Ube Explained

Known for its vibrant-purple hues, ube is a Southeast Asian yam that quickly captured the attention of foodies all over social media. Often used as a natural food coloring, ube has a sweet but nutty flavor that makes it an excellent ingredient for your dessert menu. So, what is ube made of and how does one use it? We explore this unique tuber below.

What Is Ube?

Ube cut open on countertop

Ube (Dioscorea alata) is a purple yam that is native to Southeast Asia and predominantly used in Filipino cuisine. This starchy tuber has a distinct purple-colored flesh that varies in shade and features a nutty, vanilla flavor. It is often used in desserts, from cakes to ice creams, to provide sweetness and color.

How to Pronounce Ube

The correct ube pronunciation is “oo-bay”. The word means “yam” or “tuber” in Tagalog, a native language in the Philippines. It is occasionally referred to as ubi or winged yam when sold in seed catalogs in the United States.

What Does Ube Taste Like?

The distinct ube flavor is slightly nutty with a hint of vanilla. It has a coconut-like aroma that lends itself well to dessert items. Ube is most often boiled, mashed, and mixed with condensed milk to bring out its sweetness.

What Does Ube Look Like?

Ube yams have a rough, dark-brown skin that is usually bark-like in texture. The inside flesh ranges in color, from pale pink to deep lavender, almost fuchsia. It is often mistaken for taro root or purple sweet potatoes, but they are, in fact, different root vegetables.

Ube vs Taro

Taro roots cut open on wooden table

Ube and taro are both tubers with bark-like skin and pink-hued flesh. The difference between taro and ube is that taro has a subtle, earthy, potato-like flavor while ube is nutty with a vanilla-like flavor. Taro flesh is usually white with a few pink freckles, whereas ube is mostly pinkish-purple with the occasional white freckling depending on the root. Taro root is also much larger than ube. It is used for savory and sweet dishes instead of mainly just desserts like ube.

Ube vs Purple Sweet Potato

Ube is often mistaken for a purple sweet potato because of its violet flesh, but the two are not the same. The difference between ube and purple sweet potato is that ube is a yam instead of a sweet potato. This means that the skin of the ube is rough and bark-like instead of thin and smooth like that of the purple sweet potato.

The flesh of purple sweet potatoes is consistently a deep purple-to-fuchsia color, whereas ube flesh can vary from light violet to dark lavender. Ube flesh contains more moisture than sweet potato, making it a better ingredient to bake with. Although both tubers are sweet and receive their color from anthocyanins, ube is nuttier in flavor and contains a higher level of vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium than purple sweet potatoes.

How to Cook Ube

Ube is not typically found in its raw form in the United States, more often available in powdered and extract forms. Raw ube contains some toxins and should be cooked down before serving. To cook ube, follow these steps:

  1. Wash the ube skins thoroughly.
  2. Boil the whole root for 30-40 minutes.
  3. Peel off the skins and cut.
  4. The soft flesh can now be used for your ube recipes.

Popular Ube Foods

If you’re ready to start incorporating ube into your menu, try some of these most common ube foods for a whimsical splash of color:

Purple macaroons using Ube as ingredient
  • Ube Halaya - One of the most popular ube recipes in the Philippines, ube halaya (also known as ube jam) is a pudding made with boiled purple yam. Coconut milk, sugar, and butter are added to the mashed ube and simmered. The final result is either eaten as is, spread on bread, or used in other ube desserts.
  • Halo-halo - Also known as haluhalo (the Tagalog word for “mixed”), halo-halo is a type of frozen dessert made with shaved ice and ube halaya. It is then paired with an assortment of toppings, like sweetened beans, jellies, and fruits. Most chefs serve halo-halo with ice cream, pie, or flan for the perfect sweet treat.
  • Ube Ice Cream - Made by churning ube extract or ube powder with cream, ube ice cream is a sweet and nutty dessert that is often paired with halo-halo.
  • Ube flavoring syrup used in coffee and espresso-based drinks
  • Ube Extract - Ube can be steeped in alcohol to create a purple yam extract. This extract is often used to make ube syrups that provide color and flavor to cocktails, juices, and sodas.
  • Ube Powder - Powdered ube is made from boiled ube that is mashed, dehydrated, and ground into a powder consistency. Purple yam powder can then be mixed with water or added to recipes for that vibrant purple coloring and nutty, vanilla flavor. Ube powder is excellent for smoothies, hot chocolate, bread, cakes, and elegant desserts like these ube macarons.

Ube FAQs

Below, we answer some of the most common questions about purple yams.

Where to Buy Ube

Ube can typically be purchased in Asian grocery stores or international aisles of larger supermarkets. While finding raw ube is rare in the United States, ube powder, ube extract, and frozen ube are more readily available.

Is Ube Taro?

Ube is not the same as taro. Although both are root vegetables with bark-like skin, ube is sweeter and has pinkish-purple flesh while taro is earthy and has white flesh with pink flecks.

Where Is Ube From?

Ube or purple yams mainly grow in the Philippines but can be found throughout Southeast Asia.

Ube Health Benefits

Ube is a good source of healthy carbs, vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. A 3.5-ounce serving will typically have 27 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 13% daily value of vitamin C, and 11% daily value of vitamin A. Despite its health benefits, ube is usually served in dessert recipes which should be enjoyed in moderation. Keep in mind that ube root contains some toxins in it and should never be consumed raw.

If you’re looking to spruce up your menu and get customers talking, ube might just be the burst of color you need. You can make your business an Instagram-worthy hotspot by adding ube desserts for your customers to pair with vibrant bubble tea selections.

Posted in: Bakeries|Kitchen & Cooking Tips|By Janine Jones
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