It’s bright, it’s purple, and it’s turning desserts purple in restaurants all over the world. Is it purple cauliflower? Nope, it’s ube, a purple yam that’s the Philippines’ answer to sweet potatoes. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s time you sought it out. But first, let’s learn a little more about this bright purple tuber and how we can use it in the kitchen.
What is Ube?
For the uninitiated, ube (pronounced ooh-bae) is a purple yam that is a staple in Filipino desserts. A relative of sweet potato, yuca, and taro root, ube has dark, purple skin and vibrant purple inside. Ube’s flavor is incomparable to the orange yams that we are familiar with in the United States. While yams are moister than sweet potatoes, which they are often mistaken for, ube has been described as being a gentle mix of sweet and nutty — kind of like white chocolate combined with pistachio. While ube is new and exciting in the United States for its ability to make any dessert Instagram-worthy with its bright purple color, it has long been used as in ingredient in Filipino desserts.
Ube is very similar to Okinawan sweet potato (which is actually native to the United States) — both have the same color skin (though some Okinawan sweet potatoes have light-colored skin) and a bright purple flesh, but ube tend to have darker skin. The other difference is that some Okinawan sweet potatoes will have a lavender-colored inside, but many of them are dark purple, ube. Okinawan sweet potatoes also have a mildly sweet flavor with slightly nutty notes that makes them great for using in desserts, so technically, they could probably be used interchangeably. The biggest difference is in the way that they grow. Ube grow above ground on vines while Okinawan sweet potatoes grow underground, like a potato.
In terms of nutrition, ube is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium. One study conducted by Kansas State University revealed that ube have a highest antioxidant content than other sweet potatoes.
Ube is most famous for its use in desserts — and why not? It blesses everything you add it to with a bright, purple color. It’s a popular addition to cakes, cheesecakes, Swiss rolls, pastries, and more.
In the Phillippines, ube is turned into a powder that is added to desserts and pastries to turn them purple and it’s made into a dessert called ube halayá or ube jam. Ube halayá is less like a jam and more like flan or custard; it is made by cooking and grating ube, then mixing it with condensed milk and butter. The mixture is then poured into a mould and then refrigerated until solid. It is often served atop halo halo, a Filipino dessert made from shaved ice, evaporated milk, sweet beans, and fruit jellies made from agar agar. If you want to make something close to ube halayá, try blending a bit of mashed ube into the mixture for this Coconut Flan during step three.
Ube is also famous for its use in ube macapuno, which is a moist, fluffy vanilla chiffon cake made purple using ube powder. If you want to make a purple cake, try adding ube powder to this Matcha Pistachio Tres Leches Cake or these Rose Water Cupcakes — just be warned you will have to adjust the amount of liquid added to the cake. Or, if you feel confident about winging it with a standard vanilla cake, read Tips for Making the Most Fluffy Vegan Cakes and Muffins.
If you feel your baking skills aren’t up to par to experiment, then you can still use ube to make purple frosting. Try it in the cream filling for this Semla-Inspired Fastelavnsboller and these Custard Creme Filled Doughnuts, too.
If you get your hands on ube powder, try using it as food coloring in raw vegan desserts, like this Raw Lemon Panna Cotta, this Healthy Raffaello, this Raw Blueberry Vanilla Ice Cream, or the vanilla portion of this Raw Cocoa Vanilla Swiss Roll. Or, replace purple sweet potato in this Raw Purple Sweet Potato Pie with ube.
Try this Ube Milkshake, which combines vegan vanilla ice cream with mashed ube. You can also swap purple sweet potato for ube in these Purple Sweet Potato Mousse Shooters. You can also try adding steamed and mashed ube to this Sugar-Free Cheesecake.
Ube is less popular in savory food, but it’s a staple ingredient in Undhiyu, a Gujarati dish that is made by cooking ube and vegetables in earten clay pots that are cooked upside-down over a fire. It’s then combined with a spicy, sweet masala made from coconut, peanuts, sesame seeds, and spices.
Or, you can use it to make your food more colorful, like in this Purple Monster Oatmeal or this Purple Sweet Potato Gnocchi. You could also replace the sweet potato in this Rainbow Unicorn Sweet Potato Sushi or replace the pea filling in this Rainbow Onigiri with steamed ube.
Ube have yet to make it big in the United States, but there’s a good chance that you might find it at your local farmer’s market. You may even find it in grocery stores that carry a lot of specialty produce, such as whole foods. Just don’t mistake ube for Japanese sweet potato — these may be purple on the outside, but they’re white on the inside. Of course, if you love sweet potatoes, go ahead and pick these up, because they’re delicious.
Unfortunately, fresh ube is tough to come by online, but if you love to bake, you can pick up a bag of ube powder. This Giron Foods Powdered Ube is made from 100 percent dehydrated ube, so it’s perfect for baking. One 4-ounce bag contains about 1 cup of ube powder and can be purchased for about $13.
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