Ube Halaya is a heirloom Filipino recipe made with steamed Ube, coconut cream, evaporated and condensed milk. It is stirred over low heat until it is the perfect smooth creamy jammy consistency.
Why is my Ube Halaya recipe blue?
I know. You are wondering why this Ube Halaya is super indigo blue. I'll get to that in a bit. A few months ago I grew my own ube and used them in this Ube Halaya recipe. It's also the reason why I haven't made Ube Halaya for you yet. I had to make sure I used real ube and to do that I had to grow my own.
There are top ranking recipes out there by non-Filipino's saying it's okay to replace Ube with purple sweet potato. As a super proud Filipino who has watched her Lola make this recipe every year during Christmas, that is a big ass hell no. You cannot call it Ube Halaya without ube. Period. It's just sweet purple mashed potato sweetie. If you are going to be using a sweet potato regardless of the color you need to call it Camote Halaya. Camote is the Filipino word for sweet potato. Call it what it is.
Anyway back to the color of this Ube Halaya. No extract or flavoring was used in this recipe. I wanted to show you how it would look without it. Little did I know the type of Ube I planted would keep turning a deep dark blue as it cooked. The reason for that is anthocyanins.
What are anthocyanins you ask?
Stay with me here. We are going to get into a little bit of food science. Anthocyanins are pigments that you find in fruits, vegetables, tubers that give it the color purple, red and blue. The color of certain foods can change in color depending on pH level or acidity and heat.
In this particular Ube that I planted its anthocyanins are purple when it's uncooked and has a neutral pH. Anthocyanins have a purple hue in neutral pH while the color changes to blue in an increasing pH condition.
Now after adding the processed coconut milks, sugar and heat it kept changing to a deeper and deeper blue. The chemical reaction is undeniable. The environment I put it in made it more acidic and totally changed the color. Now that is okay! It's natural. We now know that certain Ube can turn blue.
History of Ube Halaya
First let's get into the history of Ube Halaya in the Philippines. There is no actual date of when Ube Halaya was first cooked. However Ube has been found in archeological remains in Palawan dating back to 11,000BP.
What we do know is that prior to it being called Ube Halaya it was known as Nilupak Na Ube (Tagalog word). Nilupak means to mash or pound. One of the original ways to prepare ube was to cook it down with coconut or carabao milk. Once the Spanish arrived it became known as Ube jalea, which is jam in Spanish. Overtime jalea turned into Halaya and the modern version was born made with condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk and butter with the arrival of the Americans.
All these other ingredients were added as Ube on its own is quite savory, but when it's mixed with all this milk and sugar it becomes a whole other flavor. Which is now bottled to artificial perfection.
All these desserts you see now in non-Filipino bakeries and in your feed are based on that specific bottled flavor profile. I must stress again that real ube does not taste like that. It really tastes like a potato. Really bland AF. It is not naturally sweet.
What does real ube look like?
Well on the outside the skin looks like dark bark and on the inside depending on the variety it ranges from pure white to a vibrant purple with white streaks.
Ingredients you will need for this Ube Halaya Recipe
Real Ube - if you live in the Philippines lucky you! Please try and find some at your local market. Usually they are available around September to December. This is probably why Ube Halaya is made around Christmas time due to crop availability.
I have seen people grow it in Hawaii, California, Texas and Florida. You might get lucky and see it at a local Farmers Market.
If you cannot get it fresh the best place to source frozen/fresh ones are from your local Filipino grocery store. Check the frozen section. You can either get them whole or already grated.
Coconut Cream - My Lola always used the first press of her coconut milk to make her Ube Halaya recipe.
I have this vivid memory of my Lola asking my Lolo to go and pull down a coconut from our tree in the front yard and grate it so she can make coconut milk. He would grab his long stick with a machete attached at the end and harvest a few coconut for her and wack it open. My Lolo would then sit on this bench with a scraper and grate the coconut fresh for her. She would then let the freshly grated coconut sit in water and then strain the pulp into some fabric and squeeze out the first press of coconut milk. This would be the super creamy one and canned coconut cream is the closest we will get to it.
Evaporated Milk was used as fresh milk is not readily available back in the day in the Philippines. So evaporated milk was used. It's also slightly sweetened so it adds more sugar to the recipe. You can now get coconut milk evaporated milk which I used, or use the normal evaporated milk. I believe this was used to replace carabao milk when the Americans came as they thought it was unsanitary to drink carabao milk fresh. Fresh carabao milk is super creamy and sweet and I can see how it can be similar to evaporated milk.
Condensed Milk is used as the main sweetener, and also adds to the super smooth texture. You can use either regular or the coconut version. I'm guessing there was no additional sweetener added or if there was it would have been muscovado or pantusa a hardened crystalized version of cane sugar. Again the Americans came in to teach the Filipinos a more sanitary way to cook and really pushed canned goods to the people on the islands.
Butter my Lola used just a touch. I think mainly for flavor and nothing else. Feel free to use real butter or a vegan version.
Ube Halaya Recipe
First peel and cut the ube into cubes. Then place them in a steamer and steam for 20-25 minutes until the ube is very soft. Use a fork to test doneness. If it still feels hard steam for an additional 5 minutes and check for doneness again. The fork should pierce through and separate the steamed ube.
You can see that they got so much darker after being steamed.
Next grate the steamed ube and place in a wok with all the coconut cream, condensed milk, evaporated milk and butter. Using a wok is key as it gives you room to stir.
Now is the hard part. You stir and stir on low heat until the grated ube starts to break down and soften. It is important to cook Ube Halaya over low heat so as to not burn it. This is the time when you can pass off the stirring to a trusted person. They must not stop stirring no matter what.
With the amount of ube I cooked about 450 grams or 2 cups it took about 45-50 minutes to get to the right consistency and texture. There will still be a few lumps, but you can't feel it when you eat it. If it does bother you, you can transfer the cooled down Ube Halaya into a food processor and blend until super smooth.
You will know when it is done when the coconut cream start to release some oil. This acts as a natural greaser for when you put it in the Llanera mold to cool down.
As you can see below the color is super deep indigo. Now we know this is from anthocyanins and pH levels (see way above). At this time many people go and grab the bottle of Ube Flavoring to start turning it purple. I decided to leave it as is even though it's not purple. My Lola never used the flavoring, so for me when I remember Ube Halaya from my childhood it's not super sweet. It has a lingering of something savory. Kinda like the perfect Asian dessert. Not too sweet!
You can add in the flavoring if you wish. Start with 1 teaspoon. Artificial flavoring really does go a long way. You don't need much.
How to Mold Ube Halaya
The traditional way to mold Ube Halaya is to use a llanera. It's also the same mold for making traditional Leche Flan. Nowadays you can find llanera from Amazon or online, but it's super expensive. If you can make your way to a Filipino grocery store they sell them for $2 as opposed to $6 online. They are made of aluminum and if you buy them in the Philippines they are usually made of empty cracker tins.
This recipe can fill up two llanera with a few spoons left over for you to eat right away. I mean cooks treat right?!
How to Serve
It will take a few hours to cool down in the molds, so it is best to wait 4 hour up to overnight to serve. To unmold cake a sharp knife and run it against the edge of the llanera. Then place a serving platter on top and turn it over. Press the bottom slightly to help release the Ube Halaya. If you are having trouble taking it out run to bottom over very hot water for a minute. That should help to take it out.
Traditionally you are just supposed to have a spoon of after a big meal. One because you just had a big meal and two, this Ube Halaya recipe is quite dense and super filling. It's just supposed to satisfy your taste buds to say you had something sweet, the meal is done.
How to Store
I would advise unmolding all the Ube Halaya from the llaneras and wrapping them individually in plastic wrap. They can be left in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. If you want to save them in the freezer add another layer of foil and it will keep for up to 3 months in the freezer to use in other recipes. To defrost just leave on the countertop for 1 hour until it is at room temperature.
Recommended recipes for left over Ube Halaya
Recommended Ube Reading
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- 2 llanera molds
- 450 g Fresh Ube Cut into Cubes (about 2 cups)
- 13.5 oz Coconut Cream (1 can)
- 12.2 oz Evaporated Milk (1 can)
- 11.25 oz Condensed Milk (1 can)
- 2 oz Butter (¼ Cup)
- Steam the ube. Place the ube in a steamer basket and fill the steamer with up to two inches of water. Turn the heat on to medium low and steam for 20-25 minutes until super soft. If it is still hard at the 25 minute mark steam further at 5 minute intervals to check doneness.
- Grate the steamed Ube. Cool the ube so that it is easy to hold. Grate with a hand held grater or use the grater attachment in your food processor.
- Mix with the milks and butter. Pour the coconut cream, evaporated milk, condensed milk and butter in a large wok. Add in the grated ube and mix well.
- Stir the ube halaya until done. Turn on the heat to low and don't stop stirring until the ube halaya is nice and smooth. Will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour of non-stop stirring. You will know it's done when the coconut oil starts to seep out and the Ube Halaya gets to a nice smooth jammy like consistency.
- Mold it. Transfer the cooked ube halaya into 2 llanera and leave to cool for a minimum 4 hours and up to overnight on the counter.
- How to serve. Run the bottom of the llanera over super hot water for about 30 seconds. Then take a sharp knife and skim the edges of the llanera to help unfold. Top the llanera with a serving platter and turn over. Tap and push the bottom of the llanera with your fingers until the Ube Halaya falls out.
- How to eat it. Ube Halaya is meant to be eaten just one spoon full at a time. Serve after dinner and give your guests a spoon each and dig in.