has a distinctive texture that makes it an important thickening agent
and an essential ingredient in unique dessert dishes.
HistoryThe 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.
VarietiesTapioca starch/tapioca flour is used to coat sweets and fried foods or to thicken liquids.
Dark tapioca pearls or large pearl tapioca is 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.
Buying TipsWhile 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.
Storage TipsCooked tapioca pearls should 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.
Usage TipsWhile 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.
Substitution TipsIn 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)