‘What’s that flavor?’: Why Australian desserts have turned bright purple

FFilipinos have long had a love affair with ube, but it wasn’t until recently that the rest of the world discovered the appeal of the bright purple yam. Pronounced “oo-beh,” ube is often confused with purple sweet potato, but while the latter is dry and starchy, ube is moist with an earthy, nutty, and vanilla flavor.

Ube’s distinctive heliotrope hue contributes to its growing appeal. Trend forecaster WGSN recently named ube one of the top food trends for 2023, although it has been growing for years. In 2022, an ube liqueur from Filipino producer Destileria Barako won the title of “best cream” at the World Liqueur Awards and two years ago in New York, Kora Bakery, known for its ube brioche donuts, raised a waiting list of 10,000 people.

In the Philippines, ube is most commonly eaten grated and cooked with milk (or coconut milk), butter, and sugar. This turns it into a thick spread known as halayang ube, or sometimes ube jam. Halayang ube is a key component of halo-halo, the Filipino frozen dessert, and is also widely used in cakes, pastries, ice cream, kakanin (rice cakes) and ginataang bilo-bilo (glutinous rice balls made with coconut milk) .

But in Australia, Filipino chefs, bakers and bartenders are remixing yams into classic local treats.

Pastry chef Albin Lawang pours ube pastry cream into his signature donuts. Photography: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

Donuts have been a catwalk pastry to showcase ube’s flavor and color. At Don’t Donuts in Sydney, you’ll find brioche donuts filled with ube cheesecake, while Pecks Road Cheat Meals around Melbourne is a triple helping of purple yam: ube glaze, ube pastry cream and ube whipped cream. at the top.

An ube donut at Pecks Road Cheat Meals. Photography: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

Meanwhile, at Brisbane cafe Dovetail Social, Bacolod-born Filipino owner Rejoice Thomson serves up the “yamington” donut – an ube-flavored creation sprinkled with coconut, topped with a perfect circle of cream caramel – and they are gluten-free. Thomson’s husband has celiac disease and over the years she has developed an upscale tea menu featuring gluten-free cakes and pastries. Thomson says his customers, who are mostly non-Filipinos, are drawn to his ube designs. “They say, ‘What’s that flavor? It’s crazy!'”

Fresh ube is hard to find in Australia. But even if he can get his hands on it, Miko Aspiras of Don’t Donuts says the flavor and color just don’t compare to ube from the Philippines. Thus, the Manila-born pastry chef and owner learned to work ube in the form of frozen, jam and essence. He says sometimes it takes a mix of two types of ube to get a cohesive result.

Pastry chef Albin Lawang seated at a table with a square of purple glazed ube donuts
Besides donuts, Albin Lawang also tried his hand at ube hot cross buns for Easter and was inundated with orders. Photography: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

Besides donuts, Pecks Road Cheat Meals has also dabbled in ube hot cross buns. Last Easter they were inundated with orders for the hybrid creations. “We ended up making 500 hot rolls in one day, [and had] to make about 200 more just to keep up with demand,” says chef-owner Albin Lawang. Purple buns will be back for Easter this year.

A composite of ube hot cross buns on a wooden board, and a close up of a ube hot cross bun being pulled apart to reveal its gooey purple filling.
“We ended up making 500…in one day”: ube hot cross buns from Pecks Road Cheat Meals, Melbourne. Photo: Pecks Road Cheat Meals

At Serai in Melbourne, ube was used to reinvent a nostalgic but controversial ice cream: rainbow paddle pop. The halo-halo inspired stick, complete with coconut, jackfruit, jellies and cornflakes, is Pinoy bliss on a stick. Bartender Ralph Libo-on also added ube to Serai’s cocktail list. Ube Wan Kenube is a twist on Brandy Alexander, while Yam Jam Slam uses coconut and toasted latik (coconut caramel) to add Filipino flavor to a mud-slurped mocktail.

A bartender holds two purple drinks.
Yam Jam Slam ube mocktail (left) and Ube Wan Kenube cocktail at Serai Restaurant, Melbourne. Photography: Ellen Smith/The Guardian
A bartender pours a purple colored drink into a cocktail glass.
Bartender Ralph Libo-on prepares the cocktail Ube Wan Kenube. Photography: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

But is there a danger that ube will become the next quinoa (a staple cereal that has become expensive for its traditional consumers, thanks to rapid popularization in the West)? It’s unlikely, says Anna Manlulo, founder of the Filipino Food Movement Australia.

“There is no need to worry about running out of ube. In fact, this growing demand for ube can be beneficial for ube farmers in the Philippines, and we also recognize that ube is also grown outside the Philippines.

And it goes further than that. Ube is a great entry point for the uninitiated to sample Filipino cuisine and a versatile ingredient for Filipino cooks as well.

With its vibrant color, the yam is definitely an object of attention and now it gets its due.


. What is this flavor why les desserts australian are become purple vivid Food drink n australian

. Whats flavor Australian desserts turned bright purple

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