Ube – The Purple Yam of the Philippines

What are Purple Yams?

There are a variety of interesting if not outright exotic fruits and vegetables in the world. For instance, most schools in America teach that carrots are yellow or orange, not blue. But blue carrots indeed exist. We know that sweet potatoes have a variety of colors, as well as corn and various other fruits and vegetables.  However, have you heard of a purple yam?  Well, I didn’t until today. What makes them purple? Do they have extra nutritional benefits compared to other tubers? What is a good comparison for it? Let’s take a look at them.

Ube – The Purple Yam of the Philippines

When people talk about purple yams, they are often referring to Dioscorea alata. This is a staple crop in Austronesian cultures, specifically the islands of Southeast Asia. According to Wikipedia, “Based on archaeological evidence of early farming plots and plant remains in the Kuk Swamp site, authors have suggested that it was first domesticated in the highlands of New Guinea from around 10,000 BP and spread into Island Southeast Asia via the Lapita culture at around c. 4,000 BP. ”

It is not that much different from sweet potatoes or taro. It is easy to confuse them for the variety of purple yam that is also found in Okinawa, Japan. The difference lies in the color of the flesh. The flesh color of an Okinawa variety is white, while the Philippino variety, or Ube,  has purple flesh that matches the insides.

It is still the most important crop in Southeastern Asia, today. Specifically the Philippines, where it is the main ingredient for modern desserts.

Purple yams are edible ‘tubers’ with a mildly sweet/earthy and nutty taste. According to chefs, who have worked with this as an ingredient, “Larger yams are generally much sweeter than smaller versions, and if a yam has wintered over properly, the starches break down into sugars making the sweet vanilla flavor much more pronounced.” They are often converted into jams and pastes called halaya and are put in bread and even can be a flavor in ice cream.

But that barely scratches the surface of what it can do. This is thanks to the nutrition it offers as a whole.

purple yamPurple Yam Nutrition

The purple yam (Ube) is a starchy root vegetable that’s a great source of carbs, potassium, and vitamin C.

One cup (100 grams) of cooked Ube provides the following :

  • Calories: 140
  • Carbs: 27 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0.1 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Sodium: 0.83% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Potassium: 13.5% of the DV
  • Calcium: 2% of the DV
  • Iron: 4% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 40% of the DV
  • Vitamin A: 4% of the DV

They are also rich in powerful plant compounds and antioxidants. Including anthocyanins, which give them their vibrant hue.  This is the same type of pigmentation we have seen in red cabbages, blueberries, and flower petals.

But that isn’t all they do. They can help promote gut health overall.

The amount of fiber and resistant starches that are common in purple yams are beneficial enough to help the digestive system. This is common for most starchy fruits and vegetables. But what makes ube unique was that it increased the level of beneficial bacteria in the gut. One test-tube study showed that resistant starch from purple yams increased the number of Bifidobacteria, a type of beneficial gut bacteria, in a simulated large bowel environment. That is a pretty powerful vegetable.

Why it is Trending Now

We understand that it is beneficial for our health, but why is the word about this ultraviolet tuber just now reaching the US? For starters, native-born Philippine chefs and business owners are introducing this into their culinary profile. The advantage that the uniqueness of an exotic fruit or vegetable can bring is not lost on people trying to make their way through a culinary career.  Another thing that is bringing its attention is the paleo diet movement. The idea of eating things that would have most likely existed in the Paleolithic era is why there is a paleo diet, and this tuber would technically qualify.

Another reasoning behind why this is getting popular in the United States is the new trend of “unicorn” fad. Foods included, there has been an uptick in a unicorn trend with the use of vibrant colors, glitters and pastels. So, it would make sense to use the natural purple pigment of the ube to make magical food. Either way, its making the rounds as a very useful and popular yam.