Why are all desserts purple all of the sudden? Purple ice cream, purple cake, purple cookies, purple spread, purple everything! And this isn’t like the time I thought I kept seeing clowns everywhere so I went to the optometrist and it turned out I just had some clown pictures taped to my glasses. This time, it’s really happening! So, what’s with the purple obsession? It’s ube! Ube has been popular for a while now in the Philippines and more recently made its presence known stateside. But what flavor is it? What is ube flavoring? Well, if you don’t know, just ask somebody. Hey, I’m somebody.
What is ube?
Ube, pronounced ooh-bay, is a tuber. That doesn’t mean it likes to take its innertube down to the river for a relaxing summer day. In this case, it means it’s in the same family as sweet potatoes and not-so-sweet regular potatoes. Ube is a purple yam. Ube thrives in the tropical climates of Southeast Asia and is particularly popular in the Philippines. Ube is very different from purple sweet potatoes and taro, though. All of these tubers can get mixed up, as they are all shades of purple. Antioxidants called anthocyanins, give ube its color. It also contains vitamins A and C, as well as high levels of potassium. Ube is a more vibrant purple, underneath its dark, bark-like exterior, and has a sweeter taste than those other purple tuber posers.
What flavor is ube?
Ube’s flavor has been described as earthy, sweet, and nutty; a breath of vanilla with a wisp of soft pistachio. This mild and slightly sweet flavor makes it a favorite for desserts, whereas most other tubers are used in savory dishes. Ube has a gentle, not-at-all intense flavor. Ube can be cooked the same way you would cook a potato. But once it’s cooked and mashed, there are all sorts of ways to use it. In the Philippines, ube is a staple ingredient in cakes, cheesecakes, flan and pudding. Its purple hue and vanilla-y flavor also shows up to the breakfast table in pancakes and doughnuts.
In the U.S., ube has shown up in things like hamburger buns and cocktails. That striking purple appearance has made it a hit ingredient on social media, the place where food trends are now born. Ube has become so ubiquitous at this point that even Trader Joe’s has gotten in on the action with a purple, ube flavored ice cream, spread, and even an ube version of their Joe-Joe’s cookies.
You may be able to find fresh ube at your local Asian grocery store. But the main way ube comes to the U.S. is freeze dried, in powdered form, or in a jam or paste. Any way you can get your hands on it, it will work in your dessert recipe. So go out and get some ube and experience its flavor for yourself. Be sure to post your purple pics on your socials for all the ube fans out there. And, whoever keeps doing it, please stop taping things to my glasses.