If you’re not overly fond of potatoes, there are various alternatives you can try that have similar properties. Ube and taro are two examples – both are starchy root vegetables that have a brown exterior and can fill your stomach effectively when you’re hungry.
Walking past these vegetables in a grocery store, it is easy to assume that they are the same thing, or confuse one with the other. However, they are actually quite different. Here, we compare the two on a range of factors, so you can better understand what sets them apart.
While they look the same from the outside, you will notice their appearance changes on the inside. Taro flesh is a creamy color with pink or purple flecks – it produces a similar effect to dragon fruit flesh, or you might be reminded of Stracciatella ice cream! On the other hand, ube is a bright purple color when you cut into it. This adds a vibrant hue to any dishes that use it as an ingredient, and ube is sometimes even used just for aesthetic purposes.
Even the exterior appearance is noticeably different if you look carefully, with ube skins being a lighter brown, almost purple color. Taro skin is mainly dark, but also has light patches because the color isn’t uniform all the way around. It is quite rough and papery, while ube skin is a bit smoother.
Both ube and taro are of a similar size, although of course there is plenty of size variation with each species. Ube roots tend to be narrower, especially when compared to sweet potatoes (some people confuse ube with purple sweet potatoes, but they are two entirely separate plants).
You would expect the two vegetables to have a comparable taste, but they actually don’t – in fact, they are even less alike than sweet potato and regular potato. Both vegetables are unsafe to eat raw, so we can only compare the tastes when cooked.
Taro has a subtle flavor that can be likened to vanilla in some ways. It is sweet, but it is nevertheless used mainly in savory dishes. In some places, you can get taro flavored bubble tea. Taro is very efficient at absorbing flavors from other ingredients that are cooked with it, including vegetables, fruits and spices. If you’re looking for a potato substitute that can perform all the same functions, taro is your best bet.
Ube tastes sweet as well, but it also has nutty tones. This makes it ideal for using in desserts, and there are many sweet recipes that showcase the delicate flavor of the ube. These include Ube Halaya (a type of creamy jam), Ube Pie (similar to pumpkin pie), Ube Panna Cotta, and Ube-Macapuno Cake. The flavor goes especially well with dairy products and coconut, which feature in a lot of ube recipes. You can also cut ube into wedges and cook in the same way as regular potato fries, so it’s not exclusively a dessert ingredient.
Like a potato, ube is a tuber. This means that it is an enlarged part of a plant stem that usually sits under the surface of the soil. Tubers provide storage for nutrients that the plant requires to keep it healthy. Taro is not a tuber, but a corm – corms are very similar, but their roots grow from a flat part at the bottom called the basal plate. This is where the plant’s food is stored.
Even once you cook it, taro retains its shape and doesn’t fall apart
Being vegetables, taro and ube both contain nutrients that can help your body to function optimally. They are high in fiber, which is excellent for digestion, and their carbohydrate base means that they keep you fuller for longer.
Ube has vitamins B1 (thiamine) and B3 (niacin), and B vitamins are great for transforming food into useful energy. It also contains anthocyanins, as indicated by its purple color, and these can help to prevent inflammation.
The two key nutritional elements in taro are manganese and potassium. Respectively, these elements are vital for preventing blood clots and breaking down the levels of salt in your body. They work together to maintain an ideal metabolism, healthy bones, and low blood pressure.
Both taro and ube can be difficult to find in the US. While they are commonly used in Asian and South American dishes, they don’t feature much in North American cooking. This means that most general grocery stores don’t stock them, and you may have to try stores that cater specifically to the above cuisines. Fortunately, these specialty markets exist in most large towns and cities, so you shouldn’t have to go too far to find one.
Even so, taro is more readily available than ube. Taro plants are considered an invasive species in the US, and wild taro grows abundantly in some states. While not a hardy crop, taro survives in places where the temperatures don’t fall too far in the winter (some species of taro do handle cold better than others).
Ube can be greatly affected by changes in climate, and as such there is often a shortage of viable ube. In this country, supply tends to be limited to Asian markets alone – try your nearest Filipino grocery store. If you are having trouble finding fresh ube, you can always order a powdered version online from Amazon.
Taro and ube may seem the same at first glance, but look deeper and you’ll find they are not. From their color and taste to their nutritional and structural characteristics, there are many differences between the two that will affect which you use and when.
Taro can be used in place of potato and swapped in without altering the recipe, while ube is most often used in dessert dishes that you wouldn’t find potato in. If you like the taste of taro, you won’t necessarily enjoy ube and vice versa, but both are excellent alternative foods that you should get to know if possible.
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