Jícama is a crunchy, sweet tuber from Mexico that can be eaten raw or cooked. It is a good source of gut-healthy inulin fibre, and can be used as a salad ingredient, or a low-calorie alternative to potato.
What is Jícama? Origins and History
The jícama, sometimes known as the Mexican turnip or yam bean, is a low-calorie root vegetable with a juicy, crunchy texture and slightly sweet taste. It is originally from Mexico and Central America, and has been found at archaeological sites in Peru dating back as far as 3000 BC. The jícama was introduced to Asia by the Spanish in the 17th century, and is also used in popular dishes from the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
The jícama plant is a native Mexican vine, many parts of which are actually poisonous. The edible part of the plant is it’s tuberous root, which is similar in appearance to a potato or turnip, with brown peel and starchy white flesh. It’s flavour is sweet and juicy, with a crunchy, starchy texture, and has been compared to potato, water chestnut, apple and pear. It tastes great as a sweet, crunchy addition to slaws and salads, and can also be cooked like a potato.
Jícama: Nutrition and Benefits
Jícama contains less than half the calories of a potato, gram for gram. It is low in sugar, very low in fat and protein, and high in fibre. According to the US Department of Agriculture, a 100g serving of raw jícama contains:
Vitamin C: 20.2 mg
Like many vegetables, jícama is a good source of antioxidants, which can help protect against chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline, by counteracting the effect of ‘free radicals,’ harmful molecules that can contribute to these diseases by damaging your cells. It is also high in fibre, which several scientific studies have shown to be good for lowering cholesterol, and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in particular.
Jícama also contains a particular type of fibre, known as inulin, which has several beneficial properties. It is a ‘prebiotic,’ which means it encourages the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, which help protect against heart disease, diabetes, obesity and kidney disease. It is also thought to protect the lining of your gut, and help to ease constipation.
The main danger to be aware of when preparing jícama is the fact that most of the plant is toxic to humans. The skin, stem, leaves, and seeds contain a toxic substance called rotenone, which is used as a natural insecticide. For this reason, you should always be sure to remove the brown peel when preparing jícama, leaving only the white flesh.
How to Store Jícama
If you’re planning to use your jícama within the next couple of days, it can be stored at room temperature, somewhere dry and out of direct sunlight. If you need to keep it for longer, it is best kept in the refrigerator or freezer.
The most important thing when storing jícama is to make sure you keep it dry. It can be susceptible to mould, and exposure to moisture will make it soggy and unpleasant. If you’re keeping it in the refrigerator, place it in the vegetable drawer with a few paper towels underneath, and it should keep for 2 to 3 weeks. Once it’s been cut, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and it should keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
You can freeze jícama either whole or sliced. Make sure it is well wrapped - plastic wrap is best for whole jícama, and an airtight food bag works well for slices - and kept away from damp areas. Sliced jícama should keep in the freezer for around nine months, and the whole vegetable for up to a year.
How to Prepare and Cook Jícama
Jícama can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. Raw jícama is a popular Mexican dish, and is typically served with chili powder, salt and lime juice. It can be used to add a sweet, juicy crunch to salads and slaws, and can also be cooked and used as a low-calorie alternative to potato.
However you decide to eat your jícama, the first thing to do is to make sure you remove all of the peel. Because the skin can be quite tough, it is sometimes too much for a vegetable peeler, and you may find that you need to use a knife. Remove the top and bottom of the vegetable with your knife to create a flat surface, then place on a cutting board and cut away as much of the peel as you can. You can then use your peeler to remove any small bits of difficult-to-reach peel that remain.
Now you know all about jícama, it’s time to try some for yourself. We’ve brought together a selection of our favourite recipes that showcase both raw and cooked jícama.
A simple, low-calorie alternative to French fries, these baked jícama fries from Healthy Recipes are crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and rolled in a delicious salt, pepper, garlic and paprika coating. The lighter way to satisfy your carb cravings.
Clean and refreshing, this wakame, cucumber and jícama salad from The Kitchn is a pleasing balance of subtle flavours, with a hint of salt, nuttiness, sweetness and vinegar. Made with dried Japanese seaweed wakame, fresh cucumbers and sweet, crunchy jícama, with toasted sesame seeds and an Asian-inspired vinaigrette of rice vinegar, sesame oil and soy.
Another salad worth celebrating from The Kitchn, this jícama shrimp salad is a carnival of colour and texture, with shrimp, jícama, black beans grapefruit and avocado drizzled in a chilli, lime and honey dressing.