It’s been described as “the purple yam taking the internet by storm” and the “beautiful food people can’t stop Instagramming.” Hailing from the Philippines, ube is a dark purple, tuberous yam that is jam-packed with carbs, potassium, vitamin C and antioxidants. This staple of the Philippines is used to make delicious desserts, treats, breakfasts, snacks and $100 gold-covered doughnuts.
California-born Filipina writer, blogger and foodie Eizelle, speculates that its the yam’s peculiar look — particularly on Instagram — that’s given ube the sudden push into the spotlight.
“That deep purple color is almost unreal,” says Eizelle. “It’s perfect Instagram bait.” Since taking social media by storm, Eizelle can see the influence on non-Filipino friends, “It’s crazy because it’s is everywhere! Ube pancakes at Trader Joe’s was crazy to see. Growing up we didn’t have that stuff and I never really talked about ube with non-Filipino friends because I didn’t think they would understand.” She goes on to talk about how, while popular, ube can still be divisive to Americans because of its color and texture.
Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about ube, the next trendy food that you should be eating.
What Is Ube?
Ube (pronounced ooh-bay) is a sweet species of yam that stands out among other decidedly less interesting yams because of its vivid purple color and sweet, creamy and mild taste. Ube gets its wild purple color from the naturally occurring anthocyanin pigments in its flesh and is said to taste like an “amalgamation of vanilla with the nuttiness of pistachio.”
Traditionally, Filipinos boil ube and combine it with sugar, coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk to make “Ube Halaya,” but it also can be made into pancakes, doughnuts, bread, cakes, halo-halo (a dessert made of crushed ice, evaporated milk and toppings like coconut strips, seaweed gelatin and more) as well as ice cream.
“To me, ube kind of tastes like sweet potato but a little nuttier with sweet vanilla/coconut notes,” says chef, YouTube star and Los Angeles-based restaurant marketing executive Tway Nguyen, “My favorite dish to make with ube is called Canh Khoai Mo (Vietnamese creamy purple yam soup). This dish is similar to vichyssoise, a French soup that is made from pureed leeks, onions and potatoes. I love it because it’s really eye-catching and offers a really unique taste. It also reminds me of my mom and that makes me happy.”
A Healthy Alternative to Sweet Potatoes
When it comes to nutrition, this starchy root vegetable is actually loaded with vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. One cup of ube contains around 140 calories and 40 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C while the anthocyanin (antioxidant) content may help reduce blood pressure and inflammation and protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Of course, it’s only when it’s boiled, mashed and cut with sweetened condensed milk that ube gets a bit more caloric, but that’s also when the flavor really comes out. Pro-tip: If you’ve never seen ube being prepared, check out this oddly satisfying video:
So, what about the color?! Believe it or not, that vivid, radiant purple is 100 percent natural.
“One of the main differences between sweet potatoes and ube are the type of antioxidants associated with their color,” said dietitian Alanna Cabrero, RDN, in an interview with Women’s Health. “While the orange hue of sweet potatoes signals a rich carotenoid content, the purple hue of ube indicates lots of anthocyanins.”
No matter how you use it, ube has carved a niche out for itself in both the Philippines and in America as the delicious dessert yam. With such a widespread appreciation for this root, why isn’t it more popular in the West? Well, for one thing, it is extremely difficult to find fresh ube in America.
“I’ve only found it once in the U.S.,” said restauranteur Nicole Ponseca, in an interview with Mic. Ponseca adds that most of the ube you find in America is either dehydrated powder, paste or jam. Regardless, people are starting to see ube catch on in America thanks to stores like Trader Joe’s, which sells a popular ube ice cream, and purveyors of the gold-covered doughnuts, Miami’s Manila Social Club.