When it comes to shopping for vegetables, it can be tough to think outside the grocery cart (whether it’s a physical one or online). We mindlessly drop the same ones in— kale, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini—and repeat next week. While these are certainly nutritional all-stars, there’s a whole world of lesser known but equally tasty and healthful veggies out there. Enter: jicama, a versatile root vegetable that’s full of flavor and fiber.
You may have never heard of jicama, but it deserves a spot on your grocery list. Here’s why: its health benefits are impressive and it’s easy to prepare. We dug up the best ways to buy, prep, and cook it for you so you know exactly what to do with the new addition to your kitchen:
Is jicama a fruit or vegetable?
Pronounced HEE-kah-ma, jicama is a root vegetable (more specifically, a tuber) that’s native to Mexico, says nutritionist Emily Navarro, RDN. It’s tough, bark-like skin gives way to a softer white flesh on the inside that’s surprisingly crisp and juicy.
“If an apple and a potato could have a baby, it would taste like jicama,” says Navarro. Others describe it as a cross between an apple and a water-chestnut. While you may be able to find jicama year-round, the peak season for this veggie is late fall through spring. In Mexico, where this tuber is native, it’s common to see it used as a raw snack that’s prepared almost like a ceviche.
Is jicama nutritious?
Jicama is full of a lot of fiber and water--and that’s a great thing. You can enjoy a cup (130g) of sliced jicama for just under 50 calories while getting 6.4g toward your daily fiber needs. (More on why that’s important in a minute.) Water-rich foods are also easy ways to help avoid dehydration, especially if you get bored trying to log enough water each day.
What are the health benefits of jicama?
It’s easy to write off jicama as a crunchy, low-calorie snack. And while it is perfect for that purpose, there’s so much more. The vitamin C content of jicama serves your body well during winter months, and its fiber content is a major bonus. Fiber does so much more than keep you full, although we love that benefit too. Here are some of the main ways jicama can add a healthy boost to your diet:
It’s loaded with fiber
Jicama is loaded with fiber, specifically inulin, a prebiotic fiber that helps feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut, says Navarro. Just one cup of jicama packs 6 grams of fiber and only 50 calories. Prebiotic fiber feeds the “good” bacteria in our guts. Our guts contain both “good” and “bad” bacteria. But the key to good gut health isn’t getting rid of the bad but rather having more “good” bacteria to balance it out. You can work towards this beneficial balance by feeding the good bacteria with prebiotics, including inulin.
Researchers are still figuring out the gut—it’s more connected to other parts of our bodies than we initially thought. But we do know that gut health impacts a wide range of the systems in our bodies, from our mental health to our metabolic health. Large scale surveys have also found that higher fiber diets are associated with lower rates of colon cancer.
It’s a great source of vitamin C
Jicama is also a good source of vitamin C with one cup providing 40 percent of the vitamin C you need each day (similar to what you’d get from the same amount of tomatoes). While vitamin C is important and does help support your immune system, it’s not in the way many people have been led to believe. This vitamin may help shorten the duration of a cold, but there’s no evidence that it helps prevent you from catching one in the first place. It can also help protect the skin barrier so that sources of infection can’t get in.
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant. While we do produce some antioxidants naturally, this reduces as we age. That means food sources of antioxidants like vitamin C are more important as we get older in order to balance free radicals that are produced naturally by our bodies. If left unbalanced by antioxidants, these free radicals can cause cellular damage and chronic inflammation, which has been linked to a long list of chronic diseases.
It may help combat inflammation
Because of its vitamin C content, jicama can also help fight inflammation. We cause some inflammation ourselves, even through healthy activities like exercise. And while short-term inflammation may be necessary to reap the health benefits of exercise, long-term (or chronic) inflammation can be dangerous because it’s linked to many chronic diseases such as certain cancers, diabetes, and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Luckily, ascorbic acid (another name for vitamin C) has proven effective at reducing inflammatory markers in humans. It has been proven effective at combating inflammation caused by exercise.
It can help quell hunger
A diet full of filling foods is commonly associated with dieting, but it doesn’t have to be. Nagging hunger pangs can get in the way of checking off your long daily to-do list. A filling meal not only energizes you but also prevents hunger from distracting you between meals. That’s where foods like jicama come in. Studies have found that fiber-rich foods, such as jicama, promote satiety in multiple ways. Fiber adds bulk, which contributes to feel physically full, but also increases chewing time, another factor in feelings of satisfaction after a meal. If you are trying to lose weight, this can also help reduce total calories consumed per day.
It may help lower blood sugar
Another benefit of high-fiber foods like jicama: Stable blood sugar levels mean stable energy levels. A high-carbohydrate diet has proven beneficial--even for diabetics--as long as it is also a high-fiber diet. In fact, researchers found this was more helpful in controlling blood sugar than the commonly-recommended high-fat, low-carb diet because it lacked fiber. Another study found that eating a higher fiber diet also reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
How do you add jicama to your diet?
You can find jicama in the produce section of most well-stocked supermarkets and at specialty stores (especially Latin American markets). At some larger chains, you may even be able to find pre-chopped jicama that’s ready for easy snacking.
When shopping for jicama, choose a firm one that’s free of blemishes. You may want to opt for small or medium tubers instead of larger ones since the flavor can dissipate and the texture may become tougher as they grow larger. Jicama molds easily, so you should store it in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to use it. Once you’ve sliced it, store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. If you’re serving jicama that has been stored in the fridge, you may want to check it beforehand. It’s possible for the edges of cut jicama to get soggy without it having gone bad. In that case, simply cut more of the edges off before serving or eating.
How do you eat jicama?
Jicama can be eaten raw and cooked, says Navarro. You can slice it into matchsticks for a cool, crunchy snack, or dice it up to throw into salsas and salads. It’s important that you peel jicama before serving, though, as the skin is inedible. “A vegetable peeler may not be sturdy enough to do the job, so grab your chef’s knife and cut off the top and bottom to form a flat surface,” says Navarro. “With the jicama sitting upright, follow the rounded edge with the knife to remove the skin.”
You can also add it to stir-fries (like you would any other vegetables), or bake it into jicama chips or jicama fries. It’s similar when cooked to water chestnuts, which are a familiar addition to Asian-style stir-fry recipes. This tuber has less than half the calories and carbs as potatoes, making it a smart swap if you’re watching your intake.
Traditionally, jicama is eaten mostly raw in Mexico. You’ll find it as a snack with lemon or lime juice, which keeps the chopped veg from browning at the edges, as well as herbs like cilantro and sometimes spice such as chile powder. In Asia, the tuber is eaten both raw and cooked.
How can you use jicama to make healthy meals?
One of Navarro’s favorite ways is to turn it into fries or chips. For jicama fries: cut jicama into ¼” strips, toss with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper (plus any other spices you love like chili powder), bake at 400 degrees F for 1 hour, flipping after 30 minutes. It’s also possible to make air fryer jicama fries if you have this machine and want to use a technique that requires no oil.
To make jicama chips, use the same technique, but use thinly sliced jicama and bake for 30 minutes, or until crisp. You may also be able to use an air fryer for this recipe if you have one. Just be sure you’re not overloading the tray with too much at once.
Here are a few other tasty ideas for jicama recipes:
Prepare it more traditionally: Give raw slices a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and sprinkle with chile powder for a crunchy, spicy snack.
Turn it into crudite: Slice jicama sticks on Sunday and eat them all week as a grab-n-go snack. Dunk them in guacamole instead of tortilla chips for a fraction of the calories (and more nutrients, too!)
Make jicama tacos: Ditch the tortilla and turn jicama into a grain-free taco shell. Use a mandolin to thinly slice, brush lightly with oil, and cook in a skillet for about 1 minute per side or until soft.
Serve up a slaw: Shred jicama and cabbage to make a crunchy, colorful slaw and serve it with fish like we do in our Baja Mahi Mahi meal. Or, mix jicama with shredded apples and red onion, and dress it with lime juice and a touch of honey to serve alongside a savory roast turkey breast.