The “Ube” and Purple Filipino Food

Update January 2015 — I’ve added photos of more ube products found at Asian stores.  From ube flavored crackers, cakes….even ube flavored Otap!  Snack companies continue to add purple ube flavors to their product lines.


The theme for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge on the Daily Post is the color Purple.

I thought about food…specifically Filipino food, as I was working on a purple food post.

Indian Eggplant at Moss Landing, California Market Stall

There are many food in shades of purple. There is the eggplant of course, and grapes, purple potatoes, purple cabbage, purple basil, onions — which we call red, but really is often the same shade as purple cabbages.

Boy behind “red” onions at his family’s vegetable market stall, Philippines

Purple shade foods — beets and onions — for sale at the Old Monterey Farmers Market

However, when it comes to purple foods, I think Filipino food wins in the “most” category.  This is all thanks to the ube — pronounced “ou-beh” — a type of purple yam from the Philippines.

Filipinos are accustomed to purple food from the flavor and coloring of ube — and it must be ingrained in us.

Ube flavored food varies from a light shade of lavender to a deep, dark purple.  It does not matter the shade as I think I can speak for most Filipinos and Filipino-Americans here, that when we see purple or an ube-shade of food, we immediately think…oh look, purple…yes, it’s ube…its good….get it….eat it!

The purple ube by itself is a health food, with anti-oxidant properties.   But perhaps how we prepare it in the Philippines — whipped with milk and sugars, or stuffed in breads, cooked with biko or other rice flour based desserts — takes away its health benefits.  Or maybe there is still enough ube in there to count for something…

Here are some of my ube food photos.  It is common to see these at San Francisco Bay Area Filipino grocery stores and eateries.

Pan de ube — bread stuffed with the purple yam jam!

Philippine sticky rice with coconut dessert “Biko” plain (brown) and purple ube flavored.

Philippine “kakanin” or snack food called Puto, in plain white, or purple, ube flavored.

“Sapin-sapin” a type of layered, sticky, rice flour based snack food and dessert, ube flavored

It is also common to find ube flavored drinks, ice creams and ube snacks at  Filipino eateries, and even fast-food restaurants. This is from Chow-King, advertising halo-halo (an icy treat that translates to “mix-mix”). Click on the photo for Lolako’s Halo-Halo post.

Woman selling snacks contained in banana leaves, at the market, Philippines. The tube shaped items are filled with sticky rice cooked in coconut milk, then steamed. The cupcake looking items are “puto”, a fermented rice flour sweet snack, also cooked inside a banana leaf. You can see purple, or ube flavored ones along with the yellow and pink putos.  Click on photo for more on the Philippine banana-wrapped snack foods.

Ube flavored snack contained in banana leaves

The food snack and Chinese style pastry  “Hopia” typically has yellow mung beans, but lately I have seen these with ube flavored filling, too!

Purple Yam is available in a powdered format, if you want to add a natural food coloring (and some ube flavors) to your food.

Jeff made pan de sal — a traditional breakfast bread in the Philippines — with ube, using this brand of powdered ube.

The recipe is from Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s cookbook, Memories of Philippine Kitchens. They are owners of the restaurant Purple Yam, in Brooklyn, New York.

Homemade ube pan de sal with store-bought ube spread.

Frozen UbeFrozen, whole ube is also available at most Asian or Filipino markets.

You can also buy frozen ube that is already grated —- so you can save time if you want to make ube halaya.

Booth at Pistahan Festival in San Francisco – August 2012

Ube Waffles with caramelized macapuno (coconut) syrup by Pinx (

Philippine ube “flower bread”

Picture is a small dish of super purple, ube “halaya”…sweet favorite of grated and mashed ube, cooked with milk (cooked by stirring, then stir, stir and then more stirring).  It is usually topped with bits of coconut curd.

We noticed at our local Filipino store, there are more products with ube flavoring!

Ube flavors snack companies

Ube flavor crackers and more

I was surprised to see ube flavored otap — a type of puff pasty popular in certain parts of the Philippines.  When I was a kid, otap was just plain otap, and now there is ube otap?

Ube is now in so many products…which confirms how much Filipinos love this food flavor.  Or again, maybe it is the color that reminds us of ube “halaya” and other traditional desserts, and food and snack manufacturers know we will likely try it.

What do you think?  Way too strange or…I’ll try that!

Related links:

Purple yam, Dioscorea alata (in cross-section above courtesy Deepugn – via blog In the Company of Plants and Rocks)


Blog post “Will the real yam please stand up”, from the blog, In the Company of Plants and Rocks.

Excerpt…Plants of the genus Dioscorea, the true yams, are perennial vines.  The yams themselves are root tubers…


Ube Flavor Ice Cream from Magnolia – Ramar Foods Intl.



Lolako’s Purple yam…or corn and cheese ice cream…anyone? On the unique, ice cream flavors from the Philippines.



Champorado – chocolate rice porridge

Champorado – chocolate rice porridge

And more of Lola Jane’s Filipino food posts:

  • Champorado origins – a chocolate rice porridge and favorite Filipino breakfast
  • Burgers…and Bangus?  Why the bangus fish is often thought of as a Philippine national symbol
  • About ginamos & tuyo…and can you bring in your luggage when traveling to the US
  • About Sinangag, and how much I missed rice while in boot camp in the US Air Force
  • Use of Banana Leaves in Filipino food

pumnpkin spice oreo cookies webAnd just as Philippine food companies use purple and ube flavors in more and more products, see this post about the pumpkin and pumpkin “spice” flavor trend in the U.S.