What Is Ube? Learn About the Sweet Purple Yam

The vibrant Southeast Asian tuber is quickly gaining popularity.

ube sweet potato with slices and ube puree in bowl

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If you’ve spent any time in Trader Joe’s or bubble tea shops in the past few years, you’ve probably come across products advertising ube. The vibrant purple color is enticing, sure, but those who haven’t seen it before might wonder, ‘what is ube?’ Growing up in a Filipino family, it was common practice to finish off a meal (especially in the summer months) with a tall glass of halo-halo. It’s a shaved ice dessert that translates to “mix-mix” in Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines. If you didn’t grow up enjoying ube, there are many new ways of introducing the bright purple yam into your home via cookies, ice cream, and more.

What Is Ube?

Pronounced ooh-beh, ube is is a starchy purple tuber (formally known as Dioscorea alata). Ube is native to Southeast Asia, with the Philippines being the country really known for cooking and baking with it. Nutrition-wise, ube is similar to a plain sweet potato, logging in at 120 calories, 27 g carbs, 4 g fiber, and 1 g protein. 

What Does Ube Taste Like? 

If you were to blind taste-tested a regular sweet potato or yam with ube, it might be hard to determine which you’re eating. The flavors are very similar, but upon closer examination, there is a small difference in the texture of ube compared to an orange sweet potato. Ube is a bit creamier when boiled, which makes it a perfect candidate to use in baked goods.

Ube vs. Taro

Taro is often confused with ube. It’s a starchy tuber, but rather than being entirely purple, taro is white with specks of purple and a brown, scaly exterior. You’ll find taro in sweet dishes (or on a bubble tea menu), but several Asian countries use taro in savory dishes as well. Flavor-wise, ube has a natural sweetness while taro has a more earthy and nutty yet slightly sweet taste.

Where to Buy Ube

Unfortunately it’s not always easy to find fresh ube in the U.S. Your best bet to find it fresh is at your local Asian grocery store. If you can’t find it, easier ways to cook with ube are to look for it after it’s been processed. Common ways to buy it are pureed and sold in the freezer section, in powder form, or as an extract.

Ube Ice Cream

How to Use Ube

In the Philippines, ube is usually boiled, mashed, and used to make desserts. Some of the most popular ube desserts are ube halaya, ice cream, pastillas (candies), and cakes. Here in the United States, you’ll likely find ube in the form of a delicious product for purchase or on a menu. Thanks to its brilliant purple color, ube is a trendy choice for cocktails, lattes, and other treats on social media (#ube has 500K posts and counting!). For an authentic taste the prepared tuber without having to cook ube, try picking up a jar of ube halaya (in Asian grocery stores or online) to spread on toast, top ice cream, halo-halo, or eat on its own.

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