Jimaca - you've probably seen it pre-packaged in the grocery store, but do you know what it is? Also known as Mexican turnip or Mexican yam bean - or pachyrhizus erosis, if you want to get scientific - jicama is a vine native to Mexico, but more commonly refers to that plant's edible, turnip-shaped tuberous root. It's similar to a sweet potato or cassava.
Don't be fooled by the jicama's intimidating, potato-rough exterior; behind that (extremely inedible) husk is the crisp, creamy-white, ultra-versatile vegetable you've been missing all along.
Before we dive into why you should be using it in your kitchen, here's a bit of jicama history.
Native to the region, jicama was first cultivated in Mexico and Central America, where it was a dietary staple for Meso-American civilizations for centuries. In the 1600s, though, it made an appearance all the way across the globe.
Jicama was introduced to the Philippines in the 17th century by the Spanish, as singkamas. From there, it soon made the jump to the mainland into Southeast Asia, then China, where it too became a staple in recipes such as stir-fry.
There's little surprise the root vegetable was so warmly received; it's easily cultivated in warm climates like Central America and Southeast Asia. It's extremely versatile as an ingredient and it's a healthful food to boot.
How healthy is jicama?
Filled with high levels of dietary fiber, raw jicama is helpful in aiding in digestion. It's also a natural source of prebiotic and a particular kind of fiber that doesn't break down into simple sugars. This means those living with diabetes don't need to worry about the blood sugar fluctuations that follow most other sweet foods. Sweet!
Jicama is also loaded with vitamin C - about 40 percent of a day's recommended amount in just 100 grams - making it an immune system booster and a good source of the vitaman. This super-root also has rich antioxidant properties, which may fight free radicals - leading causes of cancer and heart disease.
You'll also find potassium (which helps to manage blood pressure and keep the body hydrated), copper and iron (maintain healthy circulation), vitamin B6 (for healthy brain function) and minerals (for strong bones). Yea, the health benefits of jicama are pretty great.
Oh, and it's low-calorie, too. Jicama has just 35 calories in 100 grams.
Is there a downside? Know the old saying, "It's what's on the inside that counts?" Remember that when you meet the jicama.
The exterior brown skin of the jicama root is rough, papery and tastes terrible. It, and the rest of the jicama plant (leaves, flowers, vines, seeds, pods and all) is also toxic. It contains rotenone, used commercially as a pesticide. While it's effects are very moderate to humans and other mammals, rotenone is fatal to fish and insects.
All the jicama needs is a quick peel and you're ready to get cooking, or not cooking - jicama is great raw, too. If you can't find jicama at your local grocery store or market, ask for it.
You can also visit a specialty Mexican or Asian market, where it should be readily available.
At home in Mexico and Central America, jicama is often enjoyed simply - peeled, cleaned and sliced, then sprinkled with salt, lemon and lime juice and, of course, chili powder.
Here are a few more recipes to get your newest veggie love affair going:
1. Classic Jicama Salad
This classic jicama salad uses julienned carrots, red and green bell peppers and cucumber, oranges, red onion, cilantro, and cayenne pepper.
Find the recipe here.
2. Cantonese-style Tofu, Jicama, and Pine Nut Lettuce Cups
Find the recipe for this delicious, vegan-friendly dish here.
3. Jicama Hummus
This recipe substitutes the beans for our carbohydrate-free jicama, drawing on the flavors of garlic, lemon, and avocado for a new twist on hummus.
4. Jicama Watermelon Salad
There may be no sweeter summer salad than this jicama watermelon salad, accented with flavors of lime and fresh mint. Find the recipe here.
5. Jicama Jalapeño Slaw
Spice things up with this recipe for jicama jalapeño slaw!
6. Pulled Chicken Tacos with Jicama and Avocado
Tender, spicy chicken tacos with a cool, creamy and crisp avocado jicama salad - get cooking with the recipe here.
Happy jicama hunting!