“A lot of people go for it because it’s unique—how many times do you eat a purple dessert?” asks Kay Vong, owner of Sweet Society, an ice cream shop that features ube soft serve.
Though ube, which means tuber in Tagalog, has long been a staple of Filipino desserts, its popularity has exploded in the U.S. over the past few years. The purple yam has a distinct, nutty flavor profile, and its violet hue makes ube desserts immediately photogenic.
If you need any more proof of the growing national popularity of ube, Trader Joe’s began carrying ube ice cream in 2019 and has since expanded its inventory with ube pancake mix and tea cookies. However, you have to visit locally owned spots to see the tastiest ube Baton Rouge has to offer. Sweet Society and Boba ParTea, both of which opened in 2020, have dishes that highlight this purple treat.
At Sweet Society, ube is a staple ingredient in ice cream—often swirled together with milk ice cream and paired with taiyaki cake. Toppings include Fruity Pebbles, coconut flakes, crushed Oreos and more.
“It’s our day one,” Vong says. “It was in our very first set of flavors we introduced.” Despite the limitations of having only four ice cream flavors at a time, ube has remained an almost constant flavor at Sweet Society. “The few times I have removed it from the rotation, we did get a little feedback about customers being upset that ube was not available,” she says.
Boba ParTea, a boba shop and bakery, makes ube macaroons and ube customizable cakes. “We try to use more Asian flavors (in the bakery), and ube is one of the most popular Asian flavors,” says owner Van Nguyen.
The customizable cake is often topped with vanilla icing, but whipped cream, buttercream or an ube-flavored frosting are available as well. The pretty purple color of ube, combined with the moist texture of ube cakes, makes the demand high—especially in the fall.
“Everyone wants an ube cake with mango,” Nguyen says, “because yellow and purple go so well with football season.”
Both Vong and Ngyuen have noticed the growing popularity of ube, crediting it to the beautiful hue and the distinct, sweet, deep flavor. At both Boba ParTea and Sweet Society, ube dishes attract people familiar with the desserts and newcomers to ube, who might be further encouraged to try more desserts using popular Southeast Asian ingredients.
“We are hoping to come out with more ube-flavored desserts soon,” Vong says. These would include ube cheesecake and halo-halo, another cold Filipino dessert that makes use of ube and evaporated milk.
If you are looking to experiment with ube on your own or try small ube treats, Vong recommends shopping Asian markets. “The Asian grocery stores are probably the best bet to get ube snacks or pastries,” she says.
This summer, treat yourself to ube dishes in the Baton Rouge area. As seen in the dishes from Boba ParTea and Sweet Society, ube is vibrant, tasty, and will look great on any food enthusiast’s feed.
Sweet Society is located in the Electric Depot at 1509 Government St. and is open from 3 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 12 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Follow it on Instagram @sweetsocietybr.
Boba ParTea is at 2515 O’Neal Lane and is open 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. Follow it on Instagram @boba.partea.