What Is an Ube and Why Is It So Popular?

Everything you need to know about the purple veggie that's loved by so many.

It seems that violet-colored desserts are all the rage on Instagram. Purple ice cream, brownies, and macarons (and sometimes all three combined) have become the star of many food photoshoots. The gorgeous hue is due to one ingredient: ube (pronounced ooh-beh). But what exactly is an ube, and why has it become so popular?

What Is an Ube?

Ube, meaning tuber in Tagalog, is a purple yam originally from the Philippines. Different than the purple sweet potato, it has an even sweeter, more mellow taste than its orange relative. Ube has a slightly nutty, vanilla taste and is popularly used in desserts in Filipino cuisine, often boiled and then mashed with condensed milk.

Is Ube Healthy?

Ube is often confused with taro, another similar root vegetable, but the two are distinct. Taro is often used in savory dishes, while ube (though it can be cooked with savory spices) is more commonly used in sweets.

Ube has a similar nutritional profile to the good ol' sweet potato, meaning that it's high in healthy carbs, vitamins, and fiber. The purple variety was also recently shown to have extra-high levels of antioxidants, which can promote overall health. However, that doesn't mean you should go wild on ube-centered desserts. The health benefits of ube often don't outweigh other ingredients commonly added to desserts, including high amounts of sugar and fat. All that is to say, enjoy ube-flavored desserts in moderation, as you would any other sweet treat.

Ube in Popular Culture

While the ube has long been a staple in Filipino cuisine-used in cakes, puddings, flan, cheesecake, and more-it's only made its way into mainstream U.S. culture in the last few years. One of the first New York restaurants to embrace the ingredient was Manila Social Club, introducing ube doughnuts in 2016. From there, restaurants and bakeries across the country began coming up with creative ways to incorporate the technicolor root vegetable into their treats.

It's pretty safe to say that the ube's popularity is due in large part to its photographic nature, especially in a culture addicted to social media, but don't discount this ingredient as one solely for the eyes to feast on. Ube is surprisingly delicious, and with the continued proliferation of ube-flavored goods, you have plenty of opportunities to give it a try. Trader Joe's even has an ube ice cream, ensuring that this flavor isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

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  1. Moriya C, Hosoya T, Agawa S, et al. New acylated anthocyanins from purple yam and their antioxidant activity. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2015;79(9). doi:10.1080/09168451.2015.1027652

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