If you’ve ever had bubble tea, you probably know about tapioca! Tapioca gives the tea its signature chewy bubbles. So it is safe to say that tapioca is the crucial ingredient in bubble tea.
But what is tapioca in bubble tea, and where does it come from? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about this delicious ingredient.
What Is Tapioca?
If you’ve ever had bubble tea, chances are you’ve had tapioca. But what is tapioca? Tapioca is a key ingredient in bubble tea, giving the drink its unique texture and flavor. But what exactly is tapioca?
Tapioca is a starch/flour extracted from the cassava root (see the picture above). It’s often used as a thickener or flour and has a chewy, slightly gummy texture when cooked, as you may have noticed when drinking bubble tea.
Where Is Tapioca Grown?
As we mentioned before, tapioca comes from the cassava root. The cassava plant grows in tropical climates worldwide, on different continents, for example, in countries like Brazil, Thailand, and Nigeria.
In fact, cassava is one of Nigeria’s most important food crops; it’s estimated that cassava makes up 30% of the country’s total food intake!
Cassava roots can be up to 2.6 feet (~80cm) long and weigh up to 9.5 ounces (~270g) each. The root is very starchy and contains high levels of cyanide.
However, don’t worry – this cyanide is not harmful unless the root is not cooked properly before consumption. All cyanide will be removed when cooked correctly, and the root will be safe to eat.
What Does Tapioca Taste Like?
Tapioca has a very neutral taste and does not add flavor to the drink or food it is in. However, because it is often cooked in syrup, it can taste slightly sweet.
What Is Tapioca Flour?
Tapioca flour is usually the same as tapioca starch. It’s more of a labeling difference, depending on what people call it.
Tapioca comes in several forms, including flakes, pearls, and powders. When used in bubble tea, it is most commonly in the form of small pearls made from tapioca flour.
If you are interested in making boba pearls with tapioca flour, then take a look at my recipe!
What Do Tapioca Pearls Taste Like?
Tapioca has a neutral flavor, so tapioca pearls taste neutral unless cooked with sugar or dipped into syrup or honey. Then the pearls have a slightly sweet taste.
If sweeteners are not used, tapioca pearls don’t add any taste to bubble tea. However, its chewy texture still makes it a perfect addition to this refreshing beverage.
You’ll notice a slightly rubbery or chewy consistency when you bite into a tapioca pearl. This is because tapioca pearls are almost pure carbohydrates with very little protein or fat.
Tapioca pearls are often brown and black, but they can also be found in different colors, like white or translucent. The color of the pearl depends on the sugar used in cooking.
For example, black/brown tapioca pearls have been cooked with brown sugar, and white tapioca pearls with regular white sugar.
How Many Calories in Tapioca Pearls?
Usually, tapioca pearls have around 300-350kcal per 100g (~2/3 US cup). I brought out a range because it depends on how much sugar is used to make tapioca pearls.
I like to use WuFuYuan tapioca pearls in bubble tea. They have 220kcal per 100g (~2/3 US cup), and all the calories are carbohydrates (54g). The serving size is exactly half of that.
So, what is tapioca? Tapioca pearls are an essential ingredient in bubble tea, giving the beverage its signature chewy texture. Tapioca is a starch/flour that comes from the cassava root, which is native to South America but now grows in tropical climates worldwide.
The flour is usually cooked with sugar and rolled into small pearls. These pearls are what are used in bubble tea. Tapioca’s chewy texture makes it a perfect addition to this refreshing beverage!