In the United States, it is unfortunate to know that not too many people know about jicama. Despite this, it is a popular ingredient used in various Mexican and Malaysian dishes. If you’ve started hearing about the health benefits that come from this ingredient, it’s about time that you get to know what it is.
What is Jicama?
Also recognized as yam bean, jicama is a round, fleshy taproot vegetable that comes from the bean family of plants. Grown in many parts of the Caribbean, Central America, South Asia, and some Andean South America regions, it is most famous for its edible starchy root. The result is a crispy, refreshing, and ice-white ingredient that has a taste similar to an apple and the texture of a turnip.
Despite being a yam, jicama actually has a fruit-like root that can be eaten raw or cooked. Because of its strange texture and highly familiar taste, the plant has been called as the Mexican water chestnut. Other names include the Mexican yam bean, Mexican turnip, yacon, sengkwang, and many more.
Unlike other yams that come with an edible peel, the skin of the jicama is tough, thick and downright unappealing. Yet despite this, it is still considered as a source of rotenone, an organic toxin also found in the plant’s vines and leaves. Once this inedible peel is removed, however, a white starchy flesh is revealed. This is the very ingredient that produces a succulent, sweet-starchy taste in numerous dishes.
Types of Jicama
Among the five cultivated types of jicama (Pachyrhizus species), only three are the most popular in the world. These include the following:
- Mexican Yam Bean (Pachyrhizus erosus)
- Andean Yam Bean (Pachyuhizus ahipa)
- Amazonian Yam Bean (Pachyrhizus tuberosus)
The most popular among these three varieties is the Mexican Yam Bean. It is also the type imported in the United States. Another variety, the Jicama de Leche (Pachyrhizus palmatilobus) has a milky sap and deeply lobed leaflets. Compared to the other varieties, this has the least agreeable taste.
Health Benefits of Jicama
Through careful study, researchers have been able to discover that jicama has a number of health benefits. Because of this, it has included in a number of dishes for those who are trying to eat healthily. Among its health benefits include the following:
- Jicama only contains 35 calories per 100 grams, making it one of the root vegetables to have a very low calorie count. Despite this, it has a high quality phyto-nutrition makeup, which is inclusive of dietary fiber, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
- Jicama is among the finest sources of dietary fiber. It even contains oligofructose inulin, a soluble dietary fiber that helps lower colon cancer risks. Another advantage of this dietary fiber is that it is a zero calorie sweet inert carbohydrate, which does not metabolize inside the body. This makes jicama an ideal snack for diabetic patients and those under a diet.
- Jicama is rich in vitamin C, just like turnips are. Considering the numerous benefits of vitamin C, it makes jicama a useful anti-oxidant for getting rid of free radicals. As a result, the root crop serves as protection against colds, viral coughs, inflammation, and even cancer.
- Jicama also contains small amounts of valuable B-complex group of vitamins. On the list includes folate, pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamin, and pantothenic acid.
- Finally, jicama contains a healthy dose of important minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, and magnesium.
Buying and Storing Jicama
When you’re looking for jicama at the supermarket, it is important that you look for firm, round tubers. You can store these in a cool, dark place up to four weeks to retain its lifespan. Once cut, the plant needs to be refrigerated. However, it is important to avoid letting jicama stay too long in the refrigerator as its starch will convert to sugar.
When you’re ready to prepare jicama for a dish you’re making, see to it that you wash the plant thoroughly; just as you would with potatoes. Keep in mind that jicama is a root crop and needs to be cleaned before use. Create a flat surface by slicing off the top and bottom portion of the plant. Afterwards, you can remove its peel using a paring knife.
Serving Tips for Jicama
Jicama can be cubed, chopped, or sliced into fine sticks. The great thing about jicama is that it can be used raw or cooked. Since it is highly versatile, it is an ingredient perfect for salads, stir-fries, soup, and slaw. It can also be combined with other fruits and vegetables like apples, carrots, oranges, and onions. Jicama can also be mixed with meats and seafood.
Here are a few suggestions on how to serve jicama:
- In several parts of Mexico, raw jicama is cut into cubes/sticks and is then sprinkled with salt, lime juice, paprika, ground chili pepper, and olive oil.
- You can also cook jicama and include it in your salad, stew, stir fry, soup, or slaw just as it is used in Mexican cooking. Usually, it is mixed with other common fruits and vegetables such as green beans, carrots, pineapples, and oranges. You can also mix it with meat, poultry, and seafood.
- In Malaysia, jicama is popularly known as bengkoang; where it is sliced and eaten raw with other fruits such as mangoes, apples, pineapples, sweet potatoes, and more.
- Much like how it is served in Malaysian salads, jicama is commonly used in Indonesian dishes. You can add rujak sauce to it so that it can be an exotic taste.
Health Considerations of Jicama
Despite the numerous health benefits jicama produces, there are some considerations that need to be observed. When preparing jicama, see to it that you get rid of its stems, seed pods, and leaf tops; as these contain a high amount of fat-soluble organic toxin called rotenone. According to studies, this toxin has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease in the body.
Make sure you follow the right steps to preparing jicama so that you can enjoy its numerous health advantages. Soon, you’ll be preparing different jicama dishes in your own home!