The “secret” ingredient behind every Filipino’s favourite Christmas foods is taking America by storm.
Ube (pronounced oo-beh) is a vivid purple yam that gives the distinctive colour to a whole range of sweet festive treats such as ube halaya.
Now chefs across the USA have embraced the vegetable, creating everything from ice cream to custard and cheesecakes to cookies.
“People sometimes think it’s food colouring,” said chef Björn DelaCruz of the Manila Social Club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “There aren’t tons of purple foods, and this colour is so intense and deep. It’s something people really like. It’s striking. When you cut ube open, you see a colour you can get lost in. It’s natural marketing.”
The association between ube and Christmas is all down to its colour. While the usual colours associated with the festive season are green and red, in the Catholic Church the season of Advent is represented by the colour purple. Pop into any Filipino church at this time of year, and you will see purple candles in front of the altar.
It’s also the colour that represents prosperity — which is perhaps the reason why that 100 peso bill in your pocket is purple.
However, no such liturgical or traditional relevance is required by the chefs of the USA, who continue to create new and innovative uses for the vegetable.
Manila Social Club’s most famous offering is their $100 24k gold-encrusted doughnut — a less expensive version is available with an ube covering.
B Sweet Dessert Bar in Los Angeles makes ube cheesecake, coffee cake, and even homemade Pop Tarts and Twinkies. They also make an ube ice cream, which they serve stuffed inside a doughnut.
Crème Caramel LA churns out ube brownies — or should that be “purplies”? — as well as upside-down pie, custards and chia puddings.
Meanwhile in Seattle, Hood Famous Bakeshop, which specialises in Filipino sweets, is offering rice krispie treats, cookies and cheesecakes.
Never a city to be left behind, Las Vegas’ HI Coffee Café makes ube tarts, cupcakes, and milkshakes as well, while the city’s Red Ribbon Bakeshop serves up ube sponge cake.