Tapioca Pearls also referred to as boba in some cultures is a common ingredient found in Asian desserts, in tapioca pudding, and in sweet drinks such as bubble tea. The use of tapioca pearls is a wonderful addition of texture to these sweet treats and drinks.
Tapioca is a starch that is derived from the plant species Cassava or Manihot, esculenta. Cassava is a wooded shrub of the spurge family that is native to South America. Commercially the starch that is produced by this particular plant species can be found in powder form, fine and or coarse flakes but most commonly in pearl form. The sizes of tapioca pearls can vary from 1mm to 8mm in diameter, with 2 to 3mm diameter being the most commonly used size.
The use of tapioca pearls varies from region to region, for example in the West Indies tapioca pearls are used as a provision cooked alongside meats and fish. In India tapioca pearls are used as a thickening agent in puddings and in Northern regions of India tapioca pearls are eaten by themselves as a snack. Throughout the United Kingdom tapioca pearls are consumed in tapioca pudding made using tapioca pearls, sugar and milk. In the United States tapioca pearls are eaten in tapioca pudding form as well as cooked with oysters this dish being coined “Oysters and Pearls.” Throughout the country of Africa tapioca pearls are a staple breakfast food due to the foodstuff being rich in starch.
Tapioca pearls especially the large pearls are normally found to be brown in color however they can also be found dyed blue, green and in a wide variety of pastel colors. These larger pearls are commonly found in green tea drinks like bubble tea and pearl milk tea.
Another use for tapioca pearls is to make tapioca flour. When choosing to substitute your common cooking flour with tapioca flour you gain a unique chewy factor to baked products like muffins and biscuits. Tapioca flour is also a great thickening agent for soups and stew, and when used instead of regular flour when making a loaf of bread allows for the whitest loaf of bread you will ever see. Tapioca flour can be a great replacement for flour in recipes for waffles, crepes and pancakes as well.
When considering cooking with tapioca pearls be sure to use the highest quality pearls available to you. Good quality tapioca pearls will be similar in size, smooth and unbroken.