Ube flavoring isn’t so new to the Trader Joe’s line up—the tiki-themed grocer has churned out purple yam-themed products since the launch of its ube ice cream in 2019. Following this vibrantly hued frozen dessert, TJs came out with ube tea cookies, vegan-friendly mochi pancake mix, and just this summer, a wildly popular ube spread. While we’ve heard it’s divine, we’ve yet to taste the craze. To many vegan shoppers’ collective disappointment, this new product isn’t vegan (milk is the culprit animal ingredient). Don’t let that deter you from experiencing the joy of sweet, earthy ube flavor. Vegan versions exist, and you can also easily make your own. From where to buy it to what to do with it, here’s everything you need to know about the vegan side of ube spread.
What is ube?
Ube is a purple yam commonly used in Filipino cuisine and sweet treats. It’s naturally light purple and takes on a deeper hue when cooked. The flavor profile is sweet and slightly earthy with a hint of vanilla, and the flesh is silky and smooth when cooked. It’s these versatile and universally loved characteristics that make ube perfect for a variety of desserts from ice cream to baked goods (we’ll talk about ube cake later). Some may confuse ube for taro—both are starchy vegetables that provide purple shades to sweets; however, these two are not one and the same. Taro tends to be significantly less sweet than ube and also leans more toward a nutty flavor profile. For a sinfully sweet spread you can add to everything from ice cream to brioche toast, ube is certainly the way to go.
Is ube healthy?
On its own—without the added sugars, cream, and other ingredients that make it so addictive, ube is a nutritional powerhouse. Like other yams and sweet potatoes, it’s full of energizing carbohydrates and low in fat. An average, 3.5-ounce ube contains 120 calories, zero grams of fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates, one gram of protein, and four grams of fiber. Ube also contains a fair amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The root contains 40 percent of the daily recommended amount (RDA) of vitamin C and 13.5 percent of the RDA of potassium—that’s more potassium than an average banana. Ube’s antioxidants may also prevent inflammation—the precursor to a number of diseases from arthritis to heart conditions.
Given this nutritional profile, can we consider ube spread healthy? We’ll just say it’s best enjoyed in moderation. While not vegan, Trader Joe’s spread contains 60 calories, three grams of fat (two grams saturated fat), seven grams of added sugar, and no protein—all for just a one tablespoon serving. Let’s be honest, a measly tablespoon is never enough to slather the entire surface area of a piece of toast. So enjoy your violet schmear, but with intention.
How to make vegan ube spread
For those not into cooking projects, know that you can purchase vegan ube spread, just not at Trader Joe’s. A company called Fila Manila makes a heavily coconut-based ube jam that ships nationwide. Want to make your own? It’s pretty simple once you get your hands on the main ingredient. This recipe by Foodie Takes Flight offers two options: powdered ube or ube purée. If you can’t find purple yams at your go-to grocer, you can easily order the powdered version online. Beyond this essential ingredient, all you need is coconut milk, sugar, and salt. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the coconut milk over medium heat, mix in the ube, and allow to cool and thicken. In under a half hour, you’ll have homemade vegan ube spread. Now, onto the recipes.
How to use ube spread
In the States, the most obvious vessel for ube spread is a piece of toast, and while delicious, let’s not stifle our creativity. From pretty purple cake to two-step croissants, here are seven ways to use vegan ube spread.
1 Vegan Ube and Cheese Pandesal
We featured pandesal—yeasted, Filipino sweet rolls—in our latest summer issue of VegNews, but that recipe didn’t feature ube. Ube spread is incorporated into both the dough and the vegan mozzarella filling of these sweet-meets-salty-and-savory carb pillows.
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2 Vegan Ube Marble Cake
Pound cakes taste great, but these solid yellow bricks of butter, sugar, and flour are often lacking curb appeal. Not so when you marble the cake with ube-infused batter. This ube pound cake delivers on both flavor and appearance, something even your grandma’s famous pound cake recipe can’t honestly claim.
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3 Ube Pancakes
These flapjacks feature double the ube flavor. Follow the recipe below or simply mix a tablespoon or two of ube into your favorite vegan pancake recipe (it’s fine if that “recipe” is a boxed mix). If you opt for the latter, add less liquid to ensure the batter doesn’t become too runny. When still hot, slather ube spread between each pancake and top the stack with a dusting of powdered sugar. Absolutely no syrup needed.
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4 Ube Cinnamon Rolls
Cinnamon sugar is the classic cinnamon roll filling, but ube spread is a strong contender. Not only does it provide some much-needed color to these sweet rolls, it also adds a stronger flavor of vanilla that plays well with icing. You can even mix a few tablespoons of ube spread into your icing for a purple explosion of ube flavor.
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5 Vegan Ube Ice Cream
Unlike the eye-catching bubblegum and mint chip ice creams out there, the popping color of ube ice cream is all-natural. This no-churn ice cream is made with sweetened condensed coconut milk and dairy-free whipping cream, infused with a good amount of sugar and a touch of ube spread or extract. The result is divinely creamy and definitively sweet, though not so sugary as the aforementioned bubblegum ice cream. Essentially, it’s a frozen treat both kids and adults can enjoy.
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6 Vegan Ube Pie
This particular recipe calls for grated ube—not the sweetened spread—but we had to include it. This pie might just have pumpkin and sweet potato pie beat. It’s creamier, more velvety, and you can’t beat the attractive color. Instead of a cinnamon-forward flavor, this pie tastes more tropical, think coconut and vanilla. It’s paired with a classic, crumbly graham cracker crust and a dollop of vegan whipped cream. This may just be the new pie on your next Thanksgiving table.
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7 Vegan ube croissants
There’s no recipe here—all you need is a package of vegan-friendly frozen puff pastry dough (Pepperidge Farm will suit) and ube spread. Pre-heat the oven according to the puff pastry package instruction and allow the dough to thaw. Cut the dough into triangles and liberally spread a layer of ube jam on one side of the triangle, leaving about a quarter of an inch on all sides. Roll up the triangle of dough into a croissant shape and bake until puffy and golden. Devour as soon as they’re cool enough to not burn off your tastebuds, perhaps served with extra ube jam on the side.
For more on vegan baking, read:
Dolly Parton’s Cake Mixes with a Vegan Twist
Funfetti Birthday Cake with Strawberry Buttercream
Coconut Matcha Ice Cream