The most common Mexican root vegetable that is eaten is the jicama. Jicama is a fibrous, nutty-flavored tuber that is crunchy and juicy. It has brown skin and white flesh. Jicama can be eaten raw, roasted, mashed, or added to salads, soups, and stir-fries.
What is jicama?
Jicama (pronounced HEE-kah-ma) is a root vegetable that originated in Mexico. Its scientific name is Pachyrhizus erosus. Jicama goes by many other names including Mexican yam bean, Mexican turnip, yam bean, and Chinese turnip. Despite these names, jicama is not actually related to yams or turnips.
Jicama is a tuberous root vegetable in the bean family that can grow over 50 pounds. However, it is usually eaten when it is smaller at around 2-5 pounds. The jicama plant produces pods similar to beans but the tuberous roots are the edible portions.
Fresh jicama has a brown, rough skin that covers the creamy white flesh inside. When peeled, the crisp, juicy flesh is revealed. Jicama has a unique sweet, nutty and starchy flavor. It also contains a good amount of fiber and is low in calories, fat and sodium.
History and Origins
Jicama originated in Mexico and has been cultivated there for centuries. It was an important crop for indigenous peoples, being planted alongside beans and corn as part of the “Three Sisters” planting system.
Jicama then spread from Mexico into Central and South America. Around the 17th century, Spanish and Portuguese traders brought jicama from Mexico to other parts of the world including the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
Jicama was likely brought to the United States in the late 19th century. Today it is still most widely consumed in Latin America but its popularity has grown in the U.S., Asia and Europe.
Jicama thrives in tropical and subtropical climates. It requires warm days and cool, frost-free nights. Temperatures between 70-80°F are ideal. Jicama grows best in sandy, well-draining soils.
The jicama plant is a vine that can vine that can grow up to 15 feet long. It produces clusters of purple and white flowers typical of bean plants. These flowers later develop into bean pods that contain seeds.
Jicama is usually grown from small seedlings transplanted into the ground. Tubers form on the roots after about 4-5 months of growth. The tubers can be harvested starting at around 6 months but are best when left until 8-10 months old.
Fresh jicama can be found year-round in Latin American markets and well-stocked supermarkets. Peak availability runs from fall through spring. Jicama is grown in Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, parts of Asia and in some southern U.S. states like California and Florida.
When selecting fresh jicama, look for firm, unblemished roots that feel heavy for their size. Avoid jicama with cracks, soft spots or brown discoloration.
Whole, unpeeled jicama can be stored in a cool, dark place for 1-2 weeks. You can also peel and cut jicama into pieces or slices, then store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Jicama has a very versatile flavor and can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Here are some of the most common ways to eat jicama:
- Peel and slice raw jicama to eat as a snack or to dip in hummus, guacamole or salsa
- Shred or cut jicama matchstick-style to add crunch to salads, slaws and stir fries
- Saute jicama in oil or broth until tender then mash or puree into a side dish
- Roast cubed jicama tossed in oil, spices and lime juice
- Add diced jicama when cooking soups, stews and chilis
- Spiralize jicama into “noodles” as a substitute for pasta or grains
- Make jicama fries by cutting into sticks, tossing in oil and baking
- Juice jicama along with fruits and vegetables
- Pickle sliced jicama for a tangy garnish or snack
- Blend jicama into smoothies to add fiber and nutrients
In Mexico, jicama is popular in street food like fruit cups, chamoyada, and elotes. It’s also used in classic salsas and salads like salsa cruda and ensalada de nopales. Jicama sticks sprinkled with chili powder and lime are a popular Mexican snack.
One cup of raw jicama (about 120g) contains:
- Calories: 46
- Protein: 1g
- Carbohydrates: 11g
- Fiber: 6g
- Sugar: 1.5g
- Fat: 0.1g
- Vitamin C: 20% DV
- Calcium: 3% DV
- Iron: 5% DV
Jicama is an excellent source of dietary fiber, providing over 20% of the recommended daily value per cup. It contains inulin fiber which acts as a prebiotic to support the good bacteria in your gut.
Jicama is also rich in antioxidants including vitamin C and polyphenolic compounds. It contains a small amount of iron, potassium and magnesium as well.
At only 46 calories per cup and almost no fat or sugar, jicama is a healthy addition to any diet. It has a low glycemic index so it won’t spike blood sugar levels.
Eating jicama offers many excellent health benefits:
- Supports digestive health – The prebiotic fiber in jicama feeds the probiotics in the gut to promote regularity and healthy digestion.
- Helps manage weight – Jicama is very low in calories and fat yet provides fiber that promotes satiety after eating.
- Regulates blood sugar – The fiber slows the absorption of sugar to prevent spikes and crashes in blood glucose.
- Boosts immunity – Jicama contains plenty of vitamin C to stimulate the production and activity of white blood cells.
- Detoxifies the body – Jicama contains antioxidants that help neutralize harmful free radicals and flush out toxins.
- Supports heart health – The fiber and potassium in jicama help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- May prevent cancer – Research indicates jicama contains compounds that may help prevent cancerous tumor growth.
Overall, adding jicama to your diet can benefit your gut health, weight management, blood sugar regulation, immunity and more!
Jicama is safe for most people but there are some downsides to be aware of:
- May cause allergic reactions in some – Jicama is from the bean family so those with legume allergies should use caution.
- High in fructans – People with fructan intolerance may experience gas and bloating from jicama.
- Can interact with certain drugs – Jicama may lower blood sugar so diabetics on medication should monitor levels.
- Contains oxalates – People prone to kidney stones may want to limit jicama intake.
- Risk of choking – Jicama’s hard, crunchy nature could potentially pose a choking hazard for young children.
As with any new food, moderation is recommended when first trying jicama. Introduce it slowly while assessing tolerance.
Some potential substitutes for jicama include:
- Daikon radish – Has a similar crispy texture and mild flavor. Great for salads and slaws.
- Celery root – Provides the same crunchy bite but with a more savory taste. Use in soups and stir fries.
- Green cabbage – Raw cabbage can work as a substitute in shredded salads or slaws.
- Jicama’s skin – The peel provides added fiber and nutrients so can be included after thorough washing.
- Water chestnuts – Have a similar crunch but are less sweet. Best for Asian-style dishes.
- Apples or pears – Offer a sweet fruity flavor and crisp bite for eating raw.
- Turnips – When cooked, turnips can substitute for jicama in mashed or roasted applications.
- Kohlrabi – Imparts a mild, nutty sweetness like jicama when eaten fresh or cooked.
While no food can perfectly mimic the unique taste and texture of jicama, combining a few of these substitutes can help fill in when fresh jicama is unavailable.
Jicama is a versatile Mexican root vegetable that offers many culinary uses and health benefits. With its sweet, nutty flavor and crunchy juicy texture, jicama can add great taste and nutrition to all kinds of dishes from fresh salads to cooked sides. While jicama has some downsides to be aware of, moderate consumption as part of a varied diet can be an excellent way to boost fiber, antioxidants and prebiotics.
- Jicama is a Mexican tuber vegetable known for its sweet, nutty flavor and crunchy texture.
- It can be eaten raw or cooked and added to salads, slaws, stir fries and more.
- Jicama provides dietary fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants.
- It offers health benefits for digestion, blood sugar, weight management and immunity.
- Possible downsides are allergies, intolerance to fructans and medication interactions.
- Substitutes include daikon radish, celery root, cabbage, turnips and kohlrabi.
- When available, jicama can be a tasty and nutritious addition to a well-rounded diet.