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Jicama or Pachyrihizus erosus, an edible root bearing a resemblance to turnips, is a member of the Fabaceae family. A native of Mexico, its other names include yam bean, Mexican potato, or Mexican turnip. All parts of the plant that are above the ground, including flowers, seeds, pods, vine and leaves, contain the compound rotenone which makes them toxic. The root is the only part of the plant that is safe for human consumption. Two main varieties of the vegetable exist. The agua is shaped like a turnip and yields translucent juice.  It is the preferred, more commonly available variety in markets. Leche has an elongated shape and produces milky juice.

Jicama vines can reach 20 to 30 feet in size when fully mature, and grow vigorously in tropical and semitropical climates. The leaves are rhomboid to egg shape with toothed edges and extend up to six inches in length. The violet to white flowers lead the way for seed pods which are five to six inches long. The tubers are brown skinned with crisp white flesh. The nutty tasting, mildly sweet, crunchy tuber offers numerous culinary uses.

The jicama root, if allowed, can grow to unbelievable sizes. In 2010 in the Philippines (where they are known as singkamas), the heaviest recorded jicama weighed in at 23 kg! In Central America the root is sold by street vendors for raw eating, seasoned with lime or lemon juice and chilli powder. Other than Central America, the root is popular in South Asia, Caribbean and a few Andean South American regions.

History of Jicama

Jicama has origins in Mexico, Central and South America. It has been grown by all the major civilizations of the region and has constituted an important part of the staple diet. In the seventeenth century it was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish, and from there it found its way into Southeast Asia and China. Jicama was used as a staple food onboard trading ships due to the fact that it had a long storage life. Additionally it could be eaten raw and served as a good thirst quencher. It is most commonly used in Mexico, South China and the U.S now.

Health Benefits of Jicama

There are a great many health benefits associated with jicama consumption. Whether you cook it or eat it raw, it delivers a number of vital nutrients that are essential to good health. Jicama is also found as an ingredient in a number of products like scrubs, masks, moisturizers, lotions and facial soaps. The high content of water provides a moisturizing effect. The saponins in it behave as a natural sunscreen and avert skin damage to prevent wrinkles and improve skin texture. The phenolic compounds prevent the production of melanin, meaning pigmentation resulting from hormones, acne scars and sunlight is minimized. Being rich in vitamin C, jicama shows properties of an antihistamine and enhances the immune system. It behaves like an anti-inflammatory and is highly beneficial for individuals suffering from asthma. It is also used to treat common colds and flu.

It is considered to be a very good source of inulin, a pre-biotic that enhances the growth of good bacteria in the intestines. The dietary fibre in Jicama speeds up the movement of waste in the digestive tract, and aids in its expulsion from the body. The minimal pressure and pain with smooth elimination of waste from the body leads to relief from haemorrhoids. Drinking juice of jicama each morning can be beneficial to people suffering from the ailment. The fibre also aids in lowering cholesterol and maintains blood sugar levels. This is because it is not converted into glucose and moves out of the system at a steady pace. It gives the feeling of being full longer, thus helping to maintain a healthy weigh.

Homocysteine is an amino acid associated with higher risks of heart disease due to its ability to reduce the blood vessel lining. Present in large quantities in meats, it is also linked to renal disease. Jicama contains anti-homocysteine properties. According to some figures, regular use of this veggie reduces the quantity of this amino acid by 11%, which in turn reduces the risks of heart disease.

Nutritional Value Jicama

Jicama is considered to be a good food because it contains no saturated fat or cholesterol, very little sodium and only a few calories and yet it delivers plenty of good things like fibre, vitamins and minerals. It also provides some protein. One cup of uncooked jicama offers 40% of daily recommended amount of vitamin C.  It also provides 5% of the daily potassium requirement, 4% manganese, iron and magnesium, 3% copper, 2% phosphorus, and 1% calcium, zinc and selenium.

Uses of Jicama

To prepare jicama, just wash them thoroughly under cool running water and wipe dry. Remove the thick fibrous skin with a vegetable peeler or a paring knife. The peel and all other plant parts contain rotenone, an organic poison, so discard those. The pure white flesh can now be cubed, grated, sliced or chopped.

One of the best ways to eat jicama is on its own and raw. Just dress the cut up veggie with a little chilli powder and sprinkle with lime juice and a pinch of salt. It can be consumed in a variety of more complex ways like soups and salads or as a baked, boiled, steamed, micro waved side dish to a main course. Jicamas can take the place of apples, pears or water chestnuts in recipes. Advocates of raw food employ the jicama in green drinks due to the high vitamin c and enzyme content.

Some Quick Serving Methods

  • Make a Jicama Combo with cubed jicama, cucumber and orange segments. Season with salt, lemon juice and chilli powder.
  • They make great additions to stir fries.
  • Roast jicama by cutting them into cubes and mixing with chopped onion. Mix with a few teaspoons of olive oil, ½ teaspoon of ground garlic, and sprinkled with rosemary and parsley. Bake the mixture on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees until the pieces are tender.
  • Make relish with jicama to use on burgers
  • Jicama coleslaw also comes out great.
  • Peel and thinly slice jicama
  • Individually place the slices on a paper towel to allow extra moisture to be removed.
  • Heat peanut oil and fry the jicama slices until golden brown.
  • Drain on a paper towel to remove excess oil.

Jicama chips

The chips can be enjoyed as they are or they can be topped with Italian seasoning and parmesan cheese.

Clinical Trials

Phytoestrogen is a plant-derived natural alternative that shows potential in preventing bone loss. A non-steroid that is very nearly like estrogen and has estrogenic and antiestrogenic properties has shown promising results in protecting against bone loss due to estrogen deficiency.

Japanese researchers have found jicama fibre to be of benefit in the immune system. The prebiotic inulin has tummy flattening properties and helps to elevate the friendly bacteria found in the digestive tract and might aid in eliminating wrinkles through the increased production of collagen.

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About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Dr. Andy Williams is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter.

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