Inside the history of ubiquitous dessert flavour ube

Fibrous with a slight crunch like shaved carrot. A little bit woody with a moderate sweet potato flavour, but a lot less sweet. That is what came to intellect when I tasted raw ube for the very first time.

Very well, the grated frozen stuff anyway, as I was not able to come across ube in its tuber variety in Toronto’s grocers.

Ube, the purple yam synonymous with Filipino sweets, is starting to be a staple flavour in the city’s dessert scene. This is many thanks to the influx of Filipino bakeries opening, as nicely as social-media-savvy Filipino bakers providing their cakes and cookies on the net all over the pandemic.

The tuber has long existed in Filipino culinary circles, but its reputation for giving desserts a really purple hue has skyrocketed in the age of Instagram. I have had ube in the form of ice cream, cake frosting and pastry fillings, but to definitely comprehend it is to learn about its roots. Pun intended.

Ube halaya is a sweet jam made by boiling grated ube with milk, sugar and butter. Filipino grocer FV Foods makes its own version and uses it to fill pastries such as a hopia.

Odds are if you’ve had ube for the initial time in Toronto, it’s in the form of ube halaya, a dessert designed from cooking down grated ube with coconut milk and then adding condensed milk and butter right up until it becomes a paste or jam. The flavour of ube halaya is the 1 most persons affiliate ube with: a faint pistachio flavour with potent, floral sweet notes of pandan and vanilla.

Ube halaya can be eaten on its have, or used as a distribute or pastry filling. You can get it at grocers these types of as FV Foods.

“When you insert coconut milk, it truly enhances the ube. They are soulmates,” explained chef Diona Joyce, who remembers the labour-intense undertaking of peeling and grating contemporary ube when expanding up in Oroquieta City in the southern Philippines.

Diona Joyce, of Kanto by Tita Flips, shows off the different ways ube can be found in the city: ube halaya, powdered ube, frozen grated ube and ube extract.

At her cafe Kanto by Tita Flips, Joyce uses a blend of frozen and powdered ube her sister ships from the Philippines to make ube halaya to top off her halo-halo, a shaved ice dessert layered with toppings these as coconut jelly, leche flan (another staple Filipino dessert), sweet beans, palm nuts, evaporated and condensed milk, and saba (a banana from the Philippines).

Inspite of ube’s superstar standing, more propelled by two a long time of the pandemic, which observed a increase in staring at phones and house baking, refreshing ube is a rarity in Canada and odds are most individuals have never viewed one particular.

A simply call to the trade office environment at the Philippine Consulate Standard in Toronto confirmed this is since of the nearby and worldwide demand from customers outpacing creation in the Philippines.

Typically, the extra popular American purple sweet potato receives mislabelled as ube in stores. I did, in actuality, mistakenly obtain sweet potatoes pondering they had been ube.

Ube (glance up its scientific title dioscorea alata for additional precise picture success) is believed to originate in the tropics of Southeast Asia. It is also developed in Vietnam in which it is utilized for sweet and savoury dishes.

The vine-grown tuber has a thick, fibrous and barklike pores and skin equivalent to taro root or cassava, which is the least complicated way to distinguish it from a sweet potato. Beneath, the flesh can selection from creamy white to lilac and deep purple, depending on the variety.

Fresh ube is a rarity in Canada and odds are most people have never seen one.

Most cooks get ube transported from overseas. It is generally frozen and shredded, powdered or bottled in extract kind. Ube is normally processed for desserts relatively than roasted and eaten plain like sweet potato.

“When I grew up, we’d try to eat sweet potatoes or cassavas with salt and sugar, but no one ate ube on its personal,” reported Joyce, including that coming throughout frozen packs of it grated when she came to Canada was a major time saver. “I bear in mind when you get an ube, you begin grating it suitable absent for halaya and the system would choose several hours.”

Nastasha Alli, exploration and engagement co-ordinator for foods tourism group Culinary Tourism Alliance and host of the Discovering Filipino Kitchens podcast, invested her teenage many years in the Philippines. Even there, she reported, ube was not anything generally observed in the develop sections of the supermarkets in huge cities.

But, she mentioned, she hopes ube’s world-wide recognition will direct to the raw tuber staying shipped to Canada a single day so that individuals can improve more common with the crop. Until eventually then, she’s enjoying the creative techniques ube is being utilised.

“The way Filipinos have altered and transformed ube into all these permeations, probably that is a reflection of the people’s capacity to make the most of what they have and see wherever that can go,” claimed Alli.

At Mineral restaurant, chef Daniel Cancino makes an ube leche flan.

At midtown Toronto’s Mineral, chef Daniel Cancino works by using ube extract to flavour (and color) his fragile and jiggly leche flan, which is concluded with pops of caramelized white chocolate and miso crumble, crispy rice, compressed fruit and dots of hibiscus and passion fruit gel.

“It’s the colour that initially will get you if you’re a non-Filipino, like the charcoal pattern a number of decades in the past when men and women ended up lining up for that ice product,” Cancino stated. “But if you’re Filipino, it brings the nostalgia.”

Pastry chef Caroline Marquez of Asukal Desserts commenced her bakery all over the begin of the pandemic and her treats can be identified in Kensington Market’s 6×8 Marketplace and through her Instagram account, @Asukal_TO. She explained ube pairs effectively with the sweeter flavours of white chocolate and coconut in baking applications.

“I’ve fulfilled a couple of the other Filipino bakers (in the metropolis), and I’m getting so energized that we’re all seeking to do the exact factor,” explained Marquez. “Most of us are using people flavours we understood as treats rising up and placing our acquire on it.”

In addition to ube white hot chocolate, ice product sandwiches and macarons, she makes a white chocolate ube sans rival cake, a riff on the layered cashew, buttercream and meringue cake by utilizing ube-flavoured sponge cake, buttercream, fudge and streusel. Her signature: an ube chiffon cake topped with a layer of leche flan.

But for those who are observing ube for the initial time on their telephones, there is a duty of not lessening the crop to a trendy colour like millennial pink, the pale pink colour that dominated decor and trickled down to foodstuff traits in the previous ten years.

Melona, the South Korean ice cream dessert bar, introduced an ube flavour in 2020.

Jessica Hernandez, whose publication Meryenda appears at Filipino food stuff through a second-era Filipino-American lens, grew up in Carson, a city in California with a big Filipino populace. She currently resides in the Philippines and it was not right up until a month ago, when she frequented her cousin in the province of Nueva Vizcaya, that she noticed refreshing ube for the initially time.

Fascinated in acquiring out extra about ube’s origins, she uncovered about its importance to the folks in the central province of Bohol, the country’s largest ube producer.

Traditionally, the tuber sustained Boholanos during durations of famine and war, and neighborhood folklore talked about kissing an ube whenever it fell to the ground as a sign of regard.

Hernandez hopes the world-wide recognition of ube will direct to additional focus to the worries of assembly the growing need. The Philippine Figures Authority, which tracks once-a-year crop output, showed that ube creation is on a drop. In 2007, it was at just in excess of 29 tonnes, dropping in 2011 to 17.8 tonnes and in 2019 to just over 14 tonnes. The latest quantities display that in 2020 13.96 tonnes were being developed.

In 2019, a area ube halaya manufacturer announced it was working with white ube as a substitute of the purple selection, citing climate change as the reason. As of now, far more exploration desires to be done to see whether or not soaring temperatures and shifts in rainy season are owning a immediate effect on ube manufacturing.

“Historically and culturally, we really should see it not staying taken for granted since it sustained the Filipino people. The reliance on ube for nourishment truly made me take pleasure in it a lot more than a commodity,” said Hernandez, on a online video get in touch with from Manilla. “It’s vital to look at the journey ube has taken, its supply and the sacrifices manufactured to get it to the markets.”

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