Ube is a purple yam native to the Asian tropics. It has a nutty, sweet flavor, and moist texture when cooked. Ube is gluten free, but it’s often used in dishes that contain gluten. In this article, we’ll explain how to identify ube by outlining the differences between ube and other foods like taro. We’ll also let you know which traditional ube dishes are naturally gluten free. In the last section, you’ll find a large variety of gluten free ube recipes, including gluten free versions of traditional foods like pandesal.

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Ube halaya from Tashcakes

The most notable thing about ube is it’s shocking purple color. The color is a result of ube’s high amounts of anthocyanins, which are a type of flavonoid with anti-inflammatory properties. Foods rich in anthocyanins may help prevent diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Ube is commonly used in dishes just for its color, but it also adds a lovely rich texture and mild sweet flavor. It’s especially popular in desserts in the Philippines. You’ll also find ube dishes in Vietnam, India, and Sri Lanka. In the US, ube has recently gotten more popular due to its beautiful color and great nutrient profile. It’s also very photogenic, which helps.

Ube Confusion

Ube is often confused with taro, Okinawan sweet potato, yampi root, and Stokes purple sweet potato, so it’s helpful to know the differences between each of these foods.

Ube, also known as purple yam, has a thick, hairy brown skin that isn’t edible. It’s one of the most important crops in Austronesian cultures, especially the Philippines. Ube has more of a moist texture than sweet potatoes.

Taro is a round-ish, hairy root vegetable that’s brown-ish purple on the outside and white with purple flecks on the inside. It’s one of the oldest cultivated foods. Taro is what’s used to make poi, a Polynesian staple dish.

Yampi root has a brown skin, and can sometimes be purple on the inside, but is most often cream-colored. Because it has a neutral taste and a slippery but firm texture when cooked yampi is often used in soups. It’s a staple food in the Carribean and Central America.


Purple sweet potato, NOT ube from One Green Planet

Okinawan sweet potatoes have the same bright purple color as ube, but their skin is beige colored, thinner, and edible. They are technically part of the morning glory family and are unrelated to yams like ube. They have a dryer texture and a lower glycemic index than ube. They’re your best sub for ube, if you can’t find any in your area.

Stokes purple sweet potatos have a purple interior and a thin purple skin. Purple sweet potatoes are generally dryer and less sweet than other varieties of sweet potatoes and yams. They have a rich, wine-like flavor. These are also a great ube sub, if you can’t find the real thing.

Traditional Gluten Free Ube Foods

The most common way to prepare ube is by boiling, steaming, or roasting like a potato. Raw ube is toxic, so it’s important to cook it before you use it in a recipe. Once ube is cooked, it must be peeled, because the skin is inedible. Ube is then grated into batter, cooked into a paste, mashed, or sliced. Many gluten free ube foods are kakanin, a type of Filipino sweet. See our kakanin article to learn more about these gooey sweets!


Buchi from Adobo Magazine

Theses common ube preparations are naturally gluten free:

  • Ube ice cream - often used in halo-halo!

  • Ube halaya

  • Ube kalamay

  • Inutak

  • Sapin-sapin

  • Buchi

  • Ube butter mochi

  • Pastillas de ube

Buy Gluten Free Ube Products

If you can’t find ube in your area, you can buy it online as a powder, extract, or jam. Ube halaya (jam) is your best bet when adding ube to baked goods, because it contains the most ube flavor and texture. We also included some pre-made ube food, baking mixes, and even an ube chapstick! We recommend purchasing locally instead, when possible.


Image from PR Newswire


Image from Leslie's Lumpia

Gluten Free Ube Recipes


Vegan + GF ube brownie from Foodaciously


Vegan ube halaya from Sift and Simmer


Ube boba from Vancouver Pigout

* Title image courtesy of Asian Food Network.

- Further Reading -