Valuing a Diverse World for All

Friday, July 27, 2012

Globalization of Foods - Jicama

Jicama (pronounced hick-a-ma) Pachyrhizus erosus, is also known as Mexican Yam, or Mexican Turnip, is native Mexican vine, although the name most commonly refers to the plant's edible tuberous root. Jícama is one species in the genus Pachyrhizus and is more closely related to the rhubarb family. Plants in this genus are commonly referred to as yam bean, although the term "yam bean" can be another name for jícama. There are many names for Jicama including: the Mexican potato, ahipa, saa got, Chinese turnip, lo bok, and the Chinese potato. (In Ecuador and Peru the name “jicama” is used for the unrelated Yacón or Peruvian ground apple, a plant of the Sunflower family whose tubers are also used as food).

It is native to Mexico, Central and South America where it is a popular dietary staple. It had been cultivated by all major Mesoamerican civilizations. The Spanish introduced it to the Philippines in the 17th century and from there to Southeast Asia and China. Jicama was also used as a staple on board ships because it stored well, could be eaten raw and was also thirst quenching. Today it is most prominently used in Mexico, South China and in the U.S. 

Jicama is a fleshy underground tuber and looks similar to a turnip or a large radish, with a taste and texture similar to a water chestnut. Its skin is thin and can be gray, tan, or brown in color with white flesh. Most jicama range in diameter from 4 to 8 inches and in weight from 1/2 pound to about 6 pounds*.  There are 2 cultivated types of P. erosos: agua is the turnip shaped type with translucent juice that is the preferred type usually found in markets; leche has an elongated root with a milky juice. 

The skin is typically peeled before eating it raw. Raw jicama taste is described as crisp, sweet and nutty, similar to a pear or an apple, or a cross between an apple and a potato. It is also slow to discolor when exposed to the open air. Because of this, raw jicama is often used as on raw vegetable platters. As a snack it is served sprinkled with lime juice a little chili powder.  When jicama is used in cooking it tends to take on the flavors of the ingredients that it is being combined with. Therefore, jicama is a nice complement to various stir-fry dishes because it blends well with many vegetables and seasonings.

Most commonly eaten raw, jicama maintains much of its crispness when cooked and can be used as an alternative to water chestnuts. Jicama may also be cooked on its own as a vegetable, sauteed with with other vegetables, used in stir-fries or added to stews.

Spaniards spread cultivation of jícama from Mexico to Philippines, from there it went to China and other parts of Southeast Asia, where notable uses of raw jícama include popiah, fresh "lumpia" in the Philippines and salads in Singapore and Malaysia such as yusheng and rojak.

Jícama has become popular in pie Vietnamese food, where it is called cây củ đậu (in northern Vietnam) or củ sắn or sắn nước (in southern Vietnam). It is known by its Chinese name bang kuang to the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia. In Mandarin Chinese, it is known as dòushǔ or liáng shǔ. In the Philippines, jícama is known locally as singkamas and usually eaten with bagoong or shrimp paste. The Thai name is มันแกว (man kaeo). In Bengali, it is known as shankhalu, literally translating to "conch (shankha) potato (alu)" for its shape, size and colour. In Hindi it is known as mishrikand . In Telugu it is known as kandha. It is eaten during fast in Bihar (India). In Malay it is known by the name ubi sengkuang. In Laos, it is called man pao. In Indonesia, Jícama is known as bengkuang. This root crop is only known by people in Sumatra and Java. Mostly they eat it at fresh fruit bars or mix it in the rujak (a spicy fruit salad). Padang city in West Sumatra is called "the city of bengkuang".

Whether fresh or cooked, as a vegetable dish or staple food, the jicama root adds a large amount of starch and a medium amount of protein and sugar to the diet. It is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, potassium, sodium and phosphorus. This makes jicama a good food for those with kidney problems. It is also a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. A “good source” of a particular nutrient is one that contains a substantial amount in relation to its calorie content, and contributes at least 10% of the US Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of the nutrient for an adult. It is widely produced in Meso-America, Southeast Asia and China.

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