When stopping by your local ice cream shop and looking for a new flavor to try out, you might have come across a purple-looking flavor that isn’t raspberry, huckleberry, or otherwise.
It turns out that this tasty variety of ice cream is ube (pronounced ooh-bae)!
But the search doesn’t stop there, as you’ll soon find out that this little purple yam is often confused with another root vegetable: taro (pronounced taa-row).
Two root vegetables, from similar areas in the world, with similar uses? At first glance, it might seem as though these two veggies have everything in common. Not so fast!
So, what is the difference between ube and taro? Ube and taro, though similar looking on the outside, have noticeable differences. Ube has a bright purple inside while taro has a pale beige flesh with small purple specks. Ube is also much sweeter and used more often in desserts. Taro is savory and used more frequently as a substitute for potatoes.
There are even more differences beyond that as well, so read on to find out how these two root vegetables stand out from one another.
What is Ube?
Ube is a purple yam that is native to the Philippines. This yam is a kind of “tuber”, an enlarged structure used by plants to preserve nutrients during periods of time where the plant is waiting for its normal growing season.
That can be a confusing definition, but you might know these “tubers” better as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and of course yams like our beloved ube.
Ube has long been a staple of Filipino cuisine, used to color and flavor puddings, cakes, flan, and many other treats. One of its most popular forms, ube halaya, is an iconic Filipino dessert.
However, although ube is native to the Philippines, this tuber has become quite the sensation with health nuts and fans of plant-based diets across the sea.
Even outside of the more health-conscious diets, the desserts that ube is often the star of have also been the interest of many people outside of the Philippines.
What Does Ube Taste like?
As mentioned before, ube has a mildly sweet flavor, though the intensity of flavor can depend on the size of the yam and where it was grown.
It has a kind of earthy, nutty flavor to it, similar to that of vanilla or pistachio. Because of this, ube has become a favorite ice cream flavor due to its subtle richness.
Finding whole ube can be difficult outside of having a local Asian foods grocer nearby. So ordering powdered or frozen ube extract works well when there are no other available options for procuring the little tuber.
How to Use Ube in a Recipe
Ube has an abundance of uses in many sweet treats, with all of them being delicious. Be sure to give as many of these a try as you can!
Ube Ice Cream
Perhaps the most popular application of ube right now is in ice cream. Its subtle flavors lend themselves well to the frozen snack. Plus, it turns your sweet treat to a delightful purple color.
Simply adding any powdered, frozen, or mashed ube into the cream mixture before the churning process and you’ll be on your way to delicious ube ice cream!
Ube halaya (basically meaning “ube jam”) is one of the most traditional ways to make ube into a dessert.
As its name suggests, this form of ube is a type of “jam”, though it might seem almost more like a cold pudding cake than the raspberry preserves you might be more familiar with.
This Filipino dessert starts by adding mashed ube and condensed milk into a warm saucepan with melted butter.
After fully incorporating the three ingredients, the mixture should be stirred until it has thickened. After that, it should be cooled down and refrigerated before eating!
The mixture itself is traditionally served with toppings such as grated coconut, latík (which is a kind of syrupy caramelized coconut cream), and condensed milk.
There are even more possibilities beyond that, so feel free to get creative! Ube halaya can also be used as an addition to other desserts, such as with halo-halo, a sweet Filipino shaved-ice sundae.
There a multitude of ways to use ube in cookie form. A favorite one of ours is a spin on an old classic: crinkle cookies.
Instead of using cocoa powder or vanilla, opt for ube powder to create a crinkle cookie that is not only incredibly delicious, but also purple! Who doesn’t love purple cookies?
Like ube cookies, incorporating ube into pancakes is very easy.
Simply add the ube to your pancake batter like you would blueberries or cinnamon and voilà! You now have a nutty, sweet, and most importantly, purple breakfast cake!
What is Taro?
So now that we’ve taken the time to discuss ube, let’s take a look at what many people mistake as ube.
First off, taro is not a tuber, unlike its purple friend. The part of taro that is most commonly eaten is a ‘corm’, which serves a similar function to tubers while having the addition of a basal plate.
Taro also has noticeably larger leaves than ube, which grow out from the eaten corm part of the taro. These shade the root and can even be used to make a kind of spinach-like dish.
Confusing? Absolutely. But beyond internal looks and taste, it’s important to know how these underground dwellers differ biologically.
Taro’s home ranges all across the Pacific Ocean, with it being grown from China to Hawaii. Its native origins aren’t exactly known, but it certainly came out of somewhere in Southeast Asia.
What Does Taro Taste Like?
Taro is not nearly as sweet as ube is. Its flavor is a lot more nuanced than the already subtle purple yam, and as such its applications can range from a savory side-dish to a vanilla-esque flavor in bubble tea.
When cooked, taro tends to keep its structural integrity and not fall apart like some other root vegetable might. After cooking, its flavor becomes a little bit more suitable with savory dishes, though it still has a mild sweetness.
Taro is noted for its ability to soak up flavors, often meaning that it has sweeteners and other powdered fruits and vegetables added to it.
This can end up confusing people on the true flavor of taro. However, we know that this little corm has a subtle nutty flavor that has many different applications.
How to Use Taro in a Recipe
Taro has so many variations across the board, it’s hard to even know where to start! Below are just a few ways you can add taro to your meals.
Making taro chips is a lot like making potato chips. In fact, it’s nearly identical! Begin by slicing the taro root as thin as possible with either a mandolin or knife.
From there, you can either lay them out on a parchment paper-lined baking tray to cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or you can fry them in vegetable oil!
Some cooks encourage washing ube in water, similar to potato chips, in order to rinse off any excess starch that might threaten the crispiness of your chips.
However, if you like your chips a little on the chewier side, similar to dehydrated fruit, then go ahead and pop them in the oven! And don’t forget to season with kosher salt!
This is a super creative way to use your new favorite vegetable. Begin by using the largest setting on your cheese grater to slice your taro into small pieces.
As with the taro chips, you’ll want to try and get rid of as much excess starch as possible to avoid soggy latkes. Wrapping cheesecloth around the grated taro and squeezing out as much starch as you can is a quick and easy way to do so.
From there, you simply fry your little purple-speckled latkes in a thin layer of vegetable oil, season with kosher salt, and they are ready for eating!
Additionally, these tasty fried treats can be layered with a variety of different toppings. Some favorites of ours include smoked salmon, cream cheese, sour cream, or even jam to add some sweetness to your breakfast!
Taro truly is such a versatile root. Not only does it have savory applications, but it has sweet ones as well! For taro cake, the way you add this vegetable in is up to you. Simply add this as the flavoring to your preferred style of cake and enjoy!
Some favorites of ours include the addition of taro in cheese cake, carrot cake, and even in place of chocolate in some chocolate cakes.
Poi is a way of eating taro that may be more for the adventurous at heart, as it’s a cuisine that might seem strange at first. However, upon taking a bite (or drink?) of this Polynesian dessert, it’s easy to get hooked on its delicious flavor.
Preparing poi is simple enough, as it’s a process that dates back hundreds of years. It was originally made using a mortar and pestle to properly mash the taro to its consistency.
Nowadays, using a food processor to liquefy the taro along with some water is really all that needs to be done before serving, though water can be added before consumption to achieve your desired consistency.
The viscosity of poi is measured in “fingers”, generally ranging from one-finger to three-fingers. In essence, this is meant to illustrate how many fingers are needed to scoop up the pudding-like food!
This kind of dish is very simple but it has a rich history and even some ways to experiment with the food, including fermentation and the addition of milk and sugar. Get creative and try this one out for yourself!
Ube Vs Taro -Nutritional Content
Now that we’ve gone over how both ube and taro can be used in different dishes, you might be wondering if these yams are even healthy to eat?
Of course, if you add ube to ice cream or fry taro in peanut oil you’ll certainly make these roots a little less than healthy. However, what about just the roots themselves?
Are there any health benefits from eating these veggies?
From the outset, ube is pretty similar to other yams. It’s rich in fiber, which experts say is important to include plenty of in your diet, and it has pretty high levels of vitamin B, thiamine, and nicacin.
Interestingly enough, the iconic purple color of ube has its own special properties, similar to how the bright orange color in sweet potatoes has added benefits.
In sweet potatoes, the orange color indicates the presence of cartenoids, a reddish-orange pigment present in many varieties of fruits and veggies. These cartenoids act in a similar way to antioxidants.
However, for ube, the purple coloring signals the presence of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are the reason for deep red and purple foods, and they have been shown to help fight against inflammation.
Taro root has similar properties to ube, most notably in the form of its fiber and carbohydrate content.
Fiber is said to be necessary for helping the body process and pass food waste, while carbs give us the energy to do the things we love doing, like cooking all the aforementioned taro and ube dishes.
Taro also has high levels of manganese which has been shown to help in maintaining good metabolism and bone health, as well as keeping blood from clotting.
High levels of potassium in taro also help with maintaining and keeping high blood pressure down by aiding in the breakdown of salts within the body.
Wow! What an extensive look at the differences between these two seemingly similar root vegetables.
Though it’s clear they have many of the same applications, we hope that you were also able to learn what makes these incredible vegetables unique. Below are a few more questions we thought you might have while reading through this article.
Is Ube From the Philippines or From Japan?
Though ube is native to the Philippines currently, it seems that these purple yams may also have come out of Japan originally (more specifically Okinawa).
However, there is also emerging evidence that it may have come somewhere out of the Americas. In terms of its cultivation history, the vegetable seems to have been first farmed out New Guinea before spreading out into the rest of Asia.
This may be why we see some of its origins in Japan, though at this point it is not entirely clear.
Is Taro Poisonous?
Taro is poisonous in its raw form, similar in some ways to how the leaves of rhubarb are toxic.
The presence of calcium oxalate makes this plant unsafe for consumption, due to the fact that calcium oxalate naturally binds to calcium within the body.
This can create the unwanted presence of kidney stones and can sometimes lead to kidney disease.
However, these oxalates can be largely negated by either steeping the peeled corms of taro in cold water overnight or through the simple process of boiling the root, which helps break down the calcium oxalate.
What Does Ube Ice Cream Taste Like?
Though ube by itself is a fairly sweet but mild flavor, the addition of it into ice cream heavily amplifies the sweet and nutty notes of the purple yam.
Many people compare it to pistachio gelato because of its tendency to have a creamy texture and a very simple, understated flavor.
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