What Is Jicama?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Sliced and whole jicama

Getty Images / eedology 

When you look at the solid, lumpy brown orb known as jicama the word "bean" probably won't be the first thing you think of. It appears to be more of a root vegetable, which is is, but it's also a member of the Fabaceae family, the same group that counts peas as the main member. Jicama (pronounced HEE-kah-mah) doesn't look, feel or act like a pea or bean, though there may be the smallest bit of the flavor ensconced in this ingredient's crunchy white flesh. Learn more about this unique item and what you can do with it.

What Is Jicama?

Jicama is a member of the bean family, but it looks, acts, and cooks like a turnip, parsnip, and other non-potato root vegetables. Jicama is a crunchy root that's native to Mexico where the food also goes by the names yam bean, Mexican turnip, and Mexican potato. But unlike many other root vegetables, jicama has a snap to it and a juiciness that's refreshing, not starchy. Jicama also differs from other similar foods insofar is that jicama tastes delicious when peeled and eaten raw.

In the garden, the jicama grows on a vine up to 20 feet tall, but the only edible part of the plant is that bulbous root underground, which can be as small as a Gala apple and grow as big as two fists put together. This plant thrives in areas where there is heat year-round, such as Mexico and South America. Harvested for centuries in those regions, jicama today is also grown in various areas in Asia and the Philippines as well.

How to Use Jicama

The most traditional way to eat this food is by peeling, slicing into stripes and munching on raw, usually with a seasoning of lemon or lime juice and chili powder. You will see street vendors in Mexico selling bags of this healthy treat, which proves particularly satisfying on a hot day. It's a low-calorie and low-carb food, giving jicama an in with the keto diet and a star in recipes for people seeking low-sugar alternatives.

Because the flesh is so porous, jicama picks up flavors well. Marinate with citrus and the spices of your choice and add chunks to a salad. Or make it the main component and use a tangy dressing to give it flair. Jicama goes great with greens, olives, avocado, hummus, lime, grilled fish, roasted pork and so much more. It can be sliced thinly and added to a sandwich for some crunch; when sliced this way, it can also be used in lieu of a corn tortilla in tacos.

Cooking jicama proves tasty, too, though it needs a gentle touch when it comes to heat. Instead, pan fry over medium-low heat, steam lightly, or roast until just tender. Or add it to the end of the cooking process if you're making something like chili or a Mexican-style soup. Jicama is similar in texture to an apple, and likewise, you can keep that famous crunch as long as you don't overcook it.

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RELATED: Ingredients Used in Mexican Cuisine

What Does Jicama Taste Like?

There's a slight sweet starchiness to the food, which adds a bit of heft to jicama, making it feel more filling, though it's still light enough to eat a whole root in one sitting. Jicama has a pleasant crunch, round, almost nutty flavor, and tastes similar to a fresh water chestnut.

Jicama Recipes

Most of the time jicama is used raw with or without a marinade. That means you can add it to all sorts of dishes, even if the recipe doesn't call for it. Cut into small chunks or shred and try jicama out in one of these meals.

Where to Buy Jicama

Even though jicama mainly makes an appearance in Latin American cuisines, you can find this food in the produce section of most grocery stores and in specialty markets all year long. Because it has a long growing cycle and only thrives in warm climates, you probably won't see it locally produced.

To choose the best sample of the food select a firm, dry bulb with smooth, unblemished light brown skin. Avoid jicama that's soft to the touch or has a shriveled, bruised look to it. he circumference will vary too, from small like a green apple to large and softball sized. As far as taste goes, size doesn't matter.

Storage

Keep jicama whole and unpeeled in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or for a bout a week on your counter as long as it's not in sunlight or the room temperature gets too hot. Once peeled you can sliced the vegetable and keep it in water in the cooler for a few days, but it's recommended to eat fresh and soon after cutting.

Nutrition and Benefits

One of the best things about jicama comes in the form of a prebiotic called inulin, which is touted for its ability to help with gut health. Jicama is also rich in fiber and potassium, along with vitamins C and A. Another boon is it's naturally low in calories, but since it has starch and a pleasing snap, it makes a great, low-carb substitute for chips or other snack-type foods.