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Ube: What Is It (and Why Do Cooks Love It)?

rich purple ube-colored desert on a bright orange table cloth
Eleonora Tuveri/Shutterstock

If you haven’t heard of ube yet, it’s about time you did. This technicolor food trend is sweeping the nation. Learn what it is and why everyone loves it!

This social media starlet is taking the US by storm. We’ve seen it in ice creams, donuts, cakes, and candies. Its saturated violet hue is nothing, if not eye-catching and it’s versatility in the kitchen is hard to beat. But what is this tasty treat? Where did it come from, and does it taste as good as it looks?

What is Ube and What Does it Taste Like?

Ube, pronounced “ooh-beh,” is a purple yam native to the Philippines (and other areas of Southeast Asia). It has a home in traditional Filipino cooking, but it’s a new arrival for most western cooks. The bright purple color is uniquely photogenic, making this humble yam especially exciting for foodie influencers everywhere.

From violet to vivid purple, these yams pack a color punch inside and out. Their flavor, though, is similar to western sweet potatoes. They’re a bit more saccharine, with just a hint of vanilla and the nuttiness of almond. This makes them ideal for desserts, and there’s no lack to be found. We’ve seen cheesecakes, donuts, waffles, cookies, and cannolis all dyed the magical magenta that only ube can provide.

fresh cut ube and dried ground ube powder on a white background
adrenalinerushdiaries/Shutterstock

In the US, you’re most likely to find ube in frozen form. Ube ice cream has become a popular treat that’s made its way from hipster ice cream shops to the frozen section of many big chain grocery stores. Most often, these ice creams, and treats like them, aren’t using the yam in its full form. Instead, they use ube powder, a dried and concentrated product. The powder can be applied directly to color and flavor many desserts from ice cream, to donuts, to frostings.

Where Can I Find Ube?

Products made with ube can be found just about everywhere. Ice cream shops are the best bet, although ube donuts are trendy as well.  For a more authentic tasting, you might seek out the traditional Filipino dessert, Halo-Halo. A mixture of ice, evaporated milk, ube and other traditional flavors like sweetened beans, Halo-Halo has been well-loved and praised by many celebrity chefs such as Andrew Zimmerman and the late Anthony Bourdain.

three traditional Filipino halo halo deserts
Alexis Revamonte

If you’re looking to cook with it yourself, we recommend seeking out ube powder (available on Amazon). The powder is easier to find, simple to store and can be used directly in a variety of baked goods. The easiest way to use it is to mix it directly into your next batch of buttercream. The bright purple color will look lovely on that platter of cupcakes, and the sweet, nutty flavor should complement just about any baked treat.

Suncore Foods - 100% Organic Purple Sweet Potato Natural Supercolor Powder, 5oz

Pack some vibrant purple into your next baking session or smoothie with some ube powder.

Now that you know what ube is, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how to use it; there are no excuses. Put on those amethyst colored glasses and join the fun!  Get some ice cream, bake a cupcake, or seek out some Halo-Halo. Regardless of how you choose to experience it, ube is a food trend you won’t want to miss!

Lauren Sakiyama Lauren Sakiyama
Lauren Sakiyama is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. She has managed restaurants, country clubs, and large-scale event operations, but her passion has always been about the food. Read Full Bio »

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