COMMON NAME: Jicama, Yam Bean
BOTANICAL NAME: Pachyrrhizus erosus
PRONUNCIATION: pah-key-RISE-us eh-RO-sus
TYPE: Tropical annual legume – Sun
HEIGHT: 3-4 feet
SPREAD: 4-5 feet
SPACING: 8-10 feet
HABIT: Vigorous spreading, bushy vine that has heart-shaped leaves and blue or white flowers and lima bean-like pods on fully developed plants.
CULTURE: Easy to grow in well-drained healthy soils. Plant the beans in the spring. Rows 2’-3’ apart with plants 8”-10” on center. Use the basic fertilization schedule and remove flowers from young plants to encourage the expansion of roots, the edible part of the plant.
HARVEST: Like potatoes, jicama may be harvested at any time during root development although miniature roots have tender skin.
PROBLEMS: The usual caterpillars and beetles attack the foliage at times.
NOTES: Native to Mexico and northern Central America. Common name is pronounced HICK-a-ma. Only the root portion of jicama is edible. Leaves, flowers and stems of the plant contain rotenone, a natural insecticide that I don’t even recommend for pest control. Eating any of these parts of the plant can cause a toxic reaction.
VARIETIES: (Pachyrrizus erosus) has two subtypes: one with watery, transparent juice (agua) and one with a cloudy, milky juice (leche.) The leche type has a longer tuber, the agua type is more onion shaped.
Jicama is a root vegetable. Member of the morning glory family, it's related to sweet potato.
Jicama is grown from square, brownish seeds that take 5 to 9 months for its roots (tubers) to be ready to harvest. If not harvested, the tubers can grow 6 feet long and weigh about 50 pounds but at this point they are very woody and past their usefulness for food.
Above ground, the plant grows as a broad-leafed vine about 20 to 30 feet long depending on variety. It blossoms with light purple or white flowers, which will produce fuzzy beans. The flowers are often removed so that the tubers will be larger.
The tuber is shaped a bit like a turnip or a beet. It can weigh from 8 oz to 6 pounds. The tuber has a short root attached to it.
The light brown or tan colored skin will have blotches on it, which shouldn't be confused with actual blemishes. The skin is fibrous, so it must be peeled away completely, including any layer of fiber under the skin. Young ones will have a thin skin, and bruise more easily. Older ones have thicker skin and ship better. The flesh inside is crunchy, white and a bit sweet.
Jicama is now popular in Southeast Asia. Attempts so far to grow it in California haven't turned out well, as the season is not long enough for sizable tuber growth. It is imported into North America from Latin America.
Choose smaller ones with no blemishes on the skin as blemishes indicate bruises underneath (though color blotches are fine.) Larger ones can be a bit woody, dry and starchy.
COOKING TIPS FOR JICAMA
Peel before using.
Jicama can be prepared any way in which a potato can, but can also be eaten raw or boiled.
Raw Jicama tastes a bit like water chestnuts. It can be diced or cut into strips as a crudité for dips, added to salads or used in stir fries. It will retain its crispness if cooked lightly.
Unlike many other vegetables, such as potatoes or avocados, Jicama won't go brown right away when exposed to air. If you're going to leave the cut pieces exposed to air for a long time, however, it is not a bad idea to brush them with lemon or lime juice.
Listener Comments and Questions
Q: I noticed a story in the Dallas Morning News about planting Jicama. It had great info, but omitted the fact the above-ground plant, and the skin of the tuber, is toxic. There is also no mention of this on the website. I think it bears importance and people unfamiliar with this plant should be informed. I realize it might scare people away from cultivating Jicama, but, at least they can make an informed decision on their own. Many thanks. - JD
A: You are right. Only the root portion of jicama is edible. Leaves, flowers and stems of the plant contain rotenone, a natural insecticide that I don’t even recommend for pest control. Eating any of these parts of the plant can cause a toxic reaction.