A Healthful, delicious Mexican Snack.
The leaves and ripe pods of the jicama, a climbing legume, are not appetizing. This is good, though, since they are not edible. The edible treasure lies below the ground; it is the plant’s tuberous root.
From ancient times, people in Mexico have consumed the jicama. Its name, which comes from the Nahuatl language, means “what is tasted.” And just seeing a pict-ure of the popular Mexican snack made of raw jicama slices seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and powdered piquin pepper or cayenne pepper can make your mouth water.
What does jicama taste like? Some say its flavor lies between that of an apple and that of a water chestnut. Originating in Mexico and Central America, the jicama plant has traveled to countries as far away as the Philippines, China, and even Nigeria. Today it is cultivated in many lands, where it is prepared in various ways —grilled, pickled, used in salads, boiled in soups.
In Oriental cooking, jicama serves as a substitute for water chestnuts. An appreciated quality of this vegetable is that it remains crisp even after cooking. Especially is this true of the milk jicama, which produces a milky juice, unlike the water jicama. Interestingly, both types can grow from the same seed.
As a snack, jicama is ideal. It is nutritious, very refreshing, crunchy, juicy, easy to digest, and low in calories. An analysis made by a nutrition institute showed that while 3.5 ounces of potato chips contains 540 calories, the same amount of jicama has only 40! Yes. 40. Other properties of jicama are its calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin-C content.
As mentioned, except for the root, the jicama plant, for the most part, is not edible, but that does not mean that its other parts are not useful. The seeds in the pod contain a series of compounds that make an effective insecticide, and they can be used as such when they are pulverized. The seeds are also used in some dermatologic preparations. The stalks, on the other hand, yield strong fibers that can be used in making fishing nets.
Jicama roots come in a variety of sizes, from those weighing less than ten ounces to those weighing more than two pounds. They will keep for about three weeks in the refrigerator. To use a jicama, all you have to do is wash it, peel it, and—unless it is very young—remove its outermost fibrous layer.
So if jicama is available where you live, why not give it a try as a snack? Any dip that you enjoy with potato chips will be better with jicama. Honest. It may do you good!
writer in Mexico
October 22, 2005. (Pg. 16)
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