By Leslie Kelly

Trendcasters are calling 2017 the year people get excited about purple food. On the top of that aubergine-hued list is ube (pronounced OOO-bay), also known as purple sweet potato. It's long been used as a base for gorgeous cakes, cookies and puddings in the Philippines, beloved for its eye-popping color and rich, creamy texture. Here's what you need to know about this emerging ingredient.

Photo by Leslie Kelly

Ube's Health Benefits

Cultivated for thousands of years in tropical climates around the globe, purple sweet potatoes go by many names including violet yam in India. No matter what it's called, it's prized for its culinary power, but also used in some cultures as a alternative medicinal treatment for fever and other ailments. They're naturally high in fiber and contain substantial amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, and potassium.

It's A Baker's Dream

Besides adding a color that's begging to be capturing for an Instagram post, ube brings a unique flavor and texture to baked goods. Some describe it tasting like white chocolate with a hint of earthiness. It makes for beautiful cakes that are both tall and fluffy, as well as moist. Combined with a coconut preserves known as Macapuno and you've got a tropical treat that works well as a layer cake or -- cue the awww's -- as cupcakes. If fresh ube is not available, there are powdered versions sold online.

Photo by Jobie Queen

From Obscure to Hot Stuff

While ube has been part of the cuisine of the Philippines for many years, it went from under-the-radar to talked about when pastry chefs with roots in that island nation began experimenting with variations on the classic cakes. Hood Famous Bakeshop in Seattle built a successful small business on ube cheesecake, while the Manila Social Club in New York City sells ube doughnuts including one special order exclusive that's covered in gold flakes and sells for $100. One explanation for the sudden surge in interest is that Filipino food is one teed up as one of the hot trends for 2017.

Photo by Leslie Kelly

Make it a full meal deal by cooking some of the 130 Filipino Recipes on our site.

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