What Is Sago in Bubble Tea?

Bubble tea, or boba, a popular beverage from Taiwan, has gained worldwide popularity for its unique blend of flavors and textures.

At the base of this drink lies an interesting ingredient – sago or tapioca pearls. Though both are frequently used interchangeably, understanding the differences between sago and tapioca pearls is essential for bubble tea enthusiasts.

In short, sago is a white, edible starch extracted from the pith of tropical palm trees. In bubble tea, sago is often used instead of tapioca pearls due to its chewy texture and similarity.

As bubble tea continues to capture the palates of people across the globe, understanding the role of sago in this well-loved beverage adds another layer of appreciation for its unique taste and texture. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get to know more!

What Is Sago?

Sago is an edible starch extracted from the pith of various tropical palm stems. It is a common staple food in certain parts of the tropics.

This starchy substance can be made into granules or ground into a fine powder and is primarily used for culinary purposes. Sago is most widely used in New Guinea, where it is also known as sagu and rabia.

When it comes to bubble tea, sago can be utilized as an alternative to tapioca pearls. Sago is white and devoid of flavor, making it necessary to sweeten them for maximum taste. After boiling the sago and adding it to bubble tea, the taste resembles white tapioca pearls.

Though sago is often used interchangeably with tapioca, it is important to note that they are botanically distinct. The choice between sago and tapioca in bubble tea often depends on texture preference and availability.

Bubble Tea Basics


Bubble tea, originating in Taiwan during the 1980s, quickly gained popularity throughout Asia and eventually transitioned into a worldwide phenomenon.

The original bubble tea consisted of black tea, milk, sugar, and tapioca pearls, creating a refreshing and enjoyable beverage for all ages.


Classic bubble tea is similar to the original version, but sometimes ice is added. The tapioca pearls, historically derived from the cassava root starch, contribute a chewy texture to the beverage.

In some recipes, sago can be an alternative to classic tapioca pearls. However, it’s important to note that sago and tapioca are not always interchangeable.


Over time, bubble tea has evolved into a versatile beverage, with numerous variations available today. Different flavors and types of tea bases, such as green or fruit-flavored tea, can be used to create unique blends.

Customers can further customize their drinks by replacing traditional tapioca pearls with sago or even other innovative toppings like jellies, fruit pieces, or popping boba. 

Some bubble tea shops also offer sweetness and ice level adjustments, allowing individuals to customize their drinks to their tastes.

As the market for bubble tea continues to grow, the variations of this popular beverage are bound to extend even further, catering to the individual tastes and desires of its diverse consumer base.

Sago in Bubble Tea

Sago in Bubble Tea

Sago is an edible starch derived from the pith of various tropical palm trees, such as Metroxylon sagu, and is a staple food in some regions of the tropics.

Bubble tea, a popular Asian beverage consisting of tea, milk, and sugar, often incorporates sago to create a unique texture and taste.

Difference From Tapioca

Although sago and tapioca are often used interchangeably, there are some differences between the two.

The main difference is that sago comes from the pith of tropical palm trees, while tapioca is derived from the starch of the cassava root. When used in bubble tea, tapioca pearls are often called boba.

While both sago and tapioca can provide interesting textures in various dishes, their applicability may differ depending on the desired outcome.


To prepare sago for bubble tea, the pearls must be cooked thoroughly in boiling water, which often takes around 30 minutes. They should be stirred occasionally to prevent sticking.

Once the sago pearls become translucent, they can be drained and rinsed with cold water. Afterward, the sago is typically soaked in a sugar syrup to add flavor before being added to the bubble tea.

Flavors and Textures

Sago has a neutral taste, making it a versatile ingredient in bubble tea. Sago can be tailored to suit various taste preferences as it readily absorbs flavors from syrup and tea.

According to Thrillist, sago has a chewy and spongy texture, with more give than tapioca pearls. This distinct texture sets it apart from tapioca and contributes to the overall sensory experience of enjoying bubble tea.

Nutritional Aspects

Despite its popularity, sago is almost pure starch, containing only small amounts of protein, fat, and fiber. As a result, it lacks many essential vitamins and minerals, according to Healthline.

Compared to other carbohydrate sources, sago has a high amylose content. Amylose is a type of starch with long, linear glucose chains, allowing it to digest slowly.

This property has made sago a desirable addition to bubble tea, often replacing tapioca.

Both tapioca and sago pearls are high in carbohydrates but low in protein, vitamins, and minerals. They primarily function as fillers and thickeners rather than offering significant health benefits.

However, they are both naturally gluten-free, making them suitable substitutes for those following a gluten-free diet.

It is essential to be mindful of the nutritional content of sago and tapioca pearls, particularly the lack of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.

Consuming excessive amounts can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, especially for individuals with diabetes.


The use of sago in bubble tea provides a chewy alternative to tapioca pearls, offering a similar texture and a slightly different taste. Although both ingredients come from different plant sources, their roles in bubble tea remain similar.

Sago does not have a distinct flavor by itself but can be sweetened to enhance the taste. After combining sago with the other ingredients in bubble tea, the overall taste is similar to that of white tapioca pearls.

It is essential to note that sago and tapioca pearls may not always be interchangeable in every recipe. It is crucial to understand each dish’s specific requirements before substituting.

With this in mind, using sago in bubble tea can create a unique, enjoyable experience for enthusiasts.

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