Filipino Ube: Unravelling The Versatility Of Purple Yam

Ube, also known as purple yam, is a vibrant and versatile tuberous root vegetable with rich cultural significance across various regions. Originating in Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines, ube has been an integral part of local cuisines for centuries. With its striking purple colour and unique nutty-sweet flavour, it has been used traditionally in a wide array of dishes, from savoury mains to delightful desserts.

In Filipino cuisine, ube is famously used to make classic treats like "ube halaya" (purple yam jam) and "ube ice cream." Beyond its culinary uses, ube holds symbolic value in cultural rituals and celebrations, representing prosperity and community. Today, this once-regional delicacy has gained global popularity, making its way into contemporary dishes, desserts, and even beverages, captivating food enthusiasts worldwide.

Ube's culinary versatility has transcended borders, inspiring a diverse range of dishes and desserts around the world. In the Philippines, ube remains a staple in traditional desserts like "ube halaya," "ube ensaymada" (sweet bread), and "ube leche flan." In neighbouring Asian countries, it finds its way into steamed buns, rice cakes, and even savoury dishes like ube-filled dumplings. Outside Asia, ube has become a trendy flavour in ice creams, pastries, and beverages, gaining immense popularity in the United States, particularly in speciality cafes and bakeries.

Chefs and home cooks worldwide have embraced Ube's unique taste and striking purple hue, creatively incorporating it into contemporary recipes. It is now used to add a delightful twist to pancakes, waffles, smoothie bowls, and even savoury dishes like ube-infused pasta and pizza crusts. The adaptability of ube has made it a beloved ingredient, allowing culinary enthusiasts to experiment and explore new and exciting flavour combinations across various cuisines.

Nutritional Value of Ube

Purple yam (ube) offers a range of nutritional benefits that set it apart from other root vegetables. Compared to common root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, ube is notably lower in calories and carbohydrates, making it a favourable option for those seeking a lower glycemic index alternative. It is a rich source of dietary fibre, promoting healthy digestion and providing a feeling of fullness.

Moreover, ube boasts an impressive array of vitamins and minerals. It is abundant in vitamin C, which supports the immune system, and vitamin A, which is essential for healthy vision and skin. The potassium content in the ube helps regulate blood pressure and maintain heart health. Additionally, ube contains valuable antioxidants like anthocyanins, responsible for its vibrant purple colour, which possess anti-inflammatory and free-radical-fighting properties. 

Ube's Health Benefits

Ube, or purple yam, offers several potential health benefits that contribute to overall well-being when incorporated into a balanced diet. Firstly, its high dietary fibre content aids in promoting healthy digestion by supporting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. The presence of vitamin C in ube plays a crucial role in supporting immune function and helping the body fend off infections and illnesses. Additionally, the significant levels of vitamin A contribute to maintaining healthy skin and vision.

Ube's lower glycemic index compared to other starchy vegetables can assist in managing blood sugar levels, making it a suitable option for individuals with diabetes or those seeking to control their blood sugar. Moreover, its rich antioxidant content, particularly the anthocyanins responsible for its purple colour, provides anti-inflammatory benefits and helps combat oxidative stress. Incorporating ube into a diverse and well-balanced diet can be a flavourful way to enhance nutrient intake and promote digestive and immune health. However, as with any food, moderation is key, and it's essential to enjoy ube as part of a varied and balanced diet.

Ube Varieties and Culinary Uses

There are several varieties of purple yam (ube), each with its own unique characteristics that influence their culinary uses. The most common variety is the Filipino purple yam, also known as "Dioscorea alata," which has vibrant purple flesh and a nutty-sweet flavour. It is widely used in Filipino desserts like "ube halaya" and "ube pastillas." Another variety is the Okinawan purple yam, known as "Dioscorea batatas," which has a deep purple hue and a slightly milder taste compared to the Filipino ube. It is often used in Okinawan cuisine to make "purple sweet potato tarts" and "purple sweet potato tempura."

The Japanese purple yam, or "Dioscorea japonica," is yet another variety with pale lavender skin and a creamy texture. It is popularly used in Japanese desserts like "yam ice cream" and "yam mochi." Each variety of purple yams brings its own distinct flavour and texture to dishes, inspiring a wide array of culinary delights across different cultures and cuisines.

Recipe For Ube


500 grams of fresh purple yam (ube), peeled and grated

1 can (400 ml) of coconut milk

1 can (300 ml) of condensed milk

1/2 cup of evaporated milk

1/2 cup of white granulated sugar

1/4 cup of unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Pinch of salt


Wash the fresh purple yam thoroughly under running water.

Peel the yam using a vegetable peeler until you have removed all the skin.

Grate the peeled yam using a grater or food processor until you have fine purple shreds.

In a large, non-stick pan or pot, combine the grated ube, coconut milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Stir well to mix.

Cook the mixture over low to medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Once the mixture starts to thicken, add the white sugar, unsalted butter, and a pinch of salt. Continue stirring to ensure even cooking and prevent burning.

Keep cooking and stirring the mixture until it thickens to a paste-like consistency. This may take about 20–30 minutes. The ube halaya should be thick enough that it holds its shape when scooped.

Once the desired thickness is achieved, add the vanilla extract and mix it thoroughly into the halaya.

Turn off the heat and let the Ube Halaya cool down in the pan. As it cools, it will firm up a bit more.

Transfer the Ube Halaya into serving dishes or a container, and let it cool completely in the refrigerator before serving.

You can garnish the Ube Halaya with grated cheese, coconut flakes, or even more ube jam for added texture and flavour.

Enjoy your homemade Ube Halaya as a delicious and satisfying Filipino dessert! It can be served chilled as it is or used as a filling for other pastries and desserts. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a week.