Ube Jam – Artificially colored or not?

My mother was born in Cebu and summered in Bohol and she had a pretty good handle on ube1ube jam or haleya, whichever you prefer. And our ube jam was always a tad less purple than anything we purchased in a grocery, ate in a restaurant as part of a dessert, etc. In fact, I always thought our jam needed a tan. So last year I started on a quest to make an ube jam that not only tasted good, possessed a smooth and light texture (mind you, some prefer solid bits in it) and had a vibrant color… After trying several types of ube (from Bohol, Batangas, Baguio, rounded, longish, humongous, smallish) I began to despair as nearly every one yielded a sallow looking jam. So finally, I added just a touch of purple food coloring (the good stuff that looks like syrup, not the watery grocery stuff) and voila! perfection achieved… so what’s the point? The point is this… do I really believe the nuns at Good Shepherd aren’t using artificial food coloring of some sort???

Is this really a big deal? Do I need to have the brilliantly purple ube ube2jam I purchased at Good Shepherd analyzed at a lab to determine if artificial food coloring was added? Even though it emphatically states in bold letters on the label: “NO ARTIFICIAL COLOR ADDED.” Have I just missed out on some key process that retains the color better? If you are to analyze this dilemma thoroughly it boils down to this: type of ube (some are purpler than others), how you cook it (boiled vs. baked, perhaps?), peeled vs. unpeeled (to reduce bleed to water), manner of mashing? (by hand, food mill, purifier of some sort), proportion of milk (cow, carabao, milk vs. cream, evaporated, condensed), butter, sugar (can’t imagine they use anything but white granulated sugar) and stirring method. The only variation that I haven’t tried is unpeeled and baked before putting it through a rice mill. So I am truly befuddled by the great color of most commercial ube unless they use food color and the nuns say they don’t… Think they are being clever, boiling down the natural dye of the ube until they create a completely natural not artificial purple food color???

Our cook tried to make ube jam Cebu style which meant some ube3condensed milk added. She boiled pre-peeled ube (therefore maximum bleed), used a food mill (results in second photo above, already pale), then added sugar, milk, butter and ended up with the pallid jam in the first photo above. The nice purple jam is from Good Shepherd. Not only is the latter more purple, it was smoother and less dense. I made a jam last year without condensed milk and added a touch of purple food coloring and it was nearly as appetizing as the Good Shepherd version. So unless Marketmanila’s readers have some good explanation why I keep getting pale ube jam then I have to believe that most commercially made ube jams do in fact use artificial coloring and consumers have just become so used to seeing this “idealized” ube color or find it less appetizing when it is pale (think ube ice cream in pale lavender rather than deep purple)… What do you think?

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37 Responses

  1. I always remember our jams being purple and my grandmother and aunts never used food coloring. I remember that the ube was boiled whole and only the paper thin skin was removed before it was mashed. I think there is also a new variety of ube where the tuber is no longer found underground but on the vines. These ube are smaller, rounder and deeper in violet color. The minus side they say that it is more watery than the regular ube, therefore that means a longer cooking time if you make it into jams. I heard this is the kind of ube the ice cream manufacturer’s use nowadays precisely because of the more intense color.

  2. Maricel I agree boiling with skins on probably helps the color a bit but it still doesn’t get that bright purple. and ice cream manufacturers admit to adding artificial color in their ingredient lists… but there is probably an old basic trick that I have missed…

  3. Unless they have divine intervention those nuns better go to confession. Here’s my theory: those nuns are using powdered ube, which is already artificially colored, reconstituting it and making it into jam, hence “no added artificial color”. I don’t think that jam would pass FDA testing. As for selling the jam open, that wouldn’t do either.
    Bring me a bottle next time and we’ll have it tested.

  4. It is more appealing if you eat nice purple ube jam. It is really intruiging what are they made of. Am not an ube expect but if am not mistaken there are different types of ube. Which maybe will give you that purple color. Using artificial color is not only the question in my mind to give ube jam an appealing look but rather. Is it 100% made of ube? Of what i heard some use “kamote” or sweet potatoes because they are cheaper than ube or they use partly kamote and ube. Then that requires artificial color. “This only an opinion.” What do you think marketman?

  5. We cook jalea and calamay na ube, which even has malagkit mixed in, and still get a natural vibrant purple tint. The ube is boiled unpeeled then as Maricel said, only the paper-thin skin is peeled which leaves a crusty outer layer. That’s where the colour comes from. It is then grated with the same implement used for papaya (for achara and okoy). The tougher parts are then pounded with a mortar and pestle.

    The round ube in the vines are actually “fruits” (am not sure if they’re nodules, I’ll check next time. The tuber is still present underground. We have ube plants now and then.

  6. Anne, I agree that some might mix in other root veggies but I have always made it with 100% ube and still get the pale color. Karen, sounds like you have the best handle on this and earlier readers who suggest leaving the skins on while boiling. That makes sense to me. Have to try it when I get another batch of ube. Any sense of whether the ube should be the round or the the longer variety? Smaller specimens vs. the humongous ones? The search for real purple continues. Somehow, I don’t think they would go as far as powdered ube as fresh ube is readily available but you never know…

  7. dear marketman,
    i know this isn’t really related to your ube puzzle but i must ask, since this has placed me and some friends in a quandary for years– what is grimace?! is he supposed to be a giant ube?! i mean, we all know what hamburglar is or who ronald mcdonald is, so it is rather confusing for kids to have a mascot which is just a giant bright purple glob. i’ve asked some people at mcdo on several occasions and they don’t seem to know the answer either.
    i was counting on you to enlighten us on the subject since you seem to be endowed with endless interesting trivia.
    thanks in advance for entertaining this comment (i really hope you can give me the answer) and i really learn alot and immensely enjoy your site!

    filet minion (deliberately misspelled)

  8. This reminded me of a childhood memory, making ube. We got the pallid grey color after cooking and mashing, but couldn’t find purple food coloring. We brilliantly decided that since in art class blue and red make purple, we’d add a bit of blue and red food coloring to our sad looking jam. It turned brown instead of purple and as tasty as it was we couldn’t eat it. Ube jam that isn’t purple just doesn’t cut it.
    I do like the Good Shepherd ube though, artificially colored or not. Consistently tasty!

  9. Grimace, huh? I suppose you realize I can’t often ignore an interesting question or at least one from a reader with an obvious sense of humor. I sincerely doubt that Grimace is patterned after an Ube as the availability of this root crop in Illinois or wherever Ronald is from is doubtful. Worse, because of U.S. import rules, it was not likely that an ube was sent there from the Philippines as a sample. If the myriad of websites are to be believed, Grimace is officially undefined, a purple blob that pushes milkshakes and had a period as a villain in the McDo gang of sorts including McBurglar and company. Personally, my opinion, Grimace was created with consulting like precision as their surveys suggested that young kids respond well to the color purple (think Barney and those totally repetitive Australian shows with 3 fathers singing and teletubbies) so they had to come up with a creature that was purple,preferably soft and cuddly, and yet with a criminal edge (stealing shakes and what not). Now that Grimace has become such an enigma, it is too late for the PR spin doctors to create an interesting story behind him, like he turned nuclear purple after eating too many deep fried foods, or his skin color went haywire from all the artificial food coloring and dairy in their apple pies and sundaes. At any rate, Grimace is not an ube, unless of course some 1950’s Filipino-American animator’s idea of leaving his imprimatur on his work meant he patterned the blob after the tuber he missed so much and for whom people added food coloring to to make it a more vibrant purple!!! I hope this satisfies your question…it certainly does it for me! Heehee. P.S. In college, I could eat a Big Mac in three bites; now it takes 4. Think my mouth got smaller?

  10. We use all the different shapes and sizes of ube. The results only vary by a shade or so, never pale. My mom says they vary depending on where they’re planted. Hard rocky ground equals rounder, more compact root crops.

    Can you do a step-by-step of how it’s cooked after mashing? Our old version uses coconut milk and it’s cooked like calamay/bico. Boil the milk first then add ube. Same procedure if using carabao’s/cow’s milk.

    But I still maintain that you get the colour from the crusty layer just beneath the paper-thin skin. I was assigned to pound that as a child, that’s why I distinctly remember it’s used (unlike in cassava where the rind is poisonous).

  11. yey! i knew you were the right person to turn to. thanks again! i’m forwarding your reply to my friends who i’ve spent sleepless nights with trying to solve that “who the heck is grimace” mystery (which just goes to show what fulfilling lives we live).
    To address your bigmac biting increase– considering how these burgers have phenomenaly shrunk over the years, (clearly, i have ruled out the scientific probability of your mouth shrinking)– normally i would say that age is taking its toll on your chewing capacity and simply diagnose you with acute “rayuma” (my vast knowledge on the illness revolves around the fact that my lola has been complaining about it for decades). but since you were so accomodating and entertaining in your reply to my absurd query, my two-cents on it instead is: now that you have matured and have been accustomed to gourmet foods wherein it is only but fashionable to take dainty bites off your roquefort cheeses and hors d’oeurves, you have thus lacked the essential practice/ skill which used to come naturally as a hungry college jock who gobbled burgers in 3 bites. Of course this is based on the assumption that you weren’t raised by a martha stewart, and like any other normal kid- gorged and stuffed yourself with junk.
    in that case, i wonder when the marketman “thou shall procure only the freshest/ greenest/ healthiest produce available in the market” epiphany materialized.

  12. Touche. I am amused. But I must dispel your aged and thus more refined theory as I spent lunch today with my sick 9 year old daughter (her mom is away) and in a fit of teenage bluster, I wondered out loud if I could eat about a fourth of an entire chicken salad sandwich (bursting with laman) with beet relish (to boot!) on low carb bread sandwich to which she said “no way” and I proceeded to cram the entire section into my mouth to her utter amazement and chewed without drooling excess liquid. Not that I would try that at some fancy fund raiser but it’s good to know I did not get lockjaw. Enjoy life, eat well, bitch at the illogical and irrational folks and die fulfilled…

  13. Heeheeheehee!!!!! That would have been amazing!!! Hahaha! One question Marketman, are you sure you didn’t have any thing ooozzing down your mouth? Hehehehe! Ahahahahahahaha…..

  14. Okay, groovygirl. My daughter saw that comment and said I should ‘fess up… I did apparently have mayonnaise ooze out the right side of my mouth. So there. End of the cram food into your mouth vein. Goodnight silly readers.

  15. haa haa! you guys are amusing me with this grimace theory
    too…….i’m having a pretty boring day at work, thanks
    for bringing some laughter into my day :)

  16. I used to like the Good Shepherd ube jam, but it’s not the color that bothers me. What bothers me is the way it’s so perfect in its consistency. Fake, fake, fake. I think they don’t even use real ubes anymore… perhaps ube powder. Ha!

  17. has anyone tried calling the Good Shepherd nuns? I know for a fact that they use real ube as my aunt is a good shepherd nun. the smooth, smooth texture is the result of HOURS of mixing the jam by hand! I can assure Lori that it’s real, real, real! :-) I’m not sure what they do to the color though, I’ll ask my aunt.

  18. Chris, good idea. Wouldn’t have the nerve. But I do take their bottle as their answer: NO ARTIFICIAL COLOR ADDED is clearly stated. I am just on a quest to do it at home. And based on the comments above, there appear to be some techniques for getting it more purple…

  19. Sorry haven’t had the chance to talk to my aunt yet on how to make the color more purple. But I’m sure they’ll be happy to share the “secret” with anyone who’s as passionate about food as you, MarketMan!

    Another thing, I think one reason why there are so many “copycats” is that the nuns are actually running it as a livelihood training center. Plus their scholars going through college work at the center making all those yummy jams and peanut brittle. So just imagine what kind of business they’ll all think of entering after graduation…

  20. Sr. Guadalupe from Good Shepherd left a comment on my entry on Good Shepherd and categorically states that their ube jam does NOT include food coloring. So that means I have to try everyone else’s suggestions – especially the boil with skins on and peel only the most outer layer of skin – to make my jam more purple. Thanks, all for adding clarity to the mystery of the purple ube jam!

  21. yes, they don’t need to add food coloring into their ube jams because boiling with skin and peeling off only the thin outermost layer will give you a very delicious purple yam. its also a plus if u use ube with smaller diameter (since most of the color is on the outside and the inside is usually almost white).. i’v tried it and it worked. and Good shepherd uses fresh ube for their jams. you only need a good food processor to make a perfectly smooth product. :)

  22. Jenna, I am mortified that a food processor would be used for something as artisanal as a hand-made ube jam. Though I am not averse to modern kitchen equipment, I have most of the key ones, I think that a whirl in a food processor could dramatically alter the glutens in the underlying ube, thus making it have a different texture, more akin to the gummy-ness of overworked mashed potatoes or dough that has been handled too much…the resulting product may be smoother, but also gummier…

  23. we used to make halaya by the ton during the annual fiesta. we start cooking it the day before until early morning the next day. we add other rootcrops to it as well. kamote, gabi and Ube. they will be boiled with skins on (as we will not attempt to peel 20kilos of rootcrops)

    Then we will grate it by hand.(we have the scars to prove it) then put it all in the kawa with vanilla, sugar, gata and evap milk. a palapa ng niyog would be used as the panghalo. we use the powdered food coloring as it gives an intense color,(my father likes it dark purple.) 3-4hrs later, when the stirring becomes virtually impossible, then it is cooked.

    We transfer it on llaneras brushed with star maragarine. we kids cannot touch any of it until it is cooled properly so we stick our fingers with the leftovers on the kawa. =)

  24. before, we used an old food mill from my lola. somebody borrowed it and did not return it.

    as we grew up, we also tried a food processor, a meat grinder and all other modern gadgets to grate/grind all the stuff. all BURNED OUT. Due to it being too sticky. Much to my mom’s anger.

    so when we want a small amount, 5k or so, we do it by hand. But if want more, we go to the palengke, where they sell galapong and other ginataan ingredients, were we have it ground up.

    Also, do you know that in pasig palengke, you can buy kakang gata by the cup? they already have the milk pressed out. or if you prefer to see it done, you choose the niyog, they grind it for you then they have this metal contraption where the ground coconut goes to and they jack it up to press the coconut milk.

    happy eating!

  25. was just browsing, and realized that i missed several posts last year, so am making up for lost time. my mom always made ube without food color, and it always turned out deep violet. i think first step is to choose the ube that’s “tapol” – meaning, really deep violet all throughout and not just skin-deep. if you have a suki, he/she would allow you to slice an ube all the way for proof. i do not recall my mom having used small pieces of ube, they were always at least as big as a hand (“piling”)of bananas. next, they were boiled with skins on, and peeled very thinly afterwards. i remember the water the ube was boiled in would almost be inky black afterwards. so, i firmly believe the good shepherd ube shade is entirely possible without a drop of food color.

  26. i do enjoy reading your blogs. very interesting, informative and entertaining. salamat.
    i make halayang ube using frozen ground ube and canned thai coco milk when i get the craving. it turns out dark purple. these are available in the korean grocery han ah rheum. saves time though ube made from fresh ingredients would taste much better.

  27. hi!!!
    in our school,we need to make a jam.
    And our group decided to make an ube jam.
    Can i request for it’s recipe?

  28. hello MM, im not an expert in making haleyang ube but getting a vibrant color was never a problem for us… we never add artificial coloring…. yes, i do boil the ube with skin then peel it very thinly too.. i suggest you use the variety that the ube hangs on the branch.. maybe just mix a small amount becoz for me, i thing its kinda bitter.. but you will be surprised on how dark purple it is.. hope my tip helps you… goodluck on your blog… ^_^

  29. haleyang ube is one of my all time favorite desserts. it was one of the desserts that we would serve during fiestas. i still remember presenting it on the dessert table with macapuno on top. whenever i crave for it, i just go the filipino supermarket
    and buy all the ingredients so i could cook it for the family.
    i even make the latik that i put on top of the haleyang ube before serving it. comfort food…that’s what it is.

  30. no ARIFICIAL colors added, does not mean that didn’t add NATURAL colors, like grape…
    Or another red colored item that through processing turns purple.

  31. greetings marketman! my mom makes the prettiest naturally purple colored ube haleya. she steams rather than boil them to start with, peels them thinly with a knife when cool. since most of the color pigments are on the skin, she saves all the peel, adds water to it and boils it till the peel gives off its color. strain, saving the purple liquid. put the liquid back in the pot, simmer and reduce the liquid. (remember, less liquid, less to evaporate when slaving over the haleya!) add this to the mashed ube and other ingredients. and to make ube making easier.. use a non stick pot or wok. oh, and to save work on the grating.. put your kitchenaid grinder attachment to use and grind the steamed/boiled ube in it. it may look rough after the grind, but with all the stirring during the cooking process, final product comes out fine. hope this helps cooks out there. less artificial color consumed the better.

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