What is Jicama?
Jicama, famous as a prebiotic fiber, from the plant species named Pachyrhizus erosus, is a palatable root vegetable indigenous to Mexico. Pronounced as HEE-kah-ma, this leguminous tuber from the pea family, Fabaceae, has other equally popular names such as Mexican potato, Yam bean, Mexican turnip, and even Sweet turnip.
It is a tropical vegetable and grows well in warm climates. Even though it is called the yam bean, it has nothing to do with yam. This tuber is very high on nutrition, a good reason for its increasing popularity. It contains about 90% water, considered the biggest plus to this vegetable.
The overriding blessing is that this vegetable is rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin A, low in calories, high on protein and lends itself as a good prebiotic in combination with other vegetables.
Can Jicama be called the poor man’s quinoa? What makes this root vegetable so good for the gut? Can Jicama be eaten instead of an Acai berry to derive the same nutritional benefits? What makes this well rounded legume such a hit with weight loss? Read on to know why this yam bean should be a healthy portion of your plate.
Tracing Jicama’s Roots
Jicama has been in use for thousands of years, mainly as food and medicine. The Spanish use the name Jicama to refer to any root vegetable, jícama de aqua in Spanish. Spanish voyagers carried this tuber far and wide during their travel, causing the spread of Jicama from Mexico to the South Pacific. Today many parts of Asia, like the Vietnam, Philippines, China, and Malaysia use this bulbous legume in their cuisines.
Authentic cuisines in the Caribbean employed this root vegetable as part of the recipe. Even people in Central and South America have been using Jicama for their traditional dishes. History shows the use of this root many thousands of years ago in several parts of Asia.
The vegetable has become popular in the United States and most of it is grown in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Florida. Jicama is easily available in Central America. People in this region are so easy with this vegetable that it is sometimes eaten raw with a bit of spicy topical seasoning.
Jicama is used widely in Mexico during the ‘Day of the Dead’ celebration on November 1st. This tuberous legume makes up one of the four elements that come into play during this event. Interestingly, the celebration includes jicama dolls made from paper strips.
Jicama – Plant Facts
- This tuber is famously described as a ‘combo of the turnip and apple’. Jicama is oval in shape with a brown and hard outer skin. The flesh inside is succulent and white. The size/weight of this tuber can range from one to five pounds with some reaching up to fifty pounds.
- The plant needs nearly 6-8 months of the frost-free environment to grow well. Therefore, warm weather is best suited to cultivate this tuber. The Jicama plant grows well in alkaline soil and needs about 8 hours of sunlight per day.
- The vines of the jicama plant can exceed a length of 20 feet. The leaves of this plant species are a dark green shade and interestingly have three leaflets. The flowers are white or blue and bear the legume fruits.
- The vegetable is not seasonal and is available at all times of the year. The best times of the year begins from October and goes on till the Spring.
- The taste of the jicama is mildly sweet. The vegetable is crisp and starchy. The texture of this vegetable is likened to raw potato.
- The edible part of the complete plant is just the root. The seed and leaves are poisonous and cannot be consumed.
- The best tubers are the ones that are yellow or beige in color, a firm with no soft patches or spots. If left in a cool place like other tubers it can last up to a week with no refrigeration. Once it is diced, it needs to be used or can also be refrigerated.
How to Eat Jicama
Jicama has a hard outer skin that is tough to peel. A sharp knife will do the trick. This vegetable can be diced or cut into long strips. It can be consumed either raw or cooked.
The root of the jicama is the only edible portion of the plant. The seed pods are edible before they mature, but they get toxic afterward. It is safest to eat only the root.
The flowers, vine, and leaves are poisonous as they contain a natural insecticide, rotenone. This appears to be nature’s way of protecting the plant from predators. Consuming this part of the plant can trigger an extreme toxic reaction.
Popular Dishes with Jicama
- The versatile vegetable can be sautéed or stir-fried. Sliced and chilled Jicama is popular among Mexicans. They also season the chilled tuber with traditional spices to give it a distinct flavor.
- This legume is low in fat. Raw salads with jicama are extremely popular, especially with the weight watchers.
- Another interesting Jicama use in the Philippines employs a combo of the tuber and rice vinegar marinade, interestingly called the bagoong shrimp paste.
- It can also be added into a fruit salad and fruit bars.
- Vietnamese bake Jicama and sweeten it to include it in the pie.
- Another way of eating the jicama is using a large chunk of it in tortillas and rolls. It can be used as a wrap as well.
- Paleo diets may well tap into the low fat and high protein nutrition combo option in jicama to derive maximum benefit.
- Fish sandwich with Jicama is quite a hit among foodies.
- Jicama is also used in slaw. The root vegetable tastes heavenly when added to a chicken sandwich bringing a slight crunch to the serving.
- Spring rolls can also include jicama. Spreads and dips with this legume lend a sweet flavor as well as makes it a crunchy bite.
- It doubles up as a spicy snack.
- To add to the crunch, the root vegetable needs to be diced and salted. It needs to rest in a colander for 30 minutes before cooking it. This is one way to remove some water content so that the vegetable gets crunchier.
- This legume can be added to a bowl of freshly cut fruits like watermelon, mango, pineapple, and cucumbers to make it a power-packed nutritive dish.
- The tuber can be roasted along with turnips and potatoes.
- It is a healthy substitute to dip into hummus instead of chips. Home-made salsa with the root is another great way to add jicama in food.
- Jicama works immaculately with soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. One could use all kinds of peppers in combination with this tuber.
- This vegetable contains close to 90% water, therefore, its calorific value is low.
- It is low in starch and natural sugars and this makes it ideal for a low glycaemic index meal. However, like potatoes, it also contains carbohydrates.
- It can give a boost to the immune system as it is loaded with key nutrients- potassium, Vitamin C, fiber and magnesium.
- The big health advantage of this vegetable is its high nutritional value without adding to excess calories.
- Significantly, it can provide one-quarter of our body’s daily fiber requirement.
- It is also a very high source of Vitamin C, a key nutrient that protects our body against various diseases.
- Its potassium levels aid better cardiovascular health.
- In addition, this tuber is enriched in vitamins like riboflavin, pyridoxine, thiamine, folates, pantothenic acid, and minerals like iron, copper, manganese, and magnesium.
Nutrition in a one-cup serving of raw diced jicama
- Calories: 49 calories
- Carbs: 11 grams
- Fiber: 6 Grams
- Fat: 0
- Sugar: 2 grams
- Folate: 4 micrograms
- Protein: 1 gram
- Manganese: 1 milligram
- Iron: 7 milligrams
- Vitamin C: 2 Milligrams
- Magnesium: 4 milligrams
- Potassium: 180 milligrams
Health Benefits of Jicama
Alleviates Depression and Anxiety
Vitamin-B6 present in this root can be a mood enhancer as it impacts the neurotransmitters that regulate mood. It can keep anxiety and depression at bay.
Boosts Brain health
Jicama in the diet improves cognitive abilities. This is due to the presence of Vitamin B6 which gives a boost to cognition and brain functions.
Offsets Cancer Risks
A one cup serving of this vegetable can meet nearly a quarter of the daily fiber needs. The biggest plus is that the root is low on starch, carbs, and sugar. A good source of prebiotics which is key to promote the health of the gut. The probiotic contained in Jicamas fiber is special, called oligofructose inulin. Inulin helps gut bacteria and boosts the immune system. Inulin has nil calories and it ferments in the gut, mainly helping the gut bacteria grow in numbers. Studies have shown that inulin-type of fructans portray anticancer properties. This prebiotics can deal with toxins in the gut and quell the growth of tumors. It is known to offset the risks of colon cancer.
Regulates Blood Pressure
Rich in potassium, this tuber promotes the health of blood vessels and arteries. Improves blood flow and reduces the stress on the cardiovascular system.
Keeps Heart Healthy
Oligofructose inulin is a heart-healthy prebiotic. The high water and fiber content in jicama is good for the heart. Also, nutrients like Vitamin C and Potassium in jicama promote better artery health, as well as help, keep cholesterol levels low.
An impetus to Blood Sugar Control and Management of Weight
Foods rich in fiber help in better weight management as they absorb water and promote a satiated feeling. This also curbs appetite. Jicama has a low glycaemic index and just the right amount of starch which can be good to control blood sugar levels. Animal studies have proved the beneficial effects on blood sugar levels with Jicama supplements.
Alleviates constipation/diarrhea and improves autoimmune digestive disorders
This tuber has anti-inflammatory properties. It can lower the incidences of inflammation in the gut. The high fiber content can alleviate constipation. Patients with IBS may find relief with this vegetable. High water content and prebiotic properties can relieve diarrhea too.
Boon for Osteoporosis
It is endowed with healthy levels of magnesium, potassium, and manganese which assist in retaining minerals in the bones. The presence of oligofructose inulin helps with better calcium absorption and resists the loss of bone associated with aging. Jicama is considered as part of an effective treatment for osteoporosis.
Elevated levels of antioxidants
Vitamin C is available in this vegetable in ample measure. Vitamin C is a vital antioxidant that can combat inflammation and control the damage caused by free radicals.
Boost to blood circulation
Jicama is rich in iron and copper. Blood circulation in the body is given an impetus by the presence of these two elements. This root helps stave off anaemia by triggering the formation of red blood cells.
Side-Effects of Jicama
- Rotenone, a toxic substance present in the peel, leaves, vines and flowers of jicama is poisonous. Only the root is edible; inadvertent consumption of any other part of the plant could lead to significant side effects.
- It is high on fiber and is good for the digestive system. However, over-eating Jicama root can cause a fiber overload which could give rise to digestive disorders. Constipation and pain in the stomach can manifest due to over-consumption of this tuber.
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