Fad or Future

Jicama: the versatile vegetable that could crunch into plant-based eating

It hails from Mexico, has a number of health benefits and can be eaten raw or cooked.

5 June 2018
image credit: FocoSelectivo/iStock/Thinkstock

Jicama? Sounds like a joyous celebration?

Nope. It’s a root vegetable that originates from Mexico, which has the texture of a turnip but the taste of a savoury apple.

This little-known tuber is grown in the warm climates of Central America, the Caribbean, the Andes Mountain regions and Southern Asia. It’s known as the yam bean, arrow root or Chinese turnip in other countries, and like potatoes, it grows underground.

So what if you found this vegetable in a mystery cooking box?

Chopped, cubed, sliced into fine sticks, mashed and eaten raw or cooked, jicama is versatile. It’s great in stir-fries, salads, slaw, soup, and with other veggies and fruits like oranges, apples, carrots and onions, as well as meats and seafood.

The jicama’s thick, papery skin must be removed before eating it. Bonus point: unlike an apple, the white flesh underneath doesn’t discolour, so you can store half the root in the fridge and come back to it days later.

The juicy, sweet, nutty tuber has a distinct crunch. It’s commonly enjoyed raw, but you can also eat it cooked. The white flesh stays crisp when cooked briefly.

Crisp? Sounds delicious!

Well, the chefs over at Scully restaurant describe it as one of the most amazing vegetables around. They deep-fry it with a lemon myrtle crumb and with Poponcini pepper cream.

Jicama can also literally be made into crisps!

But what if I don’t have a deep fryer?

Jicama is best known for its raw talent, so you can shelve the deep fryer.

A favourite Mexican recipe is chilled jicama slices sprinkled with chilli powder, salt and lime juice. The vegetable also frequently appears in Peruvian cuisine.

Other ideas include substituting it for carrot sticks and using it with dips, dicing it up to include in a salsa, shredding it to be used in slaw and tucking it into fresh spring rolls.

If you’re really keen on cooking, jicama can be sauteed or roasted, much like turnips or parsnips, and it will soften but retain its natural juiciness.

Also, jicama is often used as a substitute for water chestnuts in Asian cooking because it retains its crisp texture even when exposed to heat.

Okay, hit me with the health benefits?

It’s low in calories but high in fibre. But not just any old fibre – it’s infused with inulin, a prebiotic that can promote the growth of other beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. Vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes also contain inulin.

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2005 showed that foods containing inulin, such as jicama, lower colon cancer risks in several ways, including reducing exposure and the toxic impact of carcinogens in the gut, and inhibiting the growth and spread of colon cancer to other areas of the body.

Jicama is also an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium and has a low glycaemic index, which makes it good for diabetics.

Quick, where can I find it then?

For the moment it’s only available in speciality produce stores, as well as at Covent Garden Market and online. But restaurants like Scully are managing to source it, so who knows where it could lead.

So is Sparkie jumping for jicama?


Sparkie says:

The market for authentic ingredients will expand with the market for the foods that use them. In terms of creativity, the vegan and vegetarian market is leading the way right now by making strong uses of novel ingredients and processing common ingredients into brand-new products.

This is something there will definitely be a market for, but the need for it will likely be confirmed by deciding just how different those ‘authentic’ products are without it. If there is a high degree of difference and it can’t be simply replaced, it is likely to appear faster than other ingredients which have similar replacements readily available.

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