Jicama (pronounced hee-cama) is a round and bulbous root vegetable native to Mexico, as well as Central and South America. The plant, also called yam bean, is a tropical legume that grows aggressively on vines that can reach up to several feet in diameter. Thanks to the colonial trade, this plant has spread all over the world, influencing cuisines of Asian countries such as the Philippines, China, Japan, India and Vietnam.
The texture of jicama’s root is likened to a potato, and is firm as a pear, but the taste is sweet and starchy, similar to an apple. However, unlike those fruits, everything about jicama except the taproot is unsafe for consumption due to a dangerous toxin. That means the skin, leaves, stems, pods and seeds should be discarded properly before cooking.
Jicama is low in calories but high in a few vital nutrients. It’s also rich in inulin, a unique soluble fiber. Several studies have shown that inulin can help promote healthy gut flora by serving as healthy fuel for growth. Inulin may also promote bone health as research has found that it can increase mineral absorption.
Jicama contains potent levels of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that can help fight free radicals throughout your body. Other studies have shown that vitamin C may help boost the immune system by stimulating the production of the cells that protect your body from microbes.
Jicama is high in potassium. Research has shown that increased consumption of this mineral may help lower your risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. The elderly may greatly benefit from potassium as well, as it has been shown to help preserve muscle mass.
Most of its calories come from carbs. The rest are from very small amounts of protein and fat. Jicama contains many important vitamins and minerals, as well as a significant amount of fiber.
One cup contains the following nutrients:
- Calories: 49
- Carbs: 12 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0.1 gram
- Fiber: 6.4 grams
- Vitamin C: 44% of the RDI
- Folate: 4% of the RDI
- Iron: 4% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 4% of the RDI
- Potassium: 6% of the RDI
- Manganese: 4% of the RDI
Jicama also contains small amounts of vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc and copper.
A 2005 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that foods containing inulin, such as jicama, may help the risk of colon cancer 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.23
How to Buy
Some jicama are grown in Texas, but most of those available in grocery stores are imported from Mexico and South America and available year-round. Choose firm, fresh, thin-skinned tubers that are free from cracks, bruises, blemishes, mold or discoloration. Those weighing under 4 pounds are better quality; larger jicama may be very fibrous and starchy, and not as crisp or sweet as smaller sized tubers.
How to Store
The ideal storage temperature is 55 to 59°F (12.5 to 15°C); at this temperature fresh jicama should keep for up to 4 months. However, some jicama purchased in stores may only last 1 to 2 weeks if inappropriately handled during distribution. If stored at lower temperatures, chilling injury causing decay, discoloration or loss of texture may occur. It is essential that the tubers remain dry; store unwrapped at cool room temperatures, or in the refrigerator, free from moisture, for 2 to 3 weeks. Once cut, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and store refrigerated for up to one week. Each pound of jicama yields about 3 cups chopped or shredded vegetable.
How to Cook
Wash jicama well, removing any stringy roots, and peel off the outer brown skin. Remove any fibrous layer underneath. Use shredded, sliced, cubed, cut into sticks or rounds. An advantage of using jicama is that when cut up and exposed to air, it does not discolor or soften for some time. It is mainly used as a starch source, either eaten raw or cooked in a variety of ways. For something more exotic than usual, use as crudités with dips; in stir-fries; cut up to eat raw, in salads; or marinated in lime juice and topped with chili powder. Jicama usually stays crisp when cooked gently, sautéed or stir-fried. It can also be cooked like potatoes, boiled, baked or mashed.