Whether you’re trying to lose a few extra pounds leftover from the holidays or just need a year-round healthy snack option, jicama is a tasty alternative to your normal crudites such as carrot or celery sticks.

You may have seen jicama in the grocery store and turned the other way, thinking “what is that ugly bulbous thing?” The bad news: it’s delicious and you’ve been missing out. Jicama can range from as small as the size of a plum to several pounds, so they may not always look the same. Admittedly, they’re not easy on the eyes, but I promise they make up for it with the taste. The good news: you can find it in just about any grocery store, so you don’t have to go to a Latin grocer to find it like you do with some other kinds of produce popular in Latin diets.

Jicama, also sometimes known as yam bean root or Mexican potato, is a root vegetable with high water content, a crunchy texture and a slightly sweet or nutty flavor. It’s commonly eaten in Mexico and other Latin American countries, as well as the Philippines, where it’s said to have been brought by the Spanish galleons.

It’s a light and refreshing vegetable that makes a great healthy snack or an addition to a salad. You can even use it in a warm dish like stir-fry. If you only cook it for a few minutes, it retains its crunchiness and can be a great substitute for water chestnuts.

To eat jicama, I usually remove the skin one of two ways:

  • Make a small cut and peel the skin away, then cutting it up
  • Cut quarter-inch thick slices and use a knife to remove the skin around the edges

To prepare jicama as a very traditional Mexican snack, it couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is cut the jicama into sticks, like you would with carrot sticks. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the top and then sprinkle with a chile powder meant for snacking such as Tajín, chilito en polvo or chile en polvo para naranja. You can find these in the snack aisle of any Latin grocer. Usually, these chile powders for snacks are made up of ground chile flakes, salt and dehydrated lime juice. You can shake on as much or as little as you like to give your jicama a little salty-spicy kick.

A one-cup serving of jicama is roughly 46 calories, about 6 grams of fiber and it’s composition is 91 percent carbohydrates, seven percent protein and two percent fat, so it’s very healthy. As they start to go bad, they will shrivel slightly and the fibers will start to break down and get sweeter.

To keep your jicama fresh, you should keep it in the refrigerator in an airtight container or plastic zippered bag. Ideally, you should remove the skin and cut it just before you plan to eat it, but they’ll still taste fine if you want to cut up your jicama sticks the day before and refrigerate them overnight.

Another great way to use jicama is when the weather gets warm, you can put a popsicle stick in a slice of jicama, dip it in your favorite salsa or chamoy (the kind you use for botanas like the one I’ve talked about before when I showed you how to make chicharrones de harina), stick it in the freezer for a few hours and you’ll have what we call jicaletas!

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