Also known as Mexican turnip or Mexican potato, Jicama is a crunchy, starchy root eaten raw or cooked and now commonly found in most supermarkets. Delicious when sliced raw into salads or, as in Mexico, marinated in lime and other spices (often chili powder) and served as a condiment, uses for jicama abound.
Okay, but what is a Jicama? In Spanish “jicama” refers to any edible root. Although sometimes referred to as a yam bean, jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus) is unrelated to the true yam and tastes unlike that tuber.
Jicama growing occurs under a climbing legume plant, which has extremely long and large tuberous roots. These tap roots may each get 6 to 8 feet (2 m.) within five months and weigh over 50 pounds with vines reaching lengths of up to 20 feet (6 m.) long. Jicama grows in frost free climates.
The leaves of jicama plants are trifoliate and inedible. The true prize is the gigantic taproot, which is harvested within the first year. Jicama growing plants have green lima bean-shaped pods and bear clusters of white flowers 8 to 12 inches (20-31 cm.) in length. Only the tap root is edible; the leaves, stems, pods, and seeds are toxic and should be discarded.
Naturally low in calories at 25 calories per ½ cup serving, jicama is also fat free, low in sodium, and a superb source of Vitamin C with one serving of raw jicama supplying 20 percent of recommended daily value. Jicama is also a great source of fiber, providing 3 grams per serving.
Jicama growing has been practiced in Central America for centuries. It is valued for its mildly sweet taproot, which is similar in crunch and taste to a water chestnut crossed with an apple. The tough exterior brown peel is pared away, leaving a white, round root that is used as mentioned above– as a crunchy salad additive or marinated as a condiment.
Asian cooks may substitute jicama for water chestnut in their recipes, either cooked in a wok or sautéed. An extremely popular vegetable in Mexico, jicama is sometimes served raw with a bit of oil, paprika, and other flavors.
In Mexico, other uses for jicama include its use as one of the elements for “The Festival of the Dead” celebrated on November 1, when jicama dolls are cut from paper. Other foods recognized during this festival are sugarcane, tangerines, and peanuts.
From the family Fabaceae, or legume family, jicama is commercially grown in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Mexico and warmer areas of the southwest United States. There are two main varieties: Pachyrhizus erosus and a larger rooted variety called P. tuberosus, which are only differentiated by the size of their tubers.
Generally planted from seeds, jicama does best in warm climates with a medium amount of rain. The plant is sensitive to frost. If planted from seed, the roots require about five to nine months of growth before harvest. When started from whole, small roots only three months are needed to produce mature roots. Removal of the flowers has been shown to increase the yield of the jicama plant.
Sometimes you just want to try and beat the odds. Growing jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus) for its edible root anywhere but Hawaii is just such a gardener’s gamble in a cool, coastal climate. Needing nine months of warm weather to generate a good-sized root, this twining annual vine can reach 14 to 20 feet. With deep green leaves and lovely legume-style purplish flowers, jicama adds beauty to your garden -- and sometimes crispy tubers to your table.
Sow seeds indoors, 4 to 6 weeks before the last predicted spring frost. With their long growing season, starting jicama plants early hedges your bet.
Fill each small pot with moistened soilless growing medium. Using a pencil eraser, make a 2-inch indentation in the center of each pot. Sprinkle 2 to 3 seeds in each hole, and cover with moistened medium.
Place the pots on tray situated in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight. Seedlings typically emerge in five to seven days.
Move the emerged seedlings to a sunny window, or place them under a grow light. Once seedlings display their first true leaves, apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
Transplant the jicamas to your garden once all frost danger has passed and soil temperatures are at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Select a site with fertile, well-drained soil that receives full sun (at least 6 hours daily). Allow 8 to 12 inches between plants, spacing rows at least 12 inches apart.
Add high-nitrogen fertilizer every month -- jicamas do best in rich soil.
Pinch off the flowers, and keep the plants pruned to 3 to 5 feet for better root production. You want the plant to put its energy into root growth.
Harvest the roots before the first fall frost. They get bigger during fall’s shorter days -- leave them in the ground until the last possible date.
Tags: Open Pollinated
Growing Practices: No Pesticides No Herbicides No Fungicides No Synthetic Fertilizers
Latin Name: Pachyrhizus tuberosus
Days to Maturity: 150+
Jicama is tropical vining legume that forms a large edible root. The vines climb by twining and can reach a length of 20-30 feet, given sufficient support. As a legume, this plant is capable of nitrogen fixation and therefore has low fertilizer requirements.
The roots have a thin tan skin and a crisp white interior. Jicama may be eaten either raw or cooked, and they retain their firm crunchy texture even after cooking.
Peel and slice the root in salads, soups and stir-fries or serve with fruits. Cut into sticks and use with your favorite dips. Jicama is a very good source of vitamin C and also a good source of potassium. The root contains oligofructose inulin, which is a sweet inert carbohydrate that is not metabolized by the human body, so is a good sweet snack for dieters and diabetics. Oligofructose is also prebiotic.
Harvested roots should be stored in a cool dry location, but not refrigerated.
For maximum root production you should clip off the flower buds as they form so all the plant's energy goes into the storage root, rather than seed production. The root continues to increase in size as long as the vine is green and growing, so a long growing season is also beneficial for maximum production. Note that all parts of the jicama plant should be considered poisonous except the root, even though stems and leaves are used as animal forage in some regions.
Interesting that you should post about this.
I tried growing some this year for the first time. I started them back around the first of March under lights in my basement in individual plastic disposeable 8 ounce drinking cups. The seeds germinated very quickly and easily. The plants look just like bean. They did grab onto each other and other nearby objects, so there was some untangling to do. Some of the vines would break off a bit, but that didn't phase them at all.
In early April, they went out to my greenhouse. They didn't grow very much, somewhat, but were still about 12 to 18 inches long when transplanted to the garden in early June. Whispy, single stems with a few leaves.
What they have done since is sort of strange. I expected them to vine as they had started. Instead, they actually have gotten sort of bushy, and look like bush beans at the base of their poles.
They really haven't grown very much at all, about a foot tall and a foot across. No sign of any flowers. I do understand for many people they can bear flowers and even make bean-like but poisonous pods.
However, this has been the WORST summer weatherwise that I can remember in many years. Coldest on record here. We had a couple of warmer days in June and a few here in August, but mostly our highs every day have been in the low 70's with lows many nights in the 40's. We've had some days where the highs only got to the mid-60's, and quite a few nights where the lows dipped to right around 40 or even the upper 30's. It has been COLD, COLD, COLD, so I think this may have had something to do with their lack of growth. They are planted on black plastic, so that might help a bit. NOTHING that likes any bit of heat is happy - every heat lover is pretty much stunted, and some like my Okra just plain died. 400 tomato plants and so far, I've picked about 2 bushels. It's pretty much a garden trainwreck this year. The only heat lover that is doing weell are sweet potatos, which for some reason look like they're going to be decent anyway. Go figure.
HOWEVER, a week or so ago, I carefully excavated the soil around a few of them to see, and they have made roots about tennis ball sized, which actually blew my mind. I have read that they don't begin to form roots until short day conditions in the fall, but that doesn't seem to be the case for mine. I will let them go until the frost takes the tops, which should be in mid October, but this year, who knows, could be almost any time if another cold front comes down from Canada. I will be anxious to see what the quality of the roots is. I only have about a dozen plants, but if it works, will try more next year.
They would do better in Virginia than in Michigan I assume, because they would get more heat, which they should enjoy being a tropical plant.
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: "Jicama."
Sierra Harvest: "Conquering the fear of jicama!"
University of Illinois Extension: "A unique treat: jicama."
University of Illinois Extention: вЂњTired of the Same Foods? Try Jicama!вЂќ
United States Department of Agriculture: "USDA branded food products database."
Utah State University Extension: "Jicama."
Baptist Health: "Jicama vs. potatoes health benefits."
Harvard Health Publishing: "6 ways to enjoy fiber in your diet."
Iowa Department of Public Health: "Jicama."
National Center for Home Food Preservation: "Using and Preserving Jicama."
National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins."
Last Updated: June 13, 2020 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
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Jicama, or Pachyrhizus erosus, is a vine that is native to Mexico, although most people are familiar with its root, which is used in cooking. Jicama, also known as yam bean, can be found on tables in Mexican restaurants as a condiment, and it is widely used in recipes like fresh salads, salsas, and soups. Jicama requires a long growing season in order to produce the roots, or tubers, that provide the meat of the plant. Jicama is a tropical plant that grows best in warm climates throughout Central America and USDA zones 7 through 10. To grow jicama, plant the seeds, care for the plant, and finally, harvest the jicama.  X Research source
Jicama Growing Information © Frances Michaels
Botanical Name: Pachyrrhizus erosus
Common Names: Jicama (pronounced he'-cama) has a variety of common names including climbing yam bean Mexican potato Mexican Water Chestnut Mexican turnip cвy củ đậu (Vietnam) seng kuang (Malay) di gwa (Chinese) kuzuimo (Japan) sinkamas (Filipino) man kaeo (Thai) sankalu (Hindi).
Plant Family: Fabaceae
Jicama is a vigorous, subtropical and tropical, climbing legume vine from South America. It has very pretty, big, blue pea flowers. Sadly the flowers should usually be removed as the bean pods and seeds are toxic, they also take a lot of vigour from the plant and reduce the harvest of tubers considerably. Let one plant go to seed for your next year's crop.
Even though this plant is an herbaceous perennial, it is usually grown as an annual, because the root tuber, the perennial part, is also the bit harvested. Jicama can be propagated from a tuber or seed. The plants die back in winter in cool climates but the tubers will shoot again in spring. The root of jicama develops swellings the size of a large turnip, (up to 5 per plant) under the surface of the ground.
Plant Height: Even though this vine can reach 2 - 6 m tall, it is usually pruned to 1 - 1.5 m as removing the flowers can double the yield of roots. In Mexico it is grown in fields and pruned with a machete.
Jicama is frost tender and requires 9 months frost free for a good harvest of large tubers or to grow it commercially. It is worth growing in cooler areas that have at least 5 months frost free as it will still produce tubers, but they will be smaller.
Warm Temperate Areas: For areas that have at least 5 months frost free, start seed 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost. Bottom heat will be required as jicama needs a warm soil to germinate. Use either the top of a hot water system or a bottom heat propagator. The pots will need to be kept in a warm place. It is unsuitable for areas with a short growing season unless grown in a glasshouse.
Subtropical Areas: Sow the seed once the soil has warmed up in spring.
Tropical Areas: Sow all year in the tropics.
Seed Preparation: Soak the seed in warm water overnight to soften the seed coat and speed germination.
Planting Depth: Sow seed 5 cm deep.
Spacing: Space plants 20 - 25 cm apart in rows 60 - 90 cm apart.
Position: Full sun.
Soil Type: Jicama prefers a rich, moist, sandy loam soil with good drainage that is high in potassium.
The tubers can be harvested from 4 months for small tubers, it takes 9 months for large tubers to develop. The seed pods and seeds are toxic and dangerous to eat. The pods contain rotenone, a toxic substance often used as an organic insecticide.
Eating: The sweet, juicy, crisp tubers are eaten raw or lightly cooked. To prepare, peel off the brown skin. The raw tubers taste like a cross between a water chestnut and an apple and do not discolour when cut. It is a great addition to salads and can be used as a cruditй. It is also substituted for water chestnuts in stir-fry. In Mexico it is sliced thinly and sprinkled with salt, lemon juice and chilli sauce. As a food, jicama is low in calories, only 45 calories for one cup of cubed root.
New Crop Potential: As a new crop jicama has potential for small crop growers in warmer areas. We suggest you offer your crop to a local restaurateur, take some prepared pieces and explain how it can be used. Restaurants with a desire to provide fresh ingredients and a willingness to experiment will be at the leading edge of demand for this versatile crop. By selling to the end user you will get a higher value return. Selling at the local produce markets is a sure hit if you always offer free taste samples.
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