If we’d been around eighteen months ago, we would have forewarned you of the purple haze about to descend upon your Instagram feed. So, yes, we know that ube has been around for a while. We realise that every Brooklyn-frequenting millennial has posted a picture of their lavender-hued Mr Whippy with toddler-like glee.
But that’s the thing with trends – they’re there to be tracked, ever-evolving things that they are. And as the Filipino food movement gathers pace, it’s worth seeing where its foodie poster girl is heading since violet went viral.
A quick recap for anyone who likes that kind of thing: this purple yam – whose flavour profile falls somewhere between vanilla, pistachio and coconut – is most frequently used by its countrymen in jams and in the traditional Filipino dessert halo-halo, in which ube ice cream tops a baffling concoction of red beans, fresh fruit and evaporated milk.
Then, towards the end of 2015, Chef Bjorn DelaCruz (no idea if that’s his real name, but we love it) served ube doughnuts at his Brooklyn establishment Manila Social Club and, more or less, it went from there. Ube cakes, ube macarons and, yes, twirly, swirly ube soft-serve have filled Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds ever since.
And yet, while the soft-serve trend is creeping into London’s ice cream scene, ube has yet to make its impact UK side. So does the trend have transatlantic opportunity?
While there’s definitely a trend for purple food over here, it’s largely confined to the vegetable sector – think broccoli, sweet potato, asparagus. So, yes, the reality is that if you wanted to create a dessert that would be a hit on social media, then very few people over here are doing the ube thing. But you need to look at it more as marketing opportunity; exploiting a fad and getting yourself some exposure while it’s still hot – because there’s good reason for the lack of UK uptake.
The truth is we just don’t buy into coloured food the way the Americans do. They have rainbow bagels, we don’t. They love black ice cream, we don’t. You’ll have to use powdered, dried or ube extract – even New Yorkers use frozen, grated stuff because it’s so hard to get hold of.
Oh, and when it comes to scaling up, forget it. You’d really struggle to maintain the pH, which means that Instgrammable purple will go blue pretty quickly. And nobody likes blue food. In short, could be a good one to boost your social profile, but not your profit margins.