Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


Pachyrhizus erosus

The jícama (pronounced HEE-kah-mah), also known as the yam bean, was first domesticated in Mexico prior to the arrival of Euorpeans, and has been in use ever since. It is the tuber or tuberous taproot of the Pachyrhizus erosus plant – a legume – that resembles a turnip (it is also sometimes referred to as the mexican turnip). The tuber grows up to fifty pounds, is ivory white, and covered by a thin skin. Its flesh is sweet, juicy, and crisp, and has been likened water chestnuts.

The jícama can be eaten raw once the skin is removed or it may be cooked in any number of ways including boiling, baking, frying, or roasting. It was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish, and from there made its way throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific where it continues to be a popular food. It is also a popular addition to salads in the United States, particularly in California, and it has become a common item in many grocery stores throughout the U.S. In Mexico, the jícama is traditionally eaten raw, marinated in mexican lime juice and chili powder. In Asia and the Pacific islands, it is often added to fruit salads.

Along with sugar cane, tangerines and peanuts, jícama is one of the four elements used in the Mexican Day of the Dead festival.


Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 1999.

“Jicama.” 8 Jan 2009