What is ube – the first thing to know about ube is that it translates to purple yam. It is a part of the yam family and holds the scientific name “dioscorea alata.” Generally, this plant comes in a vivid violet-purple to bright lavender. However, there are cases where it can range in color from cream to plain white. You can usually find this plant grown throughout the Asian tropics and is popularly used in desserts. Mainly, in the Philippines. For a root vegetable that falls under a family with a mostly savory profile, there is a lot of sweet properties with purple yam. When it comes to understanding ube, there is a lot to be said. Whether it’s history or its uses, this plant has a lot to offer.
What is Ube? A Short History Behind the Plant
Before getting into the different culinary uses of ube, it can help to understand its background. As stated, the plant is usually found throughout the Asian tropics. There are no specifics on where exactly this plant was first cultivated. However, archaeological evidence suggests that the plant was first domesticated in the highlands of New Guinea. It was through Lapita culture that the cultivation of the plant ended up spreading to Island Southeast Asia.
Currently, the crop remains a popular item in the Southeast Asian regions. If you are unfamiliar with this plant, the best way to describe it would be a perennial climbing herb with greyish-brown skins. They grow from round to cylindrical shapes and can be identified not just by the purple color but by its watery/slimy outer texture. Out of the different places you can find this plant, it is most prominently grown in the Philippines. Specifically, you can find it majorly grown in the Northern Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Central Visayas, and Northern Mindanao regions. As a prominent crop, ube has many uses in the Philippines.
Culinary Uses for Ube
Ube is a versatile crop to cook with. You can enjoy it cooked or have it transformed into a jam or powder as a food additive. Due to the vibrancy of the plant, the powder form is often used as a coloring. Aside from this, ube can be boiled, mashed, fried, or baked as a sweet and savory snack. When describing the taste of ube, they contain a mildly sweet, earthy, and nutty flavor profile. The most popular way that this plant is used is an ingredient for ube halaya. Ube halaya is a type of jam that involves coconut milk, condensed milk, and butter or margarine. It is often used as a way to add the yam’s flavoring to different desserts.
Dishes Featuring Purple Yam
As stated, purple yam is a popular flavoring found in many Filipino desserts. Most often than not, you can find this item used as a topping for a favorite Filipino dessert called halo-halo. Halo-halo is basically an ice dessert involving shaved ice, evaporated milk, coconut jelly, leche flan, candied/sweetened beans, and toasted green rice flakes. You can also find this flavor used as a variation for many classic desserts. A few examples of this are:
Ube Biko – A sticky rice cake with a dried coconut topping
Ube Leche Flan – An egg custard usually shaped in an oblong and topped with a caramel sauce.
Ube Turon – A sweet and crisp spring roll with a roasted banana filling but can vary in filling due to being a popular street snack
You can also see western dishes given this flavor twist such as the following:
Ube Brownies – A rich chocolate treat with the addition of ube jam in its mixture
Ube Macarons – Crisp purple biscuits sandwiching a purple yam flavored buttercream
Ube Cinnamon Rolls – Soft rolled pastry with cinnamon filling and usually topped with a glaze