Ever wondering what tapioca is?

Tapioca may be a staple in many cuisines and gluten-free cooking, but many are still left wondering about tapioca starch – what is it? How is it used? How do you cook it?

If you are yet to discover tapioca in your cooking, read on to find out how this increasingly popular ingredient is used and try our delicious recipe to see for yourself if you’ve been missing out!

What is tapioca?

Tapioca is the starch obtained from the root of the cassava plant. Native to Brazil, the cassava plant is cultivated in South America and Africa yet used worldwide in cooking.

Tapioca starch doesn’t have much flavour on its own, but its superpowers are its strong gelling power and the fact that it is gluten-free. Tapioca also fairs well when freezing and thawing.

Tapioca can be bought as flour, flakes, or pearls.

Does tapioca have any health benefits?

Tapioca is a source of iron and calcium, which are important minerals for transporting oxygen in your body and for bone health.

Tapioca is easily digestible and suitable for gluten-free diets. Tapioca is also low in sodium and contains no saturated fat or cholesterol.

Tapioca is nearly 100 percent carbohydrate.

What is tapioca used in?

Tapioca is an inexpensive and widely available ingredient and hence has several uses:

  • As a thickener in soups, gravies, stews, and even ice creams
  • As a binder, for example in burger patties
  • In gluten-free baking and to add moisture and texture to baked goods
  • In puddings and desserts
  • In bubble or boba tea (tapioca pearls).

How is tapioca used in cooking?

Now that we’ve cracked what tapioca is, let’s see how to go about cooking it.

Tapioca starch, often purchased as flour or flakes, turns translucent when hydrated. When used as a thickener in place of other flours, it is simply whisked into soups, jellies, pie fillings and gravies. You can use tapioca flour in place of other flours as normal.

Tapioca pearls (chewy, gummy balls) are made by boiling tapioca starch in water until it forms a kneadable consistency. The mixture is made into balls and the process repeated until desired chewy balls are achieved. Tapioca pearls can also be bought ready-made.

The most common use of tapioca pearls is in desserts such as tapioca pudding and bubble tea. Boba pearls are large, dyed and sweetened tapioca pearls used in boba/bubble tea.

Nana’s Comforting Tapioca Pudding

(serves 4)


1/3 cup tapioca pearls (small)

¾ cup whole milk (for soaking)


¼ tsp salt

2 ¼ cup whole milk

1/3 cup honey

1 ½ tsp vanilla essence



1. Soak the tapioca pearls in milk for at least one hour but preferably overnight in a cool place. The longer you soak, the less cooking time is needed!

2. Beat the eggs together with honey, salt and milk (2 1/4 cup). Add the soaked tapioca pearls.

3. Using a thick-bottomed pot, cook the mixture on low heat, stirring continuously, until it comes to a boil.

4. Turn down the heat to very low and continue stirring as it simmers. Be careful not to boil; high heat will ruin the mixture. And be patient, cooking depends on the time of soaking so it might take some time.

5. Once the tapioca pearls are translucent and tender, and the custard is thickening, remove from heat. Stir in the vanilla and pour into serving dishes.

6. Tapioca pudding can be eaten hot or cold. Sprinkle chopped chocolate on top for a chocolatey tapioca pudding!


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