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Published April 15, 2009, 12:00 AM

Jicama: The Mexican potato

Mastering a foreign language would be considered quite an accomplishment by most people.

By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald

Mastering a foreign language would be considered quite an accomplishment by most people.

I took German in college and in high school (in lieu of shop class, which might explain my lack of handyman skills) and had a pretty good understanding of the language. My only regret is that I didn’t keep up with it.

While more than a little rusty these days, I imagine it wouldn’t take me too long to get back to where my skills were roughly 40 years ago — with some hard work.

One language I wished would have been offered at my high school was Spanish. With the growing Hispanic population in the U.S., Spanish is going to become more and more valuable. Personally, it would be nice to know in case I ever decided to go Mexico, Spain or some other Spanish-speaking country.

Despite my lack of Spanish language expertise, the pronunciation of jicama, which I recently discovered to be a very tasty vegetable, didn’t come as a surprise to me.

Jicama is pronounced “hicama.” I know that the letter “j” is pronounced like the letter “h” by Spanish speakers, as well as that double “ll” is pronounced like “j.” That’s because back in my first year of college, Carolina Gervais of rural Red Lake Falls, Minn., and some of her Colombian friends, had given me a little language lesson.

I hadn’t thought too much about that until Wilma Smith, Grand Forks, recently asked by about jicama. She was reading a recipe that featured the vegetable and wanted to know something about it.

About all I could tell her about jicama was how to pronounce it, which led me on a quest to find out more about the veggie known as the Mexican potato, yam bean and Mexican turnip.

About jicama

Here’s what I found out:

Jicama is a legume that is grown mostly in Mexico and South America for its large tuberous roots, which can be eaten raw or cooked. Most of those you find in the supermarket will weigh between 3 and 5 pounds.

Nutritionally, jicama is a low-calorie food (23 calories in a ½-cup serving) that contains high amounts of dietary fiber and vitamin C. It also has very little sodium and no cholesterol.

Like potatoes, jicamas can be steamed, baked, boiled, mashed or fried. (First, you must peel and discard fibrous flesh just below peeling.) But unlike our Red River Valley reds or russets, they also can be eaten raw. Raw jicama has a light, crisp and juicy flavor, much like that of an apple or pear.

Many like to slice jicama into wide sticks and have them with guacamole and other seasoned dips such as ranch or thousand island. Cut up into squares, jicama can enhance a fresh fruit salad, absorbing and reflecting surrounding flavors.

Jicama also is good in stir-fries, which is how I fixed it recently. (See recipe for Jicama, Shiitake and Scallop Stir-Fry on this page.) It’s consistency and ability to stay firm and not get mushy reminded me of water chestnuts.

Like most other root crops, jicamas keep for a long time in the refrigerator. But conversion of starch to sugar will result if stored for excessive periods and should be avoided.

Any size jicama is suitable to eat. Look for well-formed tubers that appear fresh and are free of cracks and bruises.

Now, that’s a whole lot of information that I couldn’t have learned in shop class.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at