How a purple root vegetable blew up Instagram

Photo via Getty Images/dashu83

How a purple root vegetable blew up Instagram


How a purple root vegetable blew up Instagram

Ube, a staple in Filipino cuisine, is used in both sweet and savory dishes. But America’s love for this purple yam doesn’t have as much to do with its flavor as it does with its made-for-Instagram aesthetic. Search #Ube on the photo-centric social media app, and you’ll find more than 205,000 posts.

Ube’s flavor is often compared to white chocolate, pistachio or vanilla, making it a subtle compliment to any dish. But it’s ube’s color – reminiscent of that shade of purple Violet Beauregarde turns in the original Willy Wonka movie – that have Instagrammers (and pastry chefs) spreading the gospel in the form of with ube velvet cake, ube pistachio doughnuts, chicken and ube waffles. Elegant ube pastries get more likes than some Hollywood celebrities.

Chefs and restaurants across the globe have jumped on the twinkling tuber train, taking traditional preparations of ube desserts – which are generally simple and unfussy – and turning them into edible art. 

While ubes recent popularity has brought some attention to Filipino food, its important to note that the photos you’ll find on Instagram have little to do with the cuisine of the Philippines, where ube is a basic everyday staple.

Take, for example, the Golden Cristal Champagne Ube Donut.

People wait weeks to get their hands on the Golden Cristal Champagne Ube Donut at the Manila Social Club in New York, which is filled with ube mousse and a 2007 Cristal champagne gelée, and covered in Cristal icing, 24k gold dust and a hand-gilded 24k gold leaf. They sell for $1,200 per dozen, and there’s often a waiting list. 

Ube is used in both sweet and savory dishes, but is a natural fit for the dessert category. The most ubiquitous ube-centric desserts in the Philippines fit into the category of kakanin, which comes from the Tagalog words kain (to eat) and kanin (rice). Kakanin are desserts made of coconut milk and glutinous rice, and though there are dozens of preparations, some of the more popular kakanin are biko, puto and sapin sapin, which are dense, pudding-like desserts made with condensed milk, sugar and coconut milk.

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SAPIN SAPIN is one of the favorite rice cakes in the Philippines and among Filipinos worldwide. It is made from layers of colored and flavored glutinous rice and garnished with LATIK or toasted desiccated coconut flakes . It is sticky but yummy. Definitely one of my favorite desserts. Each time I attend an occasion the first thing i look for in a dessert is Sapin-Sapin. . 🌈 SAPIN is a Filipino word of underlayer or layer. Hence, where Sapin-Sapin got its name and apparently what this rice cake looks like – layers of different color of rice cakes like a rainbow. 🌈 Thank You Father God for the yummy #sapinsapin . 🌈 #thankful #blessed #homemade #pinoyfood #filipinofood #philippinefood #kakanin #kalamay #ricecake #foodtrips #foodlover #foodie #foodies #food #foodblogger #foodjournal #foodstagram #instafood #instagood #foodiegram #foodphotography #foodpics #huffposttaste #buzzfeast #feedfeed #passthemenu

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Puto is a steamed sweet rice cake usually accompanied with butter or grated coconut, sometimes served alongside savory foods and topped with cheese or a salted egg.

The new ube craze has resulted in the movement from traditional to ethereal in ube bavarois, which is a nod to kakanin, with pinipig (toasted glutinous rice) croquant and macapuno (coconut) cream, which brings ube into an entirely different universe.

Then there’s this ube mousse with gold leaf:

Ube ice cream is also quite common in the Philippines, and is frequently found atop halo halo, which is kind of like the Filipino version of an ice cream sundae (and similar to Korean bingsu), made with shaved ice, sweetened milk and a variety of toppings ranging from fruit to gummies to beans to dulce de leche. Rook, in Indianapolis, has reimagined halo halo with lemongrass milk, marshmallow fluff, raspberry puree, blueberries, Fruity Pebbles, a macaron and an ube crown:

Hood Famous Bakeshop in Seattle has transformed halo halo into cheesecake with an ube filling.

Waffles make for easy (and beautiful) savory ube treats, as in this spam, bacon and egg sandwich at San Francisco’s Cravings Collective:

And at San Francisco’s Bao Down, in chicken and waffles:

This ube pancake is stunning in color, which is likely owed to ube jam, known as ube halaya, which is made from boiled and mashed fresh purple yams, and can be found online or in Asian markets. In addition to halaya, you can find ube in powder form or as an extract, which gives desserts a vibrant color and subtle flavor: 

Here, ube elevates a mille-crêpe cake:

And it looks gorgeous swirled into this decadent croissant:

You might be surprised to find that ube has been under your nose all along, as most major cities have Filipino bakeries and restaurants that serve plenty of ube treats.


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