If you don’t live in California or the Southwest, you may not be familiar with jicama (HEE-kah-mah), a large root vegetable that comes from Mexico and South America. Featuring a thin but tough brown skin and sweet, crunchy, white flesh, jicama is also known as Mexican potato or yam bean root. It’s eaten raw, diced up in salads, baked, steamed or even fried. It has a texture and taste similar to a cross between an apple and a turnip. Not only is jicama delicious and versatile, but it also contains plenty of healthful benefits that make it an excellent nutritional investment.
I use jicama in my Atchara Pickle and Sardine Wrap recipes in The Age Beautifully Cookbook. A typical jicama weighs from about four ounces to up to six pounds. Before preparing jicama, be sure to peel off the tough, fibrous skin, which is toxic to ward off underground predators.
I like to use a vegetable peeler.
Whether you’re discovering jicama for the first time or just learning of new ways to enjoy it, you should have no trouble finding it in ethnic markets and your local supermarket all year round.
A 3.5 ounce serving of jicama provides 38 calories, 20% of the RDA for dietary fiber, 34% of vitamin C and traces of calcium and iron. Jicama contains no fat, very little sodium and is extremely low in carbs with just 9 gm, which is 3% of the RDA. Jicama also contains phytonutrients, and other organic compounds as well as essential vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, potassium, magnesium, manganese and copper.
What can jicama do for you? Lots! Here are some of its health benefits:
Improves digestion – Jicama is a rich source of soluble fiber called oligofructose inulin, which helps move waste products through the digestive system. This particular fiber is a carbohydrate, but doesn’t metabolize into simple sugars, so it’s a way for diabetics to enjoy something slightly sweet that won’t cause a spike in blood sugar. Jicama’s fiber also contains a beneficial type of PREbiotic, which means it helps PRObiotics (or “good bacteria” living within the GI tract) do their job best.
Boosts the immune system – The considerable amount of vitamin C in jicama makes it valuable for fighting infections and rebuilding cells. Vitamin C helps eliminate free radicals that have been associated with heart disease and cancer.
Manages blood pressure – Jicama contains a good amount of potassium, which relaxes the blood vessels and balances fluids in the body.
Improves circulation – The copper and iron found in jicama are good for the red blood cells that are responsible for the exchange of oxygen as well as nutrients among cells. A shortage of healthy red blood cells can lead to anemia.
Brain function – B vitamins help metabolize protein into amino acids that are usable by the body. Jicama contains a good amount of B6, which is associated with increased brain function and improved cognitive abilities.
Bone strength – The calcium, magnesium, manganese and copper found in jicama all contribute to bone density, repair and strength.
Weight management – With its sweet, crunchy texture, jicama is an excellent treat for those watching their weight. Low in calories, satisfying and loaded with fiber, which helps create a feeling of fullness, jicama is a great addition to any weight reduction program.
How to Enjoy Jicama
The easiest way to enjoy jicama is to cut it into 1/2” sticks and sprinkle it with chili lime seasoning such as Tajín, which is found in Hispanic specialty stores as well as mainstream supermarkets.
For a unique main course or hearty brunch, jicama plays a key role in my recipe for Buckwheat Crepes. This dish features high-fiber buckwheat pancakes filled with tasty, healthy vegetables like bok choy, asparagus, leeks, shiitake mushrooms and of course, jicama. My guests are always delighted with the delicious flavor and appealing texture.
Atchara Pickle is a Filipino national dish that’s made with fresh fruits and vegetables including jicama, bell peppers, green papaya, cucumbers, pearl onions and carrot florets. It’s a great counterpoint to grilled meat or fish. The jicama and papaya are rich in fiber, which helps regulate cholesterol and aid in weight loss.