JICAMA

CARE: Store in a cool, dry area. Excess moisture will cause mold. Do not refrigerate until after cut; then, refrigerate cut vegetable in plastic wrap up to one week.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: One cup of raw jicama contains about 50 calories and 180 grams of potassium.
AVAILABILITY: Year-round

(Jan. 20) Jicama is traditionally an ethnic food, but its popularity with mainstream consumers may prompt you to rev up your merchandising. Because many American consumers don’t know how to use it, offer samples and recipes to educate your customers.

Jicama, also known as the “Mexican potato,” is a mildly sweet taproot with the consistency of a water-chestnut. A native to tropical climates in Central America, jicama has long been used in Mexican and Latin cuisine. It can be served raw, sliced into strips and served with dip or in salads. In Mexico, it is commonly marinated with Mexican lime and served with chili powder. Jicama also can be deep-fried or stir-fried.

Cooseman’s Miami Inc. in Miami sells the most jicama to Latin- or Mexican-oriented clients, says vice president Ronald Zamora. Jicama is a natural match for Latin cuisine because it refreshes and cools the stomach, a perfect balance to spicy, pepper-filled food. Zamora recommends retailers attach recipes to jicama display boxes or retail packs.

At Foodland IGA in San Diego, a Hispanic-format store and one of Dallo Enterprises’ 10 stores, jicama is merchandised with bell peppers, cucumbers and other Hispanic items, says produce director Steve Schindele. Jicama is a popular commodity for Foodland: The store normally creates a 200-pound display and sells an average of 40 cases per week at 39-49 cents a pound.

Sales triple when the store places jicama on sale at 3 or 4 pounds for $1. “When we run it on ad we’ll have each produce manager demo it in his own way. One might do lime and pico de gallo; one might use ranch,” Schindele says. “If you have somebody actually out there talking to them, it’s harder for them to turn away. We sell more product that way.”

At Buy for Less in Oklahoma City, one of seven stores, customers shopping for jicama often have a recipe in mind, says Jim Atkinson, produce manager and specialty buyer. Hispanic cuisine tends to use jicama raw, while Asian cuisine would normally prepare it cooked, he says. “The trend in produce is that everything is increasing that’s considered a specialty item,” he says.

At County Fair, a single store in Chicago, jicama is displayed with squash or potatoes. The store normally sells about 60 pounds a week at 99 cents a pound. Five years ago, the store did not even carry jicama, says owner Tom Baffes. Baffes says he likes to offer samples of jicama because most people aren’t familiar with its uses. “Price isn’t so much a factor as much as what to do with it,” he says.

At Draeger’s Market Place in San Mateo, Calif, jicama is displayed with potatoes and yams, or with onions. “It’s tough to really find a good home for it. It’s kind of one of those out-of-place items,” says produce clerk Mike Harold. He has noticed an overall increase in ethnic products over the past three years.

Draeger’s also offers jicama at the salad bar. “That could be part of (the increase) in our store,” Harold says. “People try it, realize it’s good and tasty and use it in their own salads.”