With summer fast approaching, it’s only proper that we tackle one of the nation’s nation’s all-time fave ice cream flavors: ube. Enjoyed by Filipinos of all ages (even prior to its on-trend revival) in milkshakes, atop crepes, on halo-halo, or just by itself. With a number of affordable brands of ube ice cream in the supermarket, how do they compare?
Note: Food laws in other countries (e.g., the States) make a distinction between (real) “ice cream” and their cheaper counterparts, “dairy desserts”, the latter containing fillers such as vegetable oil (in place of part of the dairy) and/or overrun (a.k.a., air). As we have not found information on the existence of similar laws in the Philippines, and for convenience, we simply refer to the products below as “ice cream”.
Known for producing ice cream out of a carabao milk base, this local brand churns out an especially dairy-focused take on ube ice cream with a grayish-mauve hue. Barely sweet, it has the closest-to-natural flavor, which is to say the ube here comes very subtly—i.e., as an especially mellow, earthy, nutty hum, just like that of real purple yam. This transitions beautifully into an especially creamy, milky-tasting finish that lingers long and makes it hard to put the tub down. And though Arce’s way airy and icy for our preferences, what we especially love are the bits of cooked purple yam running through its feather-light body.
Magnolia’s version bears similarities to Arce’s, being of a slightly more saturated mauve-ish color. It has a similar mild, earthy-nutty taste that almost strikes us as natural, bolstered just a touch with a peculiar musky note we associate with Ferna brand ube extract. This is not necessarily a bad thing, given how muted in flavor real ube can be, but Magnolia’s ends on an odd oily-tasting finish that strikes us as being flat.
Rock-hard as it is from the freezer, it melts down to a frothy, velvety consistency that’s very highly aerated (think: frozen mousse) and littered with ice crystals, but also actual purple yam bits (not as much as Arce’s, but close).
Nestlé strangely only peddles their ube ice cream in small, single-serving cups. Striking in its far-from-realistic vivid violet tone, this version is the softest and airiest of the lot with the highest amount of overrun. Unlike the other brands that go rock-hard, you can spoon right into it even when fully frozen, and it weirdly retains much of its shape and form as it defrosts—not unlike those internet-famous ice cream sandwiches.
You get a more in-your-face, ube extract-like profile here which we’d describe as a blend of fragrant (a la McCormick brand extract) and musky (a la the Ferna version), before ending on a fatty creaminess; it’s far from natural-tasting, but it’s just like the ube ice cream we associate with our childhood.
Selecta boldly asserts their ice cream to be of the “super thick” sort, leaving us with high expectations. In reality, this close-to-electric violet colored player is no super-premium Carmen’s Best-tier ice cream (which is not surprising at this price point), but it definitely has a denser, smoother backbone relative to the others, notably retaining more body and a close-to-velvety feel (save for very occasional purple yam bits) as it melts down.
Flavor-wise, it exudes a blend of Magnolia’s somewhat naturally nutty and Nestle’s more ube extract-y characters, making it an a versatile ice cream of choice and a no-fail crowd pleaser.
Our Pick: Arce Dairy
Consistency-wise, almost all brands come airy and/or icy as expected of their grocery-variety genre. It’s more in flavor that we found more variability, along the lines of a sort of ube flavor spectrum: some come more natural-tasting, mellow and nutty in a way that evokes fresh ube with milk; others, more (decidedly) artificial-tasting and ube extract-y, like what you’d use for topping halo-halo.
In this regard, Arce Dairy takes home the crown for us. Its ultra-milky and creamy, natural-tasting character simply cannot be beat.
In a pinch, Magnolia also makes for a decent, slightly cheaper, somewhat similar-tasting stand-in.
We have to admit that Nestlé’s version nonetheless strikes a chord with us, however, with how its “fake” but nostalgic flavor appeals to our inner child.
For the best of both worlds, go for Selecta’s, which not only stands out with its relatively thicker, more voluptous body, but also strikes a great balance between both ends of the said ube flavor spectrum.