Jicama, superfood from Mexico

Sheryl Afonso e D’souza
Monday, 25 May 2020

A root similar to the much-loved potato and the pungent turnip, jicama (pronounced hee-kah-ma) is a complex carbohydrate-rich vegetable native to Mexico. With a core that provides health-promoting dietary fibre and a sweet-tasting crunchy flesh, the jicama root is today cultivated in many parts of Asia, too.

Q I am a Mexican, and we use a lot of jicama in our daily meals. I read your articles online and was hoping that you would be able to tell me about the benefits, if any, of jicama. And what is the best way to use it.

A A root similar to the much-loved potato and the pungent turnip, jicama (pronounced hee-kah-ma) is a complex carbohydrate-rich vegetable native to Mexico. With a core that provides health-promoting dietary fibre and a sweet-tasting crunchy flesh, the jicama root is today cultivated in many parts of Asia, too.

This edible root also goes by the name Mexican potato, Mexican water chestnut, Yam bean and Chinese turnip. A creeper, the leaves and the seeds of the jicama plant are non-edible, being even toxic. It is only the root of the plant that is edible. Sold raw by street vendors in Central America, this satiating staple is enjoyed seasoned with lime juice and chilli powder, much like the versatile potato-based salad.

 

REASONS TO LOVE JICAMA

The nutritional classification of vegetables includes 3 groups – Roots and Tubers, Leafy Vegetables, and Other Vegetables – each with a unique blend of macronutrients and micronutrients that designate its positioning in the vegetable sub-classification, nutritionally. Jicama is, hence, classified as a root vegetable, with a nutritional profile akin to other roots and tubers such as the potato and sweet potato or beetroot.

The health benefits of jicama include the following:

 1.  Digestive Health: Increasingly labelled a ‘super food’, jicama stands out due to its gut health-promoting prebiotic called inulin, a soluble fibre known to keep at bay digestive disorders, such as constipation and used increasingly in therapy related to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

 2.  Heart Health: Inulin is also established as a cholesterol-lowering component of food, thereby increasing the value of the jicama root in cardiovascular health.

 3.  Antioxidant Value: Rich in vitamin C (100 g of jicama provides 20 g vitamin C, which is a quarter of the daily recommended intake for adults) and vitamin A, this root vegetable can work wonders for your skin, hair and immunity while also serving as a powerful antioxidant to negate oxidative stress-related damage such as premature ageing, cognitive decline, cancer and cardiovascular complications.

 4.  Hypertension: With an appreciable potassium content, Jicama is a valuable contributor to blood pressure regulation by way of arterial dilation, and is therefore ideal for consumption by hypertensives.

 5.  Circulation: Rich in folate, magnesium, iron and copper – nutrients required for RBC (Red Blood Cell) formation – the jicama root aids in blood circulation. Jicama is also a natural source of nitrate, the consumption of which has been linked to increased blood circulation and improved exercise performance.

 6.  Diabetes: High in dietary fibre and low on the Glycemic Index scale, eating jicama will not lead to a sharp rise in blood glucose levels. On the contrary, it will help stabilize blood glucose, thereby providing more sustained energy, post-consumption. Jicama root has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in animal models, an increase of which has a positive relation to blood glucose control. A good choice for diabetics, this edible root can safely pack a punch and add nutritional value to a diabetic meal or snack.

 7.  Weight Loss: Nutrient-dense, but low in calories, jicama is an ideal snack food or main meal option for all those wishing to drop kilos, while still benefitting from the mineral and vitamin content of this root vegetable. Containing the prebiotic fibre inulin, the jicama root has also been shown to impact hormones that control hunger and satiety, thus aiding weight loss. For the average adult, a satiating 200 g portion of jicama will provide a mere 80 kcal – equivalent to the caloric content of 4 slices of brea,d but with a more gratifying appeasement of hunger.

 

RAW OR COOKED

The external skin of the jicama root is best peeled off prior to consumption. Sweeter, juicier and tastier than its counterpart – the humble potato – this root is often consumed raw, but can also be cooked with basic kitchen ingredients or other foods to add flavour and texture to dishes.

Consumed raw, the jicama root can be made into a fruit salad or a vegetable salad by thinly slicing or cubing it after removing its peel; this will provide the much-needed crunch to a salad.

Eaten alone, the jicama can be sprinkled with spices of one’s choice and delectably enjoyed with a dip.

Sautéing or stir-frying the root and tossing it with other crunchy veggies such as carrots and cauliflower or broccoli are other ways of enjoying this versatile root.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

A careful watch on allergic reactions or digestive disturbances, if any, to this root vegetable should be maintained. A light and flavourful extract of the jicama root, the juice is both refreshing and nutritionally powerful. Filling and tasteful, it serves as the perfect breakfast accompaniment or a post-workout replenishment. Unstrained, the juice also contributes to the daily fibre requirement of the population.

Studies in humans have revealed that consuming 500 ml of jicama juice everyday reduced the risk of developing blood clots, the latter being responsible for strokes and myocardial infarctions.

Foreign on Indian soils, jicama is truly a Latin American wonder root.

                                                                       Sheryl Afonso E D’souza

Clinical Nutritionist (Norbert’s Fitness Studio) & Dept. Head (M.Sc. Food Technology, Carmel College, Nuvem – Goa)

 

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