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Farmers Markets

What's In Season at the Farmers Markets: California Grown Jicama

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Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 10:46 AM
click to enlarge Jicama from Yang Farms at the Hollywood market. - FELICIA FRIESEMA
  • Felicia Friesema
  • Jicama from Yang Farms at the Hollywood market.

It has one of our favorite species names. Pachyrhizus erosus (erotic root elephant?), or the jicama which comes from the Aztec Nahuatl word xicamatl, is an ancient native root vegetable from Mexico, but it is very common in much of southern Asian cuisine thanks to invading Spaniards who brought the root with them when they settled in the Philippines. There are only two varieties of jicama currently grown in California: jicama de agua and jicama de leche. The leche root is a long tuber with, as the name suggests, a milky juiciness. Jicama de agua is what we most commonly see at market. It's a squat, oblate tuber, sometimes smooth or with pronounced lobing, a crisp texture and a sweet flavor.

Jicama has not been a priority crop for California farmers. It takes forever to grow. Even in its ideal climate zone in tropical Mexico, growers have to wait three to six months for a well-sized tuber to be produced. That's a long wait for a field crop that only grows one tuber per seed. We also don't have very long and very warm tropical conditions in our prime growing regions. That's why the only jicama you could get was at your local grocery, and it was always imported from south of the border. Until now. Thanks to the dedication of Yang Farms and Thao Farms in the central valley, we now have sweet, California-grown jicama.

click to enlarge Jicama from Thao Farms. They're at both the Hollywood and Beverly Hills markets. - FELICIA FRIESEMA
  • Felicia Friesema
  • Jicama from Thao Farms. They're at both the Hollywood and Beverly Hills markets.

Until the locally grown jicamas made their debut in our farmers markets, we'd never seen the root with any top greens on it, not even the fleshy stem that Yang and Thao leave on theirs. As it turns out, the greenery up top (stem, leaves and flowers) as well as the pods and seeds are all highly poisonous. The root is a completely safe and sweet delight (once peeled anyway). We like seeing the short green stem on these roots as it helps the buyer to gauge the crop's freshness, but don't include it in your salad.

You'll also notice California-grown jicama is a bit smaller and a slightly sweeter than most store-bought tubers. Both are products of a shorter growing season than what the plant traditionally receives, but the product is of a high quality.

Served raw with a little lime, chile and salt is traditional for the region, though a little lumpia, yusheng or a nice sour pickle are definitely called for. Jicama will be in at both farms until December and, as the season progresses, the size and flavor of the root will change, growing larger and starchier.

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