What Is Ube?

We get to the bottom of this vibrant purple root.

You don't even need to taste ube ice cream to be enchanted by it—the rich purple color can woo even the most dubious ice cream connoisseur—but one lick just might get you hooked. So what is ube? The answer might surprise you.

What Is Ube?

Pronounced OO-beh, ube is a purple yam—a starchy tuber (Dioscorea alata) very closely related to white-fleshed yams. Ube has origins in Southeast Asia, but it is most commonly used in Filipino cuisine.


Ube Nutrition

Similar to many other kinds of yams and sweet potatoes, ube is a highly nutritious tuber. It's a great fit for a balanced, healthy eating pattern (whether it's in a meal, snack or dessert). One 3.5-ounce serving of ube provides:

  • 120 calories
  • 27g carbohydrates
  • 4g fiber
  • 1g protein
  • 0g fat
  • 20mg calcium (2% daily value [DV])
  • 0.36mg iron (2% DV)
  • 12mg vitamin C (13% DV)
  • 100IU vitamin A (11% DV)

What Does Ube Taste Like?

The flavor and texture of cooked ube is strikingly similar to red yams and sweet potatoes. It's difficult to find a distinct difference. However, there is a very subtle difference in the texture—sweet potatoes are slightly dryer than ube, which has a moist texture that lends itself well to several kinds of baked goods and desserts.

Yams vs. Ube

Ube is very similar to red yams, and they both get mistaken for sweet potatoes. Both look like a root and are narrower than a sweet potato—the biggest difference is the color. The skin of ube is a creamy, off-white color while the flesh of raw ube is a light purple (it becomes dark purple when it's cooked). The skin of a red yam is burgundy and the flesh is bright orange.

Taro vs. Ube

Taro and ube get confused a lot as well—they're both very common in Southeast Asian cuisine, and they have some similarities, but they're technically different. First off: taro is a corm and ube is a tuber, but those are terms for the same function—they grow underground and act as food storage for the plants that grow from them. The main difference between the two are their mechanisms of doing so.

But unlike the purple yam, taro is large in size and it has furry brown skin with white flesh and little purple specks. Cooked, taro is similar in texture and flavor to a potato, only it's slightly gummy and has a subtly sweet and nutty flavor. And lastly, taro is used in both sweet and savory dishes while ube is more commonly used in sweet dishes.

Ube Desserts

In the United States, ube is a popular flavor of ice cream and is becoming more common in other forms of desserts as it becomes more popular. In the Philippines, one common desserts is ube halaya or purple yam jam. It's made by grating cooked ube and then combining it with butter, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and coconut milk. It's then simmered and strained to make a spreadable jam kind of like pumpkin butter. From there, it can be eaten by itself or used in other desserts like ice cream or halo-halo (translated as mix-mix) which is a layered ice cream dish.

Where to Buy Ube

Ube might be a bit difficult to find in the U.S., but well-stocked Asian markets like 99 Ranch often carry fresh ube. Also stop by your local Asian market as they may also carry ube. Online, you can buy bottled ube halaya as well as both ube extract and ube powder, which can be used for cakes, cookies and other desserts.

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