Ube or taro? Both are tubers, and they have similar colors, but there is a big difference between the two. Ube is from the Persea genus of flowering plants in the mulberry family, while taro comes from Colocasia esculentum, which belongs to the arum family.
What is Ube
First off, let’s talk about ube. Ube is a tuber that can be cooked like potatoes. It has purple skin and white flesh inside. The color gives it a sweet taste. Ube has its origins in Southeast Asia, where this plant was cultivated for centuries for food— particularly to make desserts such as ice cream and halaya (candy made from coconut milk). Recently though, it has been making a name for itself in the Philippines, where it has become a key ingredient of “ube halaya” and other sweet potato dishes.
Ube vs Taro
Let’s compare ube and taro so you know how to distinguish them. Ube is usually bigger than taro, with purple skin and white flesh inside. If there’s any black on the outer skin, then it’s also known as morado or kamote in some parts of the country. The flowers are small and grow in clusters at the top of the plant stem, which holds up long triangular leaves—much like those of an elephant ear plant (which is another species from the colocasia family). Only when cooked, does it turn that signature bright violet-hued color and have a sweet taste.
On the other hand, taro is smaller than ube with brown skin and white flesh that may be purple inside. The outer skin does not have black on it, only spots if fertilized. The flowers grow in clusters at the top of their leaf stems which are shorter than those of elephant ear plants but bigger than ube leaves.
Taro has fibers inside—not as stringy as okra’s and looks like thin celery sticks when cooked (it’s tasteless). Taro is best eaten cooked because most Filipinos eat the root raw after grating it or cutting into cubes or bite-sized pieces and making it into salad… which is not appetizing looking at all! If you’ve seen taro in some supermarkets, it is usually shaped like a potato but bigger and thicker.
There are other differences between taro and ube such as how to cut them up: Ube has long fibers inside so the only way to cook without getting stringy bits is by grating it first (with a fine cheese grater with no holes). Taro root has tough fibers that must be removed thoroughly before cooking because they’ll turn into celery-like strings once cooked.
Also, Ube can be eaten raw after washing underneath running water; nothing’s wrong if there are still traces of dirt on the skin or you accidentally ate one of its little roots—they’re soft and edible. Taro should never be eaten raw. They contain calcium oxalate, which is a chemical that becomes toxic when eaten raw, so you should cook them thoroughly to avoid getting sick.
The only way to tell the difference between ube and taro apart is by its color: white for ube, brown-purple for taro. You won’t go wrong if you remember that because ube has an unmistakable sweet taste—even when used in savory dishes such as sinigang — compared to taro, which tastes like celery if eaten raw or cooked without seasoning. In fact, sometimes we use the word “ube” interchangeably with “taro.”
But just remember: Ube has purple skin on the outside and inside; Taro’s outer skin is brown. Enjoy it as a salad, in the traditional dish sinigang, and in desserts such as halo-halo.
What Foods Can You Make with Ube?
Here are some recipes you can use ube to make. I have marked the ones that really show off their bright purple color, which makes it special and one of our favorite ingredients in Filipino cuisine:
1) Ube Halaya/Halayang Ube
Halayang ube or purple yam jam is made from fresh grated ube, sugar, and milk. It is one of the most popular ube products in the Philippines.
Halo-Halo with Ube as One of Its Ingredients (together with buko, macapuno, leche flan and sometimes malagkit)
You can also use Ube for making different kinds of halo-halo: either by mixing it with other ingredients or using it as a topping between shaved ice. In Cebu where my parents come from, there’s an Ilocano dessert called “Buko salad” which has diced ripe buko, shaved ice, ube jam and pinipig (small, crispy rice fritters).
3) Ube Ice Cream
I like to use it as one of the ingredients when making halo-halo because its sweet purple color is simply too attractive to be left alone! It works so well with malagkit (jackfruit seeds), leche flan (caramel custard), buko pandan and macapuno. For me, it’s all about using your imagination when creating new things.
4) Ube Cake or Pastries
I do not have any good ube recipes to share with you except for this one. I made it once but didn’t know that the cake was supposed to be baked for longer than the time indicated, so mine wasn’t black enough. It’s a good idea if you want to make a green-colored cake, though! Haha! Baking times will vary depending on your oven type and the size of the mold/cake tin used. Credits go to “kinchi” from foodilyph.com.
Ingredients: 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup butter (2 sticks), 12 oz ube jam (or purple yam jam), zest of 1 lemon, 4 eggs, 1/4 cup white sugar
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Sift the flour and salt in a separate bowl. Cream butter with white sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one by one, then the ube jam and lemon zest. Beat well to blend thoroughly. Gradually add dry ingredients and mix until just combined (do not overbeat, or your cake will be tough). Pour into greased and floured bundt pan or loose-bottom cake pan, or muffin tin lined with paper cups.
Bake for about 50 minutes in a bundt pan, 30 to 40 minutes in large loaf pans or muffin tins, or 30 minutes for small cakes. The center should spring back when lightly pressed. Cool the cake in a pan for 5 minutes; remove to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting with whipped cream or buttercream icing. This is good served plain, slightly powdered with confectioner’s sugar, or topped with berries and/or kesong puti (dried shredded coconut).
5) Ube Popsicle / Ice Cubes
You may also use it as an ice component for your favorite drink! Just add some ube jam into watermelon juice (or buko pandan juice) then pour it over shaved ice. If you’re adventurous enough, just add little pieces of the cooked ube on top of your shaved ice. But what I like to do is to mix everything together, then pour it into an ice cube tray. It’s best to freeze them overnight for maximum effect and flavor!
6) Ube Pancakes
Ube Pancakes/Waffles with Berries (added as one of the ingredients, together with buko pandan, leche flan and malagkit)
I remember I’ve seen some recipes where taro is added for a more delicate flavor. If you are looking for this kind of recipe, try adding it to your pancake/waffle batter together with ube and other yam recipes like malagkit (white yam) or buko pandan (mashed fresh coconut).
7) Add it to your Sphagetti
And if you want to create something totally new out of ube, here are some ideas: add it to your favorite spaghetti dish! Or use ube jam when making stir fry. And there is this recipe I saw on Food Network a long time ago where you can use grated ube to make bread. You may also add it in any cake or cookie recipe (together with other purple yam recipes).
8) Ube Cream / Mashed Purple Yam and Cheese in a White Baguette
If you want something different from regular egg sandwiches but don’t want to spend too much money buying fancy bread or pastries, this ube cream baguette is the cheapest yet yummiest alternative! The purple interior of the bread will make your eyes smile!
What Foods Can You Make with Taro?
1) Taro Candy / Barako Rusk
Taro is also used for making desserts like taro candy. If you’ve ever been to an Asian grocery store, it’s likely that you may have seen various kinds of candies made from these starchy tubers, aside from the ones we see in supermarkets and malls.
These sweets (or barakos or rusk as they call them in Tagalog) are usually eaten by Filipinos during Christmas or other special occasions, especially when children go around their neighborhood together with their parents to visit relatives with whom they exchange gifts. It’s then tradition for adults and kids alike to bring a light snack called “merienda” which literally means “mid-afternoon snack,” and is a snack usually eaten during the afternoon. The merienda is usually served along with hot tea or coffee to keep people warm, especially in winter.
The simple barako candy uses only taro and sugar (sometimes flour), but there are some that also use coconut milk for added flavor or texture. If you can’t find dried grated taro, then you may make this recipe instead: Grilled Taro Candy.
2) Taro Macaron / Doughnut (in “turo-turo” stores)
Taro macarons have been popularized by the Philippine homegrown fast food chain Jollibee’s, which sells them under the name of Yum Yum Fries. And for those who want to try something new, Yolanda’s Cake Shoppe offers this: Taro Cheese Roll.
3) Taro Balls / Aguas de Buko
The ube version is called “agua de buko” but the taste and color of both are very different. Agua de buko is also popular in Latin American countries like Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, etc.
The recipe is very similar to the one for ube except the purple yam is replaced with taro. Just boil and mash the fresh taro as you do to make buko pandan juice, then add sugar and stir well until it’s dissolved. If you want your agua de taro balls to be more flavorful, then add a little bit of salt (and leche flan powder) into the mix. Fill small paper cups or ice cream cones halfway with this mixture, and then freeze. My daughter even likes to eat these plain without freezing them!
4) Taro Ice Cream / Shaved Ice Ball
Making ice cream out of taro is also easy. Just add it to any of your favorite recipes that use ube. Usually, the frozen ingredients are then churned until smooth and creamy. Aside from ube ice cream, I’ve seen people use purple yam ice cream in their shaved ice for added “color” when they serve a variety of fruits on top of these cold treats.
5) Taro Shake
The difference between ube and taro shake is that the latter usually have a more prominent “starch” taste, which makes it sweeter than its violet counterpart. The texture of both are also different; an ube shake will be smoother in consistency, while a taro shake will have some bits of grated purple yam visible if you take big gulps of the drink. Try them both and see what you think!
6) Taro Root Chips (with a sprinkle of salt only)
Another way to enjoy the taste of taro is by making chips out of it. Just try slicing fresh purple yam thinly and deep-frying it until golden brown.
You can do this at home with a simple slice setting on your mandoline slicer or you may choose to buy already-sliced, ready-to-cook chips at supermarkets and delis, in case you don’t have one available. Taro root chips are a good alternative to potato chips for diabetics (or anybody trying to lose weight).
7) Taro Milk Tea / Ice Blended Drink
The purple hue of a taro milk tea is just as beautiful as those made from the usual “ube” powder. The taste? Different, of course, but I personally find this one better! Ube milk tea and taro milk tea taste almost the same to me, as long as you make it well with the right amount of sugar. But when it comes to making ice-blended drinks (also called “shakes” or “smoothies”), most people agree that taro is more delicious than ube.
9) Taro Juice / Agua De Buko / Aguas de Bocoyo
Locals in the Philippines usually call purple yam juice agua de buko, while others say it’s agua de bocoyo. Either way, these two names actually refer to the same purple drink because both are made from fresh-boiled purple yam. The difference is that “agua de buko” uses fresh coconut milk, while the other calls for powdered desiccated coconut (buko or bocoyo) mixed into the freshly-pressed yam juice. Aguas de buko and aguas de bocoyo are usually served chilled in glasses at malls and restaurants. The natural sweetness of these drinks makes them a good alternative to carbonated soft drinks like Coke or Pepsi, as well as fruit juices such as orange juice, calamansi lime juice, and even bugnes!
10) Taro Salad / Inihaw na Bilo-Bilo
This purple salad looks just like any regular vegetable pico de gallo but it tastes so much better when you eat it inside a freshly-made bilo-bilo (rice cake) wrapper! You can ask Filipino vendors in the streets to wrap your salad into one, or if you want it served along with rice, order this as a side dish on any restaurant’s menu.
11) Taro Chips / Biscuits
Purple yam is usually used together with cassava or malagkit in making chips and biscuits. Locally called “maruya” to most Pinoys, this purple snack tastes great even without dip or topping; just pop it into your mouth and munch for hours until all are gone! I like maruya cooked extra crunchy by deep-frying them right after slicing, but you may also opt to bake them in the oven for a healthier alternative.
Ube vs Taro Nutritional Content
To compare the nutritional content of these two root crops side-by-side:
As you can see, there are only small differences between ube and taro. Both have a high iron content making them good for growing kids and pregnant women, but taro has more calcium than ube. This is because purple yam contains oxalic acid, which prevents calcium from being absorbed by the bloodstream; this would otherwise increase the risk of developing kidney stones in adults. Ube also has higher potassium content, while taro has an equal amount of sodium (salt) compared to your usual potatoes or carrots. Overall, both provide essential vitamins and minerals in adequate amounts — just as any other root crops should be!
Is taro poisonous?
You may have heard that the taro leaves are poisonous, but this is more of a myth than a fact. While some people do suffer from poisoning by ingesting raw and unripe taro stems and leaves (symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting), this can usually be prevented by boiling them with a little bit of salt first.
The skins of the purple yam and cassava plants also contain cyanide compounds if eaten uncooked, so these should not be consumed whole as well. These substances in the leaves can, however, help you lose weight when used as an ingredient in your favorite diet and healthy recipes!
Is ube poisonous?
Unlike taro, ube is actually edible and generally considered safe for consumption even without peeling the thick brown skin. It’s usually cooked when eaten as a vegetable or vegetable pico de gallo ingredient in many Filipino dishes.
Often times though, purple yam is first boiled thoroughly to soften its texture and make it more palatable; both raw and boiled ube can be enjoyed equally well. When cooked, the color of purple yam turns a bright yellow-orange due to the heat activating the carotenoids present in this root crop. The same goes with cassava since an added benefit of processing them into chips or biscuits is that they also turn into more appealing colors such as maroon, red/pink, or brown-yellow.
While ube is considered a safe food for consumption, the leaves and stems of this purple yam plant contain oxalic acid that can be toxic if ingested in large amounts.
For some people, though, ube leaves do seem to cause purging after being cooked and eaten raw; this, however, varies from person to person — you should try it out yourself and find out whether or not it affects your body that way!