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What Is Ube? What Makes This Tuber Go Viral?

Are you curious about ube? Find out some interesting facts about the over-hyped ingredient in this comprehensive guide! Unlock a few recipes using this famous yam, too!

Also known as purple yam, ube is a root vegetable that’s known for its bright purple color and distinctive flavor profile. 

It’s from the ube plant which has a scientific name Dioscorea alata. Ube (pronounced ooh-beh) is often mistaken for taro, a starchy root vegetable that comes from the herbaceous plant of the arum family (Araceae).

Moreover, it’s native to Southeast Asia, specifically grown in the Philippines and has been a staple ingredient by Filipinos for centuries, especially when it comes to desserts. 

You can prepare ube in a variety of ways, but it’s most often combined with condensed milk and turned into ube ice cream, ube jam, and other Filipino desserts. 

This FAQ guide talks about everything about ube, including its culinary uses, taste, and its differences from other root veggies.

Table Of Contents

What is ube?

Originated in the Philippines, ube is a root vegetable that belongs to the Dioscorea family. 

Unlike orange sweet potatoes and taro, which are often served in savory dishes, ube is mainly used as an ingredient for dessert and making sweets.

Ube was making rounds on the internet after hundreds of Instagrammers shared some of their homemade and mouth-watering ube treats (#ube), which feature the tubers’ photogenic, catchy, bright purple hue, and surprisingly unique flavor.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by 𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗧𝗼 𝗘𝗮𝘁 𝗣𝗛 (@whattoeatph)

According to Filipino food historian Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, ube was mentioned and defined as a variety of sweet potatoes (Convolvulaceae) in the first Tagalog-Spanish dictionary published in 1613. 

However, this information was later corrected by the experts, classifying ube as a yam, which belongs to the Dioscorea family.

Ube is traditionally made into halayang ube (ube paste or jam), then added to halo-halo, a shaved ice dessert that combines the popular ingredient with ripe banana, milk, ice cream, leche flan, corn flakes, and red mung beans. 

However, other chefs use ube to create decadent purple cakes, ube ice cream, cookies, cupcakes, and even ube latte. The ube hype is absolutely crazy!

If you’re into baked goods, check out this ube cheese pandesal (ube-based Filipino dinner roll)—it’s a breakfast treat or snack filled with ultra-intense purple-yam flavor and melty cheese filling. 

Furthermore, it’s challenging to find fresh ube in the Asian grocery store. 

But the good news is you can buy it in other forms (such as ube extract and ube powder) to incorporate it into your foods.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by BigBoi | Filipino Comfort Food (@gobigboi)

What does ube taste like?

If you’re wondering about the ube flavor, the tuber features a slightly nutty flavor of pistachio and vanilla.

It’s sweeter and more mellow than its relative, orange sweet potatoes. 

When cooked, the flavor of ube is somewhat akin to red yams and sweet potatoes but with a slightly powdery feel. 

Ube vs Taro

Taro and ube are both tuberous root vegetables, but they come from separate plant families and differ in taste and uses. 

The table below provides a more detailed breakdown of the main differences between taro and ube, from their flavor to how to prepare them in various ways. 

Taro Ube
Origin Taro is an edible corm from the tropical herbaceous plant (Colocasia esculenta), which is a member of the Araceae family. It’s a staple ingredient in African, Caribbean, and some Asian cuisines. Meanwhile, ube refers to the root vegetable from the ube plant (Dioscorea alata). It’s native to Southeast Asia and is a popular dessert ingredient in the Philippines.
Appearance Taro corms typically have a brown and somewhat hairy skin with a creamy-white flesh flecked with purple hue. When cooked, the taro root turns into a purple-ish color. Ube has a sweet potato shape featuring a vibrant purple color. Chefs across the globe use vibrant vegetables to incorporate their sweet dishes, making them visually appealing.
Taste The taste of taro is earthy and slightly nutty. Ube has a slightly nutty undertone of pistachio and vanilla. It’s sweeter and more mellow than its relative, orange sweet potatoes.
Texture Taro is soft, dry, and a bit grainy when cooked. Raw ube has a slightly powdery feel. However, the texture of ube once cooked is soft, slightly sticky, and appetizingly moist.
Uses Ube is often used to create sweet dishes and baked goods, such as cakes and cookies. It’s also used to create ube halaya (ube jam) for cupcakes, pancakes, and donuts. Compared to ube, taro is commonly included in savory dishes. You can turn it into taro chips, curry, and french fries. But adventurous cooks use the vegetable to make ice cream, taro milk tea, and pancakes.

How to use ube

There are endless ways to use ube, but it’s mainly used as an ingredient for making desserts. 

If you’re wondering what other ways to use ube in your favorite recipes, here’s a few of them: 

The bottom line

Ube is a root vegetable known for its bright purple hue and nutty, vanilla-like flavor. 

It’s a versatile ingredient that can be turned into various desserts and sweet breads, including cookies and cakes. 

Everyone is hyped up about ube desserts, however, it’s sad to think that some ube fanatics aren’t aware of the existing threat of scarcity in ube production.

A report revealed that the ube production in the country continues to slow down, despite the growing demand, from 17,844 metric tons in 2011 to just 14,376 metric tons in 2017. 

According to the report, the decline could be attributed to the early onset of rainfall, which affects the planting season of ube. 

So enjoy these violet beauties while they last, and make something amazing! 

We’ve discovered a few sellers have the whole yams over at Etsy if you are in the U.S. and trying to get the real thing in your kitchen. 

Want more great Filipino fun stuff? Check out our lists of traditional Filipino desserts and appetizers!