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How to Eat Jicama and an Indian Connection

Jicama

Jicama

Jicama is a root vegetable native to Mexico. It’s high in Vitamin B6, C, iron as well as dietary fiber. Shaped somewhat like a conch shell or less creatively, a giant brown radish, it has a thin skin which gives way to white flesh inside. It has a grainy, mildly sweet taste but with the crunch of a radish. The flavor profile is somewhere between a less sweet Asian pear and mung bean sprouts. It is often used to add crunch to salad. It’s excellent raw with some lime juice, chili pepper and salt. Here are some other ways to prepare it via HuffPo.

Jicama with Chili

Jicama with Chili

I always enjoy introducing my parents to new foods. Sometimes it’s to help shake up their routine, other times it’s out of necessity like when the doctor recommended my father go gluten free. While at a salad bar in Mexico I picked up several pieces of jicama for them to try. After a moment’s pause my Dad said “We grew up eating this. We call it shankalu.” Shank means conch because of jicama’s shape. And aloo means potato (though some call the tuber the Mexican yam). It was a nice feeling to know that this root vegetable that my parents snacked on as kids was available regularly at my local grocery store.

The Indian Connection

Jicama is almost exclusive to eastern India. There has been some speculation as to why that is. According to the Economic Times, “K.V.Peter’s useful handbook Tuber Crops notes that yam bean grows easily in most tropical climates, though a preference for cool, but frost-free nights, is probably what limits it from extreme south and north ends of the country, and to being a winter crop.”

During colonial times, imperial powers spread crops and plants in a period that was called the Columbian Exchange:

The Portuguese spread chillies via their Indian colonies like Goa, while the British probably introduced potatoes and tomatoes. But Mexico was Spanish, the one power with no colony in India , the nearest they came was the Philippines. “It makes sense that shankalu would come to eastern India since it is closer to the Philippines,” she says.

The Spanish influence, or lack of it, could also suggest why jicama never spread much across India – there was no one to promote it, as the British did with potatoes and tomatoes. Crops also seem to have spread if they answered a need – KT Achaya’s theory is that chillies were taken up rapidly because they were cheaper, easier to grow and more reliably flavoured than the other options for heating spices at that time, like pepper and long pepper (pipali). But while jicama is really nice, it is perhaps not distinctive enough. Source: Economic Times

Have you tried jicama? How do you like to prepare it?

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4 comments on “How to Eat Jicama and an Indian Connection

  1. Is this traditionally a sweet or salty food? Can you make a dessert? I’m intrigued! 🙂

    • Hi Maisa- With the lime-chili powder on the jicama it’s more like a snack. The jicama is minimally sweet so it contrasts well with the spicy kick. Jicama like many root veggies take on the flavors that you add to them. I’ll be posting up a recipe soon where it was added into a Korean stew. Cheers and thanks for the question!

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