What is Jicama?

Jicama may not yet be a commonly used vegetable in your family, but getting to know this low carbohydrate and versatile root vegetable will expand the meal choices you can prepare. As I will explain, jicama has a long and interesting history. It is easy to work with and adapts well as a substitute for apples in apple pie, and is also an amazing substitute for potato when you are craving French fries, hash browns, au gratin, etc. Which spice you use brings out the most-desired taste. For example, cinnamon enhances the apple taste, while savory spices enhance the potato taste. It is also a good choice when you want noodles and need a change from zoodles, or used as a rice substitute instead of cauliflower. Best of all, it can be eaten raw, or cooked, baked  or fried.

Jicama is the round, bulbous root of a legume (bean) family plant. It is related to the potato family. The botanical name is Pachyrhizus erosus. Other common names for jicama are Mexican potato, Mexican water chestnut, Mexican yam, Chinese potato, Chinese turnip, saa got, and ahipa. There are 2 main cultivated types of jicama in the P. erosos family: the first has a papery skin, translucent juice and is rounded—the agua. The second major variety is more elongated, with a milk colored juice–the leche.

Pachyrhizus erosus, agua
Pachyrhizus erosus, leche

What does jicama taste like?

Jicama white flesh has high water content and is sweet, with a crisp texture. The taste is a cross between an apple, an Asian pear and a potato. It is this similitude in taste that makes jicama such a useful and versatile root vegetable, which tastes great raw or cooked. Best-tasting bulbs are smaller, younger and firm to the touch.

Why is jicama considered a super food?

Jicama is categorized as a super food and deserves that classification.

Jicama is a nutrient-dense root vegetable, high in vitamin C (see chart below), has high antioxidant properties (more on that in a bit), and unlike other root vegetables is low in starchy carbohydrate, and high in fiber. It provides about 1/4  of daily recommended fiber, based on an adult’s serving size of approximately 1 cup of cubed jicama or 120 grams. Such a serving only contains 45 calories. Many people do not get enough prebiotics and, for these, Jicama is also an excellent natural source.

What makes jicama such a healthy food?

Roberfroid (2005) discusses the health benefits of jicama. Five benefits are:
1. Colon health – great source of prebiotic fibers

  • Jicama fiber has a beneficial type of prebiotic fructan carbohydrate called oligofructose inulin-which is classified as a non-digestable dietary carbohydrate
  • This prebiotic fiber supports the growth of healthy gut bacteria in the intestine (especially in the large colon) because it resists hydrolysis (the digestion or breakdown of the fiber one has eaten) by intestinal digestive enzymes
  • The insoluble fiber, consisting of inulin-type fructans ferments in the large bowel and there the gut bacteria selectively increase the production of a few types of short chain fatty acids (SCFA) (De Fillipis et al. 2015) that helps preferentially to stimulate the growth and increase the number of potentially health-promoting bacteria and reduce the number of potentially harmful species.
  • Insoluble fiber increases faecal biomass and water content of the stools, reducing constipation and improving bowel habits.
  • Inulin appears to normalize levels of blood triacylglycerols. A large quantity of animal data convincingly show that inulin-type fructans reduce the risk of colon carcinogenesis

2. Supports weight loss

  • The insoluble fiber in jicama is particulary interesting because it has zero calories, since it is not absorbed by the body.
  • Therefore, Inulin is considered a low-calorie carbohydrate [6·3 kJ/g (1·5 kcal/g)]
  • “Most plants that synthesize and store inulin do not store other forms of carbohydrate such as starch.” (Hsu and Bansal 2011)
  • Dietary high-fiber foods also expand in your stomach and absorb water, which prolongs the feeling of fullness, and preventing snacking or overeating.

3. Helps increase immune function and blood sugar control

  • Short chain fatty acids SCFAs have been linked to health promoting effects, including a reduced risk of inflammatory diseases, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

4. Lowers cholesterol naturally

  • Inulin has been shown to normalize blood triacylglycerols (high triacylglycerols are related to hardening of the arteries which can lead to heart attacks, strokes and vascular damage).

5. Supports bone health and is high in vitamin C

  • Human nutrition intervention trials substantiate that inulin-type fructans enhance calcium and magnesium absorption
  • Vitamin C is essential for healthy skin
  • Vitamin C is an important water-soluble antioxidant thatscavenges for and reduces the damage of free radicals and controls inflammation
  • Vitamin C controls inflammation by reducing oxidative stress levels and protecting against cancer, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline (Nimse and Pal 2015)

 

Nutrition Facts

IMPORTANT to know: the bulbs are edible and very healthy, but avoid eating the leaves seeds and skin (peeling is essential) because they contain a toxin called rotenone.

For the best tasting and juiciest bulbs, get the younger smaller ones with a blemish-free skin and firm to the touch.


*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Source: USDA

What is the history of jicama?

Now for a few fun facts about jicama. Jicama a relative of the potato family and is a warm weather plant that needs about a nine month growing season. There are two primary varieties. One originates from Mexico and the other from South America. Spanish sailors introduced jicama to the Philippines during the 17th century. The Spaniards found that on their long sea voyages, jicama was a good ship staple food because it lasted a long time and it was a good thirst quencher due to its high water content. From the Philippines, the sailors and traders then introduced jicama to China and Southeast Asia.

References

(Roberfroid 2005): Roberfroid, Marcel B., “Introducing inulin-type fructans,” British Journal of Nutrition, 93 (S1). April 2005.

(De Filippis et al 2015): BMJ. “High dietary fiber intake linked to health promoting short chain fatty acids: Beneficial effects not limited to vegetarian or vegan diets.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 September 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150929070122.htm>.

(Hsu and BansaI 2011): Hsu, CY and Bansal, N. “Measured GFR as ‘gold standard’–all that glitters is not gold?” Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 6 (8): 1813–14. August 2011. doi:10.2215/cjn.06040611. PMID 21784836.

(Nimse and Pal 2015): DOI: 10.1039/C4RA13315C (Review Article) RSC Adv., 2015, 5, 27986-28006.


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