Mom, we had a different food at school today. I think it was a ‘Yakima,’” my second-grade daughter said.
The only Yakima I could think of was a city in Washington.
“Can you tell me a little more?” I asked.
“Well, it was kind of white and crunchy. Our teacher said it started with a j,” she said.
“I bet it was a jicama. It’s pronounced hee-ka-mah,” I said.
“That’s what it was!” said my second-grader.
Later, my seventh-grade daughter said that she had jicama at her school, too. She had tried it and it was pretty good.
After this fairly enthusiastic response to a novel vegetable, I decided to buy a jicama at the store. I found the tan-coloured root vegetable near the ginger root in the produce section.
When I set it on the counter to buy it, the clerk said, “What is this?” So, I helped her find it in the computer.
When I set it on the counter at home, my son said, “What is that thing, a potato?” You might guess what my husband said when he saw it. Actually, he said, “Do we have to eat that tonight?”
Well, I had a new vegetable and I wanted to serve it. I peeled it and sliced it into crunchy jicama sticks, which I served with dip. To me, it had a “green” flavour, kind of like snap peas.
Since this vegetable was such a mystery to everyone, I decided to find out a little more about its history and worldwide use.
Jicama is native to Central America because it needs a long, warm growing season. Although a jicama can weigh up to six pounds, the one I bought weighed about one-half pound. Jicama often is called the “Mexican potato” or the “Mexican turnip.” In Mexico, jicama often is served with lime juice and chili powder.
Jicama is used in Asian cuisine, too. In China, it is known as the “yam bean.”
Jicama often is used in fruit or vegetable salads, but it adds a crunch to stir-fries since it retains its texture while cooking. Jicama can take the place of water chestnuts in casseroles or spinach dip.
Unlike a potato, jicama does not turn brown quickly after slicing. Therefore, it can be cut up ahead of time for use as an appetizer.
A half-cup of jicama has about 25 calories, three grams of fibre, six grams of carbohydrate and 20 per cent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.
When choosing a jicama, look for an unblemished, smooth skin and avoid those that are cracked or show any signs of spoilage. A whole jicama can be kept for up to three weeks if stored in a cool, dry place. After cutting, it should be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.
Buy something different at the grocery store now and then. You may end up with a real conversation starter.
– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension
Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of
health, nutrition and exercise sciences.