Add Texture to your Garden Salad: Jicama

Pachyrhizus erosus

A native to the new world tropics, it was brought to Asia by the Spanish, where it became a fairly popular vegetable, especially in China, where it was a substitute for bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and the like.

Rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber and minerals, this is a root vegetable in the pea/bean family (fabaceae). The edible part is mostly the refreshing tuber, and it’s fun to grow. You can pickle them, use them in stir-fries, or fresh in salads (both green salads as well as fruit salads). Flavors pair well with chili powder, cilantro, ginger, lemon, lime, oranges, red onion, salsa, sesame oil, grilled fish and soy sauce.

Jicama plant, with pods growing.

Plant jicama in full sun, and remember, this is an annual vine. Plant early in spring so that the plant can grow out well.

Dig plants up carefully just before frost hits.

By mid summer, white or blueish flowers appear. To encourage roots to grow more, pick the flowers and seed pods. You can eat the fresh young pods, but the mature pods are poisonous, and are used as a fish poison (native fishing technique).

Plant in average garden soil with good drainage, and loosened soil. As with many legumes and root vegetables, avoid adding plant/soil foods rich in nitrogen. Plants love heat and humidity, so put in the middle of the garden where it will be surrounded by plants.

Plant from seed directly in the soil after threat of frost (or protect from frost if you get a jump start). Jicama can climb up to almost 20 feet tall, or it can ramble about in the garden. If you want to control where it goes, use bean poles.

Just before frost, gingerly dig up tubers. Frost will ruin them. Tubers can store for up to two months or so in a cool, dry location.

I got my seed from Kitazawa Seed Company. There are two types of jicama: the leche variety has a longer tuber and milkier, cloudier juice. The agua variety is more watery and has an rounder, onion-shaped tuber. I believe the one I got from Kitazawa is the former, though they do not specify this. It seems that the agua variety is more difficult to grow in the US.


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