The purple yam (Dioscorea alata), known as ube in Tagalog, is native to Southeast Asia, in particular the Philippines, and has been naturalized in South America, Africa, Australia and the southeastern United States. Kinampay or ube kinampay is a special variety of the tuber, found in the Antique and Negros Occidental provinces, Western Visayas and on Panglao island and in Guindulman in Bohol province. A Bohol legend relates that during a famine, the population of the island was saved by this tuber, so locals consider a god-sent gift and hold it in high esteem. Indeed, it has become a symbol of the population itself and its survival.
The purple yam is a climbing plant which produces tubers both above and below ground, where they serve as the plant’s roots and can weigh up to 6 kilos. They have an irregular shape and a rough skin, with purple flesh. The plant is sown in May and harvested in January, the month when an annual festival celebrating the yam is also held.
The ube is rich in vitamins, calcium, protein and water (70%) and has a sweet flavor thanks to elevated concentrations of glucose. It is often used to give additional flavor to typical meat dishes or boiled or roasted and eaten as a snack. The demand for products made from this tuber has grown over time, especially abroad, and ube kinampay is now sold fresh, cubed, in syrup, pureed or powdered. It is popularly used in sweets, especially ice cream. But despite this, the tuber is becoming rarer, with a drastic decline in the quantity grown, which decreased from 30,074 metric tons in 2006 to just 13,957 in 2020, according to recent data from the Philippines Department of Agriculture’s Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Service and the Philippine Bureau of Agricultural Statistics. Ube production is very limited due to a poor seed system and other practices in need of improvement. Farmers grow the yams on small plots of land and supply the processors with mixed white and purple varieties; the high percentage of mechanically damaged tubers, poor storability and inconsistent supply are significant challenges.