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Popping Boba Secrets: The Science Behind Bubble Tea’s Bursting in Fun Toppings

Popping Boba Secrets: The Science Behind Bubble Tea’s Bursting in Fun Toppings

Indeed, popping boba is one of those magical things that keeps us longing for more of that much-coveted bubble tea experience. A quick look at how distinct foodies from all over the planet are caught in wonder in their first bite of bursting boba should be telling. As everyone should.

All the customization possible and all the goodness wrapped in seaweed extract only adds to the mystery behind popping boba. We’re in awe. Just like we’re in awe of everything that pop, such as popping popcorn shown in 30,000 FPS of slow motion

That ends today. In this post, we’re showing you the secrets of popping boba in all its splendor so everyone in your inner circle will have a fair chance to an honest-to-goodness bursting fun in their daily toppings. 

Popping Boba Top Secrets

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, popping boba, a.k.a. bursting boba and bursting fruit bubbles, is central to the rise of bubble tea. And life on Earth is definitely a lot better with the iconic on-the-go drink driven by tech and Gen Z workaholics. 

Tapioca-based tapioca pearls may have been the early known topping that introduced boba into our consciousness as residents of planet Earth, but all the fun colors and sweetness that burst when bitten that popping boba offers made the Taiwan-invented drink all the more exciting. A closer look at our exhaustive popping boba vis-a-vis tapioca pearls eye-opener should be telling. 

But how did the popping balls get so magical? How did they become what they are today? Let’s dive deeper into the science behind bubble tea’s bursting-in-fun toppings.

Spherification is the Name of the Game

The internet is awash with balls — not only the basketball that everyone is crazy about in the NBA but also anime series that everyone is gaga about as exported to the world (e.g., Dragon Ball Z). And yes, spherification is about transforming drinks into semi-solid balls that pop in your mouth. 

Technically, spherification is part of a larger science that’s called molecular gastronomy. And the process is not unique to popping boba. 

Fun fact: You can turn any pureed or liquid food into biteable spheres. Let’s take a closer look. 

Popping boba ready for bubble tea.
Popping boba ready for bubble tea. 
(Image credits: Wikimedia Commons, 2009)

The Actors: The Transformative Union of Two Chemicals

Spherification that produces popping boba is a chemical reaction that involves sodium alginate and calcium chloride. These two chemicals are the main protagonists in the making of the magical toppings.

Here’s more to know: 

  • Sodium alginate combines negatively charged polysaccharide molecules and positively charged sodium ions. 
  • In a liquid solution, sodium ions in sodium alginate separate from the positively-charged alginate molecules. 
  • Dropped in a calcium chloride solution, alginate molecules bind to the calcium ions, resulting in calcium alginate

The resulting solution is a gelatinous substance when doubly-charged calcium ions combine with two alginate molecules. Hence, popping boba is born.

Diagram 1: A gelatinous substance forms when Sodium alginate combines with Calcium.


Diagram 1: A gelatinous substance forms when Sodium alginate combines with Calcium. (NEED TO BE REDRAWN AS THS PICURE ABOVE IS NOT OURS)

The Popping Boba Chemical Equation: 

NaC6H7O6  + CaCl2  = C12H14CaO12

Sodium alginate plus Calcium chloride equals Calcium alginate


Secrets in Making It Happen

It’s true. Just about every liquid food can undergo spherification. We’re talking about fruit juice (like popping boba), pudding, soda, or pureed food. Here are the steps. 

  1. Mix the liquid food with sodium alginate in a blender to achieve a smooth solution. 
  2. Prepare your calcium chloride solution in water.
  3. Add the liquid food with sodium alginate to the calcium chloride solution one drop at a time
  4. See the liquid food turn into drop-size spheres once dropped into the solution. 
  5. Separate the spheres from the calcium chloride solution by using a metal strainer or a spoon. 

Watch the video below to see popping boba happen from ordinary juice right before your eyes.


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