I love tapioca, and I can’t stop having tapioca tea, also known as boba or bubble tea. And every time I consume one, I say a little prayer for that friend who finally introduced me to it quite recently!
If you’re fond of gluten-free foods, then you might have heard of tapioca as it’s popularly used as a binding and thickening agent in most savory and sweet dishes.
What is tapioca?
Tapioca is a gluten-free starch that is taken out from the cassava or yucca root. It’s commonly used as a thickening and binding agent in many savory dishes and desserts.
The root plant of cassava, also known as yucca, is native to Brazil, but its cultivation has spread throughout Africa and South America.
Tapioca has slowly become a part of many cuisines across the globe, and you can purchase it as instant flakes, pearls, sticks, or flour.
Even though tapioca is opaque before you cook it, it turns translucent when moisture is added.
You can also buy tapioca pearls in different colors and small and large sizes. For instance, boba has large tapioca pearls that have been dyed black and are sweetened. These pearls are used to make boba or bubble tea.
What Is tapioca made from?
Wondering what’s in tapioca balls? All forms of tapioca balls, powder, and sticks are made with tapioca starch, extracted from ground cassava root.
What does tapioca taste like?
Tapioca doesn’t have its own flavor; it has a neutral taste.
However, the lack of tapioca flavor allows it to add heft and texture to various savory and sweet dishes, such as gravies, soups, and puddings, without altering their taste.
What is tapioca starch?
Tapioca starch is essentially the same thing as tapioca flour. It’s the starchy liquid that’s extracted from the ground or finely shredded cassava root.
The starch is then dried, which allows the water to evaporate from it and leave behind the tapioca powder, which is more commonly referred to as the tapioca flour.
How is tapioca made?
Tapioca is made by peeling, washing, chopping, and then finely shredding the cassava root until the root's pulp is left.
The pulp is then rinsed, spun, and rinsed again until the mixture that’s left behind is purely starch and water.
The starch is then allowed to dry completely so that the water can evaporate and leave behind the fine tapioca powder, which is the tapioca flour.
The flour is sold as is or is processed into pearls and flakes and then sold.
Due to the drying process, you need to soak the tapioca pearls and flakes in hot water to be successfully used in cooking as binding or thickening agents.
This allows them to double in size and become swollen and gel-like.
Uses for tapioca
Wondering what to do with tapioca? Try cooking with it!
Tapioca has been used traditionally to make bubble or boba tea, candies, pudding, and other desserts.
Boba tea and tapioca pudding are made with pearled tapioca or tiny tapioca powder balls that turn into chewy, gummy balls when cooked.
Thanks to its thickening quality, you can also use tapioca to add body and depth to gravies, soups, and sauces.
You can also use it as a binding and stabilizing ingredient in ground meat products, such as chicken nuggets or burger patties.
Since it essentially traps moisture in a gel, tapioca is also added to baked goods to protect the pastry from moisture during storage.
Also, as it’s a grain and gluten-free product, tapioca is often used in various gluten-free dishes, such as gluten and grain-free bread, puddings and desserts, and more.
Interestingly enough, tapioca pearls are also used to starch clothes! You have to boil the pearls in water and submerge the clothes in that tapioca gel water to add starch to them.
How to store tapioca
Since tapioca is a dry starch, you can store it at room temperature indefinitely.
Just make sure that you seal the storage bag as tightly as possible and protect the tapioca from moisture, heat, and bugs. Make sure as well that you don’t store tapioca flour in the fridge or freezer to protect it from moisture.
As for the tapioca pearls, you can keep them at room temperature for about six months.
The bottom line
Tapioca is truly a flexible food.
Adored by many for its culinary versatility, tapioca is essentially the starch that’s extracted from the ground cassava root. It’s evaporated to take the shape of a powder, which is known as tapioca flour.
You can use tapioca flour and pearls as a thickening and binding agent. It can also be used to prepare gluten and grain-free bread and pudding. More popularly so, tapioca pearls are used to make bubble tea.