A round, bulbous root vegetable with origins in the Mexican peninsula, jicama (pronounced hee-cama) is part of the legume family and grows on vines. This little-known tuber is grown in the warm climates of Central America, the Caribbean, the Andes Mountain regions, and Southern Asia, where it's an important as well as extremely versatile food source.
Very similar in texture to a turnip with a taste closer to an apple, jicama shares the monikers "Mexican water chestnut" and "Mexican yam bean" undoubtedly because of its crisp, white, solid flesh. But unlike yams with their edible peels, jicama skin is thick, tough, and not just unappealing but considered an organic toxin called rotenone, as are the vines and leaves.
When scouting out jicama at the supermarket, look for firm, round tubers, and store them in a cool, dark place for up to four weeks, and in the refrigerator when cut. But not too long, or the starch will convert to sugar. Wash them just like potatoes. Slice off the top and bottom to create a flat surface, and then remove the peel in facets with a sturdy paring knife.
Chopped, cubed, sliced into fine sticks, raw or cooked, jicama is versatile and great in stir-fries, salads, slaw, soup, and with other veggies and fruits like oranges, apples, carrots, and onions, as well as meats and seafood. A favorite Mexican recipe is chilled jicama slices sprinkled with chili powder, salt, and lime juice.
Health Benefits of Jicama
Low in calories but high in a few vital nutrients, jicama is a bit of a contradiction when it comes to its starch content. It provides one-quarter of what's needed daily in fiber per serving. But not just any fiber - jicama's fiber is infused with oligofructose inulin, which has zero calories and doesn't metabolize in the body. Inulin, a fructan, promotes bone health by enhancing absorption of calcium from other foods, protecting against osteoporosis. Inulin has a prebiotic role in the intestine – it promotes “good” bacteria growth that maintains both a healthy colon and balanced immunity. Because it has a very low glycemic index, jicama is a great food for diabetics, and low in calories for those interested in weight reduction.
Jicama is also an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C - 44% of the daily value per serving - and a powerful antioxidant that zaps free radicals to protect against cancer, inflammation, viral cough, cold, and infections.
Besides healthy amounts of potassium, this little powerhouse can help promote heart health, since high-potassium vegetables and fruit are linked to lower risks of heart disease. Jicama contains important vitamins like folates, riboflavin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, and thiamin, and the minerals magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese. Like potatoes, they should be used sparingly due to the high carbohydrates content.
Jicama Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Studies on Jicama
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2005 showed that foods containing inulin, such as jicama, lower colon cancer risks in several ways, which include reducing exposure as well as the toxic impact of carcinogens in the gut, and inhibiting the growth and spread of colon cancer to other areas of the body. Scientists concluded that inulin-type fructans may reduce colorectal cancer incidence when given during early stages of cancer development.1
Jicama Healthy Recipes:
|3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
||2 Tbsp. coconut oil
||2 tsp. sugar
|¾ tsp. salt
||¼ tsp. black pepper
||2 lbs. jicama, peeled and cut into julienne strips (8 cups)
|1 medium red onion, finely chopped
||1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- Whisk together the lime juice, oil, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until well combined. Add jicama, onion, and cilantro and toss well. Quick, easy, and nutritious!
Jicama Fun Facts
Pre-soak jicama seeds for about 24 hours before planting; indoors, if you wish, initially, then moved outdoors after the last frost. It requires well-drained soil, plenty of light, and at least nine months of warm temperatures for the best root production. Keep the soil moist until the plant is about three inches in height, and provide a trellis so it can climb (being from the bean family). Remove the blooms when they first appear to promote root growth and help the roots expand in diameter. While some jicama can weigh up to 50 pounds, they're best when harvested at around five pounds.
While many vegetables and fruits are common, others are not, but that doesn't mean they're not an excellent food - just unfamiliar. For one thing, jicama plants thrive in tropical regions.
Like other foods, jicama contains real culinary goodness: sliced and baked, julienned in salad, chopped in stir-fries and soups, and mixed with other veggies and fruits to emphasize its sweetness or starchy texture. Just remember to eat only the root, since the other parts may be toxic.
Jicama is starchy. The most interesting health benefit related to jicama is the inulin, which studies have shown can protect against osteoarthritis, and have a positive impact on colorectal cancer, especially when eaten during its early stages. Studies are increasing on this root veggie that has until recently been quite overlooked.
So if you haven't experienced jicama in your dining repertoire, you have everything to gain - and if you're actually hoping to lose, this might be your new favorite.