How tapioca is made?

Ever wonder where tapioca comes from?

Q. Where does tapioca come from? — Helen M., Columbus, Ohio

A. Tapioca is the starch derived from the root of the cassava plant.

Native to Brazil, the plant spread across South America and was taken by explorers to Europe, Africa and Asia.

It is now grown worldwide and is used as a starch and thickening agent in the cuisines of nearly every culture.

After the starch is extracted from the roots, it is further processed into forms including sticks and pearls, which are the most common in the United States, where tapioca most often is used to make pudding or thicken pie filling.

People who need to avoid gluten, however, often use tapioca starch as a replacement for flour.

Those gummy globs in the bottom of bubble tea are giant tapioca pearls, too.

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Hungry for More?

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You’ve probably tasted tapioca pudding – a sweet, creamy dish that’s considered by many a classic comfort food and a favorite dessert. Or maybe you’ve tried bubble tea, which includes chewy “pearls” made of tapioca. But have you ever wondered – just what is tapioca exactly?

If so, you’re in luck. Read on to learn more about tapioca and discover its many uses in the kitchen and beyond; chances are you’ll be surprised at just how versatile tapioca can be.

See more: What is Sorghum?

Photo courtesy of iStock/IltonRogerio

Tapioca’s Origin and Characteristics

Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root, more commonly known as yuca to English speakers. Native to northern Brazil, cassava now grows worldwide, particularly in South America, Asia and Africa.

The cassava root, or underground part of the cassava shrub, grows well in hot, humid climates with low-nutrient soils. In fact, it’s considered one of the world’s most drought-tolerant crops, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health – and can usually be harvested within a year of planting.

After harvest, cassava roots are treated to remove toxins, then peeled, ground and boiled. A starchy liquid is then withdrawn, and once the water has evaporated, the starch goes into processing to produce various forms of tapioca: powder, flakes, sticks or translucent spheres typically called “pearls.”

Bubble tea; photo courtesy of iStock/karinsasaki

Nutritional Value

Nearly 100% carbohydrate and containing only trace amounts of protein and fat, tapioca is naturally grain- and gluten-free, making it a common ingredient in foods for those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerances.

Tapioca is also cholesterol-free, easy to digest, low in sodium, and a source of folate, manganese, iron, calcium, and dietary fiber. Due to its caloric density, tapioca can also support weight gain; a single cup of “pearls” has 544 calories and 135 grams of carbs.

See more: 6 Healthy Pizza Crust Alternatives You Have to Try

Tapioca pearls

Common Uses Inside and Outside the Kitchen

Tapioca flour often appears as an ingredient in gluten-free breads, including flatbreads, while chewy tapioca “pearls” typically appear in puddings, desserts, sweet snacks and the increasingly popular bubble tea (a cold milk tea).

Due to its thickening power and relatively neutral flavor, tapioca flour also makes an excellent thickener for soups, sauces and gravies. Plus, it works well as a binding agent in foods like burgers and nuggets, improving both texture and moisture content while preventing sogginess.

Finally, thanks to tapioca’s starchy nature, the uses for this versatile ingredient extend far beyond the kitchen. After tapioca goes through the gelatinization process, it has several commercial and industrial applications. For example, the gelatinized starch can be used to create adhesives and glues. It’s also an important ingredient in tablet production for the pharmaceutical industry. In textile applications, tapioca can be used in the sizing of yarns and the completion of cotton and polyester fabrics, and it is regularly part of the paper production process.

See more: Guide to Alternative Flours

What is Tapioca, Anyway?

That is the question I asked myself in the dry goods section of my grocery store, surveying the shelf of tapioca products. We’re likely best acquainted with tapioca in the form of tapioca pudding, or as the gummy pearls swimming at the bottom of our bubble tea, or as something we stir a spoonful of into pie filling.

But what is it, really, and what does it do?

From left: Large pearls, small pearls, instant tapioca, and tapioca flour. Photo by Bobbi Lin

Tapioca is made from starch of cassava root—a.k.a. yuca. And actually, you can eat yuca on its own, prepared in much the same way you’d prepare any other root vegetable. As Lindsay-Jean writes in this piece, cooked yuca has a sticky texture you’ll recognize: Tapioca, its progeny, shares it. It’s that stickiness that gives bubble tea and tapioca pudding their distinctive textures.

The humble yuca root. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Tapioca is made by extracting starch from the cassava root: The roots are processed to separate out the plant’s naturally occurring cyanide, and what results is the purified starch. You can purchase that starch as is (called tapioca, cassava, or manioc flour or starch—three names for the same thing), or as flakes, sticks, or pearls in a bevy of sizes. The last of these—the tapioca pearls—is so familiar that you, like I, might think of them as being tapioca’s truest if not original form.

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NB: Some tapioca, sold as “minute” or “instant,” generally comes in a granulated form; that’s what gives it its “instant” nature. Make sure you’re using the kind of tapioca the recipe you’re following calls for! Otherwise, your tapioca might not gel up like you’re expecting it to.

Where to Find it

You can buy flour/starch, instant tapioca, and small pearls at nearly any grocery store. If you want large pearls or boba (large, black, sweetened pearls used for making bubble tea), you may have to order them online or go to a specialty store or Asian grocery. Once you have some on your shelves, it’ll stay good in a tightly sealed container for about a year.

And if you’re out of tapioca flour/starch, you can grind tapioca pearls very finely and use them in its place. (Flour and pearls are different only in form.)

How to Use It

  • Bubble tea! You’ll want black tapioca pearls (often called “boba”) for bubble tea. They get their color from brown sugar—which also gives them their flavor. (If you use regular tapioca pearls, your pearls won’t taste like much of anything at all.) Buy the extra-wide straws, too—sucking pearls through a straw is half the fun.
  • Use tapioca (either instant or flour/starch) as a thickener for pies, soups, gravies, or puddings. Simply whisk a bit into whatever you’d like to thicken. And tapioca retains its texture even when frozen, which makes it a good option for thickening ice creams, soups, gravies, or anything else you might pop in the freezer—and it keeps whatever you’re thickening glossy (and doesn’t dull the colors or make them chalky at all, like flour or cornstarch might).
  • Tapioca pudding gets its name and its distinctive texture from tapioca pearls, large or small. It’s as comforting and nostalgic as rice pudding.
  • Tapioca has a place in sweet soups, too—like this Chinese coconut red bean soup, this coconut and tapioca soup, or this Norwegian fruktsuppe.
  • Lighten homemade gluten-free flour mixes with tapioca flour: Tapioca flour is flavorless, very fine, and not very dense—which makes it a good candidate for mixing into and cutting some of the heaviness of homemade gluten-free flour mixes. And its naturally stickiness will help bind and make chewy gluten-free baked goods (or gluten-containing baked goods, as with these beignets), which have a bad rap for being crumbly. Here’s a good guide for making your own gluten-free flour.
  • Substitute tapioca starch for cornstarch. Bob’s Red Mill advises using 2 tablespoons of tapioca starch for 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. You can also substitute instant tapioca for cornstarch in most recipes (especially pie fillings) in a 1:1 ratio.

Or Make…

How do you use tapioca? Tell us about it in the comments.

What Is Tapioca?

What is Tapioca? What is Tapioca Made of?

Tapioca is a gluten-free thickener, gelling agent, and baking ingredient made from yuca, the root of a cassava or manioc tree.

Tapioca comes in different forms. The most common dry tapioca products are tapioca flour and pearl tapioca, ranging in pearl size between 1 to 8 millimeters in its uncooked stage.

What is Tapioca Pudding?

Tapioca pudding is a dessert made from small tapioca pearls, also called pudding balls or tapioca balls. The opaque balls turn chewy and rubbery when cooked.

Slow Cooker Vanilla Tapioca Pudding

“Classic tapioca pudding is made with very little hassle in a slow cooker,” says Ellen Janet Nestler. “There is no need to pre-soak small tapioca pearls prior to cooking. Serve warm or put in individual containers and keep in fridge.”

Image zoom Photo by lutzflcat

Which Tapioca Balls are Used for Bubble Tea?

There are countless variations of bubble tea, and it depends on the recipe whether you use small or large tapioca balls, the original white tapioca balls, or one of the many colored or flavored varieties.

Tapioca balls used for bubble tea are often marketed and sold as boba balls, which is the Chinese word for tapioca pearls.

Boba (Coconut Milk Black Tea with Tapioca Pearls)

“Boba tea, or bubble tea, is a popular drink that originated from Taiwan,” says Risa. “I made this coconut variation because I had coconut cream on hand and wanted something different from the regular black milk tea variation. This coconut version tastes just like the one you’ll find in a bubble tea cafe.”

Image zoom Photo by Buckwheat Queen

What is the Difference between Tapioca Starch and Tapioca Flour?

Tapioca starch and tapioca flour are the same, and there is yet a third name for the finely ground tapioca: cassava flour. It is used in gluten-free baking and as a thickener for soups, sauces, gravy, and pie fillings.

Modified tapioca starch is tapioca starch that has been treated to improve its cooking properties, shelf life, and thickening abilities. This does not necessarily mean that the underlying plant has being genetically modified although that can be the case.

Some manufacturers label tapioca starch as “Tapioca starch dextrin” or “Tapioca dextrin.”

Delicious Gluten-Free Pancakes

“Makes fluffy pancakes with a consistency and taste comparable to those made with wheat flour,” says AC6AA. “Serve with your choice of condiments.”

Image zoom Photo by Dianne

What is Quick-cooking Tapioca?

Quick-cooking or instant tapioca consists of small precooked tapioca pearls. It acts as a fast thickening agent just like cornstarch or all-purpose flour.

What is Tapioca Syrup?

Tapioca syrup is a sweetener made from naturally fermented tapioca starch.

What is Tapioca Maltodextrin?

Tapioca maltodextrin is a food additive used by the food industry to increase the volume of dry mixes and frozen foods, and in molecular gastronomy to stabilize fat ingredients in order to transform them into powders.

What is a Good Substitute for Tapioca Starch?

If you want to replace tapioca starch (tapioca flour) as a thickener, use the same amount of all-purpose flour, or half the amount of cornstarch, arrowroot or potato starch.

Some Top-Rated Recipes with Tapioca

Tapioca Rice Pudding

“This is a recipe I found in my grandmother’s secret book it is so good I have to share it with the world,” says POTHEAD5. “It might make it a better place! Serve with whipped cream.”

Image zoom Photo by CoOkInGnUt

Very Popular Bubble Tea

“Bubble tea is very popular, especially to Asians, but now, more and more people from different backgrounds like the taste of it,” says skybaby. “It’s simple to make, but some of the ingredients may be a little tough to find. Just be patient and look for them in Chinese grocery stores. It is worth the trouble!”

Fish Egg Salad

“This is a delightfully light gelatin dessert with small pearls of tapioca mixed in,” says SHOPTILUDROP65. “You may use any flavor of gelatin mix that you like, and even stir in your favorite fruit when you fold in the whipped cream.”

Image zoom Photo by Gremolata

Coconut Tapioca Pudding

“I have always loved tapioca pudding and coconut, so this dish is perfect for me,” says Jennifer. “One time, for a ‘Southeast Asian Cuisine Night,’ I served this as dessert alongside pho, spring rolls, and steamed dumplings. For a Southeast Asian touch, top the pudding with chopped mango or chopped peanuts.”

Image zoom Photo by liliana_casalins

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake

“Basic and easy, and very versatile,” says Amy. “Layer with white or chocolate frosting, strawberries and whipped cream, etc. Make sure your baking powder is gluten-free.”

Image zoom Photo by Dianne

Brazilian Cheese Bread (Pao de Queijo)

“These yummy gluten/wheat free breads are good for those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance,” says GLOJAO. “These are good either served plain, or with marinara sauce. For more variety, try adding a variety of herb seasonings, such as Italian seasoning or try substituting other cheeses for the Parmesan.”

Image zoom Photo by Jinky

Check out our collection of Tapioca Flour Recipes.

Spicy Dry Cassava Root Stir-fry

Spicy Cassava root is my husband’s favourite food…………
Tapioca is the purest form of starch food and is rich in dietary fiber. The root is also a rich source of carbohydrates. So, if you are on a lose weight mission, avoid it from your daily diet. But, once in a while is ok.

Tapioca/ cassava root is said to be the common man’s food in Kerala. Tapioca stir-fry is usually served as breakfast or as an evening snack in our home. Fish curry makes a great combination with tapioca stir fry. Cassava root stir-fry is also a power packed meal.

Tapioca/ Cassava root can be preserved for years by parboiling and drying the peeled, washed, sliced root.We dry tapioca roots at home when we have lots of it. Today, I am going to share the recipe using fresh Cassava/ tapioca root. Fresh one tastes better than the dried.

Now, to the recipe…..

Cassava Root / Tapioca Root Stir-fry

Print Cassava Root (Tapioca) Stir-Fry Prep Time 15 mins Cook Time 30 mins Total Time 45 mins Cassava Root (Tapioca) stir-fry is usually served as breakfast or as an evening snack. Fish curry or beef curry makes a great combination with tapioca stir fry. Author: Ingredients

  • 2 cups of Cassava/ tapioca root diced
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • 1 medium size onion chopped
  • 3 green chilli sliced lengthwise
  • 1 garlic clove crushed
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp mustard seed
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Curry leaves


  1. Add 5 cups of water and salt to diced tapioca root. Cook until the roots are soft.
  2. Drain the excess water and keep aside.
  3. Heat oil in a pan. Pop the mustard seeds.
  4. Saute the crushed garlic until golden in color.

  5. Saute the onion until golden brown. Add the chilli and curry leaves. Stir well.
  6. Add turmeric powder and grated coconut and stir-cook for 1 minute on medium heat.
  7. Add the cooked tapioca and mix well. Cover and cook on low flame for 1 minute.
  8. Remove from heat.

Recipe Notes

If using dried root, soak up to 8 hours in water.

Spicy Dry Cassava Root Stir-fry

Serve hot with fish curry.

Happy cooking

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