Jicama, also known as yam bean, is a round, fleshy taproot vegetable of bean family plants. Its underground starchy root is one of the popular edible tuber-vegetables grown in many parts of Central American, South Asian, Caribbean, and some Andean South American regions. Its refreshing, crispy ice-white, fruit-flavored tuber can be eaten raw or cooked in a variety of sweet as well as savory dishes worldwide.
Some of the common names of yam bean are Mexican water chestnut, Mexican turnip, Seng Kwang, yacon. It pronounced in the Latin America as hecama. In India and Bangladesh, this tuber is popular as shank aloo-(শাঁখ আলু) or shankalu.
Scientific name: Pachyrhizus erosus.
|Jicama roots (P.erosus).|
Jicama is a perennial vine, growing vigorously under semitropical and tropical climates. It has similar growth characteristics as that of lima bean or any other bean species plant. The most distinguishing feature, however, is that it bears globular, fleshy, turnip-like starchy edible root below the ground surface. Unlike other starchy tubers such as potato, and sweet potato wherein the peel may be eaten; jicama features thick rust-brown inedible skin. Inside, its white starchy flesh has crispy texture and fruit-like delicious, sweet flavor. Each tuber weighs about 250 to 1200 g.
There exist at least five different cultivar types of Pachyrhizus species; however, only three popular jicama cultivars include Pachyrhizus erosus (Mexican yam bean), Pachyrhizus ahipa (Andean yam bean), and Pachyrhizus tuberosus (Amazonian yam bean, jíquima). P. erosus (‘jícama de leche’) or Mexican yam bean is the popular variety imported in the USA. Another cultivar, P. palmatilobus, locally known as ‘jícama de leche,’ has deeply lobed leaflets, milky sap, and somewhat less pleasant taste.
Jicama is one of the very low-calorie root vegetables; carrying only 35 calories per 100 g. However, its high-quality phyto-nutrition profile comprises of dietary fiber, and antioxidants, in addition to small proportions of minerals, and vitamins.
It is one of the finest sources of dietary fiber; particularly excellent source of oligofructose inulin, a soluble dietary fiber. The root pulp provides 4.9 mg or 13% of fiber. Inulin is a zero calorie sweet inert carbohydrate. It does not undergo metabolism inside the human body which makes jicama an ideal sweet snack for diabetics and dieters.
As in turnips, fresh yam bean tubers are also rich in vitamin-C; provide about 20.2 mg or 34% of DRA of vitamin-C per 100 g. Vitamin-C is a powerful water soluble antioxidant that helps body scavenge harmful free radicals, thereby offers protection from cancers, inflammation and viral cough and cold.
It also contains small levels of some of the valuable B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, riboflavin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid and thiamin.
Further, the root provides healthy amounts of some of the essential minerals like magnesium, copper, iron and manganese.
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
|Total Fat||0.19 g||<1%|
|Dietary Fiber||4.9 g||13%|
|Pantothenic acid||0.135 mg||3%|
|Vitamin A||21 IU||1%|
|Vitamin C||20.2 mg||34%|
|Vitamin E||0.46 mg||3%|
|Vitamin K||0.3 μg||<1%|
Jicamas can be available year around in the markets. Generally, they imported from central American countries through land route and flood the USA markets during spring and summer.
Choose well-formed, firm, round, medium sized tubers. Avoid soft, shriveled, or tubers with surface cuts, cracks, and bruise skin.
Once at home, jicamas can be stored much like potatoes. They have good shelf life and keep well in a cool, dry, dark place for about 2-4 weeks. Exposure to a temperature below 10 °C results in chill-induced changes in color and texture. Also, prolong storage converts its starch into sugar, which makes the roots less sought after in savory dishes.
Cut sections, cubes or slices, however, should be placed inside the refrigerator.
Wash in cool running water and dry mop just like in other tubers. Peel off the thick fibrous skin using a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Peel and other plant parts contain rotenone, an organic poison; and therefore, should be discarded. It then can be cut into cubes, sliced, or chopped into fine strips in a ways desired.
Fresh jicama is used much like a vegetable and is an important starch source in much of Central America. It stays crisp when cooked, making it one of the wonderful vegetable in stir-fries.
Here are some serving tips:
Photo courtesy: Rex roof
Raw jicama has sweet, succulent apple like fruity taste. In many parts of Mexico, fresh tubers are cut into cubes/sticks and sprinkled with lime juice, salt and dressed with olive oil and paprika or ground chili pepper and enjoyed!
Jicama is a favorite root vegetable in Mexican cooking where it is used in salads, slaw, stews, stir-fries, soups…etc. It mixes well with other common vegetables and fruits like orange, pineapple, carrot, green beans as well as with poultry, meat, and seafood.
Outside of the American continent, this tuber is among the popular starch root in many south and the southeast region. In Malaysia, where it is known as bengkoang, fresh young tubers are sliced and eaten with other fruits like pineapple, apple, raw mango, sweet potato…etc, in rujak.
In Indonesia, they served with much like Malayan salad but with added rujak sauce made from palm sugar, tamarind, shrimp paste, chili peppers, and sautéed peanut paste. Also, as a rujak tumbuk, wherein all the ingredients mentioned above ground in a wooden mortar and served on a banana leaf.
In Eastern India states of West Bengal, Odisha and Bangladesh, shankaalu eaten as mouth-watering street-food 'chaat recipe' paired with starfruit, chili and salt powder and lemon juice.
Apart from salads, another popular oriental dish that uses jicama and turnips is popiah, a Fujian/Chaozhou-style fresh spring roll.
Jicama plant contains significant levels of fat-soluble organic toxin, rotenone. This toxin is concentrated especially in the leaf tops, stems and seed pods but at much lower concentrations in the roots. Several studies found that it linked to the development of Parkinson's disease. However, peeled roots are safe for human consumption, including in children. Rotenone works at cellular level inhibiting several metabolic enzymes like NADH dehydrogenase in the mitochondria. Outside, it used as environmentally safe broad-spectrum insecticide, piscicide (to poison fish), and pesticide. (Medical disclaimer).
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Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.
Norton, L. B. 1943. Rotenone in the yam bean (Pachyrrhizus erosus).
Quantification of rotenone in seeds of different species of yam bean (Pachyrhizus sp.) by a SPE HPLC–UV method. PDF.