Taro Versus Ube: Battle of the Best Purple Sweet Potato

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Taro Versus Ube: Battle of the Best Purple Sweet Potato

Jennifer Fuerte, Staff Writer

In recent years, the 626 area code region has emerged as a popular scene for foodies. Many of the cafes and restaurants in the area serve unique and “Instagrammable” foods, but at the same time, they manage to incorporate traditional flavors and ingredients. Especially in Asian dessert establishments, flavors, such as matcha and black sesame, have become mainstream and normalized among customers. Although I could rave about those, let’s focus on two similar players in the game of flavors: taro and ube. While taro has made its way up the chain of Asian flavors, being known as the token purple sweet potato, ube still hasn’t become as nearly as popular. Nonetheless, both are delicious in their own special ways, but in this game, there can only be one purple sweet potato. Here’s a thorough evaluation of each of the potatoes:

  • Origin:
    • Taro: Contrary to what most people know, taro is not native to Japan but from Southeast Asia and India. However, there are multiple varieties that grow best in Japan that are more reminiscent of flavors we have in Arcadia. Nonetheless, the taro flavor comes from the root of a taro plant, which makes it a tuber just like the potato. Taro itself is used as an ingredient in many cultures including Hawaiian, African, Chinese, and Caribbean ones where it is often used in root form.
    • Ube: Ube is another tuber plant like the potato, but it is more widely recognized as a purple yam. The variety called gabi that grows in the Philippines is the most popularly used in desserts and other cooking, but it is usually called ube rather than gabi. It has strong roots (no pun intended) in Filipino cuisine and is a flavor distinctive to the culture.

 

  • Color:
    • Taro: When people see something purple in a dessert store, most would automatically assume that it’s taro flavored. There’s nothing wrong with this assumption because taro is definitely more popular, therefore more common to see. Taro has a light purple-gray hue that’s nearly white when it’s first harvested as a root. After being processed, it takes on a slightly more purple color, but in the end, usually, you end up with a light purple color. This light purple color makes it perfect for cold desserts like ice cream or slushies, which makes it give off the impression that it’s light.
    • Ube: The darker and more saturated purple color of ube is what gives its identity away. Ube has an incredibly rich, dark purple color to it, even in yam form. The color only intensifies once it’s processed and made into dessert form. Because of this, eating anything ube flavored can be more eye-catching because the purple color is just that vibrant. While the color can look a little unnatural, I think this appeals more to foodies and gives it a greater “curb-appeal”.
  • Taste:
    • Taro: Taro tastes just like what it is, a sweet potato. This means that it has a slightly nutty, earthy taste. What makes taro different from other sweet potatoes is that most varieties of taro are sweet and have a light note of vanilla flavor. There’s nothing super extreme about the flavor in terms of sweetness, but that makes it a good mild flavor for a variety of uses.
    • Ube: As opposed to taro, ube is much sweeter and has a stronger vanilla flavor with notes of pistachio. If you think about it, both flavors are pretty similar because they have a nuttiness and vanilla sweetness to them, but ube, in my opinion, has a richer flavor to it.
  • Compatibility:
    • Taro: Taro is compatible with a lot of Asian ingredients. This means that it pairs well with flavors like black sesame, matcha, and red bean, which are all pretty mild in sweetness, making them compatible with taro. These flavors are traditionally used in sweets or desserts, so it means that taro is a staple flavor among them.
    • Ube: You probably won’t approve or know of many of these flavors because ube is mostly used in Filipino desserts, but it goes well with cheese, cream cheese, pandan, mung bean, cassava, and coconut. Cheese might be the most interesting out of this bunch, but trust me, it’s a delicious combination. In contrast to taro’s compatible flavors, ube’s compatible flavors tend to be relatively more sharp or sweet.
  • Application:
    • Taro: As a result of taro’s mild flavor and sweetness, its application is not just limited to desserts. In Hawaii, taro is a staple flavor in the local palette, so there are plenty of Hawaiian dishes that are both savory and sweet. For example, taro goes well in soups, curries, and even in meat dishes. Nonetheless, taro is more popular as a dessert flavor, so it’s typically seen in the form of ice cream, sweet paste in buns or dumplings, and as milk tea flavoring. It can even be applied more traditionally in classic desserts as frosting, cake flavor, or bread flavoring.
    • Ube: Ube’s intense sweetness makes it a little more difficult to use in savory dishes, but it does make it perfect for dessert application. Think of it as an equivalent of chocolate or even cream cheese when it comes to desserts. This means that while it’s a great, powerful flavor, too much of it can be overwhelming in desserts. However, that’s not a problem to Filipinos. Filipinos are capable of using ube in nearly every dessert. In paste form, it’s usually used to fill bread buns, fried desserts called “hopya”, or just as itself in a dessert called “halaya ube”. In addition, it can also be used as flavoring in a variety of desserts or drinks, similar to taro.

The Verdict: I might be going by my preferences and ethnicity, but I have to say that ube is better regardless of those biases. More people may know taro as the main purple flavor in desserts, but ube is so much brighter in terms of flavor and color. It deserves the same amount of attention that taro gets within the dessert world, if not more. Luckily for us ube enthusiasts, Food Network magazine remarked that “a search for ‘#ube’ on Instagram yields almost 158,000 posts”, indicating the flavor’s rise in popularity across social media. While pictures can capture the visual aesthetic of the purple potato, you can only fully appreciate ube once you try it in person. Perhaps the next time you’re craving something sweet, consider trying out something ube flavored to see what you’re missing out on!