s an important as well as extremely versatile food source.
- Spanish Traders introduced it to the Phillipines during the 17th century and from there it moved to South East Asia and China.
- Jicama was a dietary staple on ships because of its quenching properties and its ability to last long periods of time without refrigeration.
- With a taste like a cross between a potato and a pear, a single jicama can weigh from a few ounces up to six pounds!
- Very similar in texture to a turnip with a taste closer to an apple, jicama shares the monikers “Mexican water chestnut” and “Mexican yam bean” undoubtedly because of its crisp, white, solid flesh. But unlike yams with their edible peels, jicama skin is thick, tough, and not just unappealing but considered an organic toxin called rotenone, as are the vines and leaves.
- There is no cooking involved-eat it raw! Or try it cooked. Peel it like a potato end enjoy its moist crisp crunch! Jicama has a very mild sweet taste that absorbs flavors very well.
- High in Vitamin C and low in calories, jicama is mostly water and fiber. One cup has around 40 calories. Store in a cool, dark place for up to four weeks, and in the refrigerator when cut. But not too long, or the starch will convert to sugar! Slice off the top and bottom to create a flat surface, and then remove the peel in sections with a sturdy paring knife. When scouting out jicama at the supermarket, look for firm, round tubers. The smaller and younger, the sweeter and juicer.
- Besides healthy amounts of potassium, this little powerhouse can help promote heart health, since high-potassium vegetables and fruit are linked to lower risks of heart disease. Jicama contains important vitamins like folate, riboflavin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, and thiamin, and the minerals magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese.
Arguably, the best way to eat jicama is as a classic Mexican snack, marinated in lime juice and sprinkled with chile powder. Here’s a more complex version on the same theme by Rick Bayless.
Rustic Jicama Appetizer With Red Chile And Lime
Peel away the brown skin and fibrous exterior layer of the jicama (a small knife works best for this), then cut in half. Lay each half on its cut side and slice 1/4-inch thick; cut slices in half diagonally. Slice cucumbers lengthwise in half, scoop out the seeds (if there are a lot), and cut each half diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut stem and blossom end off oranges, stand oranges on cutting board and, working close to the flesh, cut away the rind and all white pith. Cut oranges in half, then slice each half crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices.
Mix the jicama, cucumbers, oranges, radishes and lime juice in a large bowl. Let marinate about 20 minutes, then season with salt. Pile the vegetables and fruit onto a serving platter and drizzle with any accumulated juices. Sprinkle liberally with the powdered chile, top with the optional pickled onions and strew with the chopped cilantro. Garnish with the cilantro sprigs and your simple crunchy appetizer is ready to set before your guests.
Variations and Improvisations: This recipe is very flexible: It can be made with just jicama or just cucumber; sliced young raw turnips make an interesting addition, as does sliced raw fennel, apple or Asian pear. Oranges can easily be varied to grapefruit and tangerines, while the powdered chile may be replaced with bottled hot sauce.