has a distinctive texture that makes it an important thickening agent
and an essential ingredient in unique dessert dishes.
Tapioca is a root starch made from cassava plant. It is processed using
a method similar to the way that wheat
is turned into pasta
and is used
both in desserts and savory recipes. Essentially flavorless, tapioca is
prized for its texture, used as a thickening agent
or to add a gelatin
ous chewy aspect to recipes.
The cassava plant, mother of all tapioca, is native to the West Indies
and parts of South America. It was most likely harvested first by the
Mayans, who ingeniously managed to develop a way to extract the
poisonous cyanide from the cassava roots and use it in their blow
darts, simultaneously preserving the rest of the root for food.
Tapioca starch/tapioca flour
is used to coat sweets and fried foods or to thicken liquids.Dark tapioca pearls
or large pearl tapioca
used in bubble-tea drinks and other dessert-drinks. The large, chewy
pearls can be tough to find and tough to prepare but are usually very
reasonably priced.Small pearl tapioca
is used in many desserts, like tapioca pudding
, and in savory dishes such as dumplings.
While tapioca puddings are common in U.S. grocery stores, tapioca
flour/starch and tapioca pearls are more difficult to find. They are
sold at some specialty/Asian markets and can be ordered online.
Cooked tapioca pearls
not be stored overnight. Uncooked tapioca pearls can be stored unopened
in a cool, dark place for up to six months. If the bag has been opened,
roll or re-seal it and store in the refrigerator. When refrigerated,
tapioca pearls may gather condensation but are still edible. Tapioca starch
should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place.
While there are various ways to prepare each form of tapioca, don’t try
making your own tapioca, as cassava roots contain cyanide which can be
fatal if prepared incorrectly. Tapioca starch
is very useful in sauces as a thickener, in bread doughs (specifically dumpling dough), and in frying batters.Tapioca pearl
preparation is a tricky and extensive endeavor:
• Boil 8 parts water to 1 part tapioca pearls in a large pot.
• Add pearls to boiling water slowly and stir gently until all balls float to the surface.
• Turn the heat down to medium-low, leaving the pot uncovered, for 40 minutes.
• Cover the pot and turn the heat off, leaving the pearls to sit for 30 more minutes.
Test the softness of the tapioca, and when it has reached the desired
textured, remove pearls from the pot and rinse them with cool water.
• Place pearls in another bowl or container and add sugar as desired.
In many cases, particularly as a sauce-thickener or batter ingredient, cornstarch
can replace tapioca.
Try one of our favorite tapioca recipes:
Sweet Coconut Tapioca Soup with Bananas (Che Chuoi)