Snack Critic: Have Your Ube Fix Anytime, Anywhere with These Commercialized Ube CandiesMarch 29, 2017
We’re more than a fourth of the way into 2017 and yet the power of the purple tuber shows no signs of dying down. Ube may have caught the eye of the international food scene, but it has long held its cult-favorite status in the Philippines—you’ll find it in the form of sweet treats like ice cream, cakes, and of course, halaya. But for purple yam goodness you can enjoy virtually anytime, anywhere, and for roughly a peso a pop, look no further than these commercially-available ube candies.
Fresh ube comes in a number of varieties, each of which carries its own subtle (but nuanced) flavor and distinct characteristics. These candies however (as with many other widely-available ube treats) don’t necessarily use the fresh stuff at all, and are consequently bound to lack the distinct flavor and earthiness you can only get with the actual yam. What we refer to here, rather, is the creamy nuttiness that we’ve come to associate with ube—the sort that’s more likely to have come from a bottle than from the soil, but (thanks to the power of nostalgia) we’ll admit to having a soft spot for anyway. How do these candies fare? Which ones deliver on the one-bite ube fix you can have any time of the day?
The purplest of them all, Ube Fiesta comes as a slightly dusty square of opaque, taffy-esque chewy candy along the lines of Starburst or Fruitella. Unlike these candies though, Fiesta takes on a hard, stiff consistency that can be a pain in the ass (or, well, the jaw) to chew straight up. (A better option is to melt it in the mouth like you would with hard candy.) You get a flavor that brings to mind the sort of ube-ness you get from the Ferna line of bottled flavorings—a burly sort of yamminess that’s more grassy than nutty, lacking the creaminess we associate with conventional ube halaya, but grows on us anyway.
SUNNY UBE MACAPUNO
Like Ube Fiesta, this also falls under the opaque chewy candy category, though the texture on Sunny’s is a vast improvement: soft, pliable, and an actual pleasure to chew on as it works its way between the teeth. Each piece features swirls of purple (with a grayish tinge that actually help it look far more natural) and pale yellow. The latter, we presume, refers to the macapuno, also known as mutant coconut. And while it doesn’t actually taste any different from the purple portion—let alone actual macapuno—the candy overall delivers a wonderfully balanced flavor with a nutty, milky undertone that rounds off the earthiness of the ube.
NATION’S UBE CANDY
With no other descriptions on the package, we weren’t sure what to expect with Nation’s Ube Candy. But underneath the wrapper lies an ellipsoid of compressed, sweetened milk powder, not unlike the cult favorite that is Haw-haw Milk Candy (but firmer and a touch less sweet). The ube flavor here is subtle, almost undetectable unless you deliberately go out of your way to find it. But with its mild sweetness and mellow milkiness, we love it anyway. Bite into them right away to have them crumble into powder that initially dries the tongue but eventually melts into a creamy mix as you chew; or, do as we suggest and have them melt in the mouth for a few seconds first to get a better sense of the flavor progression from sweet to creamy to nutty.
Whether you like it chewy or powdery, strong or milky, there is a candy for every ube lover—so if you’re anything like us, keep an eye out for these sweet treats. Stuff a couple of pieces in your pocket or your bag, down them mid-jeepney ride or to keep awake in your two hour-long Biology lecture, and share the love of purple with everyone. (Though if you do end up hoarding them all for yourself… we won’t judge.)