Who can forget tapioca pearls? If you close your eyes and think about bubble tea, those little chewy balls are bound to come to mind? First and foremost. Quite simply, these are the most recognisable part of a bubble tea drink. While you may cast them aside as insignificant, those tiny balls are what make bubble tea bubble tea.
You can point out the role milk plays in the boba drink’s unforgettable taste. To note, about 98% of tea in England today is served with milk, according to the UK Tea & Infusions Association (UKTIA) data. Or for that matter, you can cite the pivotal role a true tea on which the nootropic drink is usually based plays.
However, in terms of branding, all these pale in comparison to the squishy boba pearls. When it comes to identifying bubble tea from all the other drinks the planet can offer, the dozens of QQ balls at the bottom of the milk tea are tough to beat.
Thus, it’s about time we shed light on the true nature of the cassava-root extract that everyone has come to love. In this regard, ignorance is certainly no bliss. But count yourself lucky. Below are 10 of the most relevant questions on tapioca pearls answered to help you value and hold these chewy little balls dear to your heart even more. Read on.
Question #1: Can tapioca help sick people?
The short answer is yes. Tapioca, as a source of carbohydrates, can be a great source of nourishment for sick people in general. For instance, people suffering from celiac can hop on the gluten-free goodness of the chewy ball train.
However, when it comes to medical decisions and if you’re suffering from any health complications, erring on the side of safety is always best. Thus, it’s best to consult your doctor before you put a mouthful of tapioca in your stomach on a regular basis.
By nature, tapioca is starch that’s extracted from the roots of the cassava, a common tuber that came from South America. It’s one of the world’s oldest crops that is now cultivated worldwide. As the starch is gluten-free, this is spot-on for people who are strictly on a gluten-free diet.
To note, gluten is the general name for proteins common to wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Wheat, rye, and barley are called the Big Three in terms of human consumption. Now, if you think you’re not eating gluten on a daily basis, you may have to think again. Some of the most relished foods on the market today are filled with gluten to the brim. Examples are:
If you’re gluten-sensitive, tapioca should be a good alternative for you. Certainly, it can serve as a top substitute in baking and cooking for people who wants to stay as far away as possible from gluten. This should include people suffering from the following:
Thanks to the gluten-free and grain-free nature of tapioca, it has been a fave ingredient in a host of bread recipes (e.g., flatbread). Here’s a quick look at classic deserts you can harness with the much-ballyhooed starch.
Question #2: Is tapioca nutritious?
Well, tapioca can certainly hold its own against other food goodies one can obtain from nature in terms of health benefits. It may not contain as many phytonutrients and antioxidants as green tea or oolong but it definitely has a slew of nutrients to boot.
Even better, tapioca is gentle on the stomach and definitely, it would trump flours as it’s easy to digest. Plus, the unique starch is low in sodium lowering your risk for heart-related diseases identified with overconsumption of salt. (e.g., high blood pressure).
Question #3: Can I get sick if I overeat tapioca?
Let’s be honest. Anything consumed in excess can be dangerous — and that includes tapioca. One incident where a young Chinese girl was admitted to the hospital due to overconsumption of tapioca in bubble tea should be a classic example. The 14-year-old girl was rushed to the ER when she experienced extreme stomach pain. X-ray results revealed later that there were over 100 undigested tapioca pearls in her system.
Of course, the girl’s story is more of an exception. Still, it should tell us about the dangers of excessive eating. As a rule, one to two cups of bubble tea on a daily basis should be fine — no more. As the old sage detailed: Virtue, indeed, stands in the middle.
- Poorly processed tapioca from cassava root can be risky. It may cause poisoning and even death. Cassava root, by nature, has linamarin, a toxic compound. When taken in, this converts into hydrogen cyanide causing cyanide poisoning or a paralytic disease called konzo. It’s why getting your tapioca only from reliable sources is best.
- Parents, beware. Tapioca pearl toppings could be a choking hazard for children as young as 4 years old. You can remedy this by asking for the smallest size pearls for young children. In any case, here’s what to do if your child chokes on any food.
Question #4: Is popping boba tapioca?
The short answer: No. Popping boba is not made of cassava root and is an entirely different ingredient from tapioca altogether.
Well, popping boba certainly adds to the excitement of your boba experience as these balls burst when bitten. Imagine that! You get another element of surprise as you get a sudden burst of oh-so-refreshing liquid in your drink.
They’re distinct though. Tapioca is heavier with a chewy texture while popping boba isn’t as tough and is lighter. Also, the former is made from cassava roots while the latter is made from fruit juices. The reason they’re also called fruit pearls.
And yet, no worries. If you want to up your tapioca experience, here are new flavours you can count on to satisfy your discriminating tastes:
- Grape flavour
- Mango flavour
- Passion Fruit flavour
- Lychee flavour
- Strawberry flavour
And that should be timely. Research shows fruit flavours are the most in-demand flavour in the global market these days. In short, it’s a key market driver more than any choice of flavour.
Question 5: What is tapioca made of?
As mentioned earlier, tapioca comes from the starch extracted from the cassava root, scientific name Manihot esculenta. The plant is native to South America but has been distributed all over the world as it thrives even in poor soil. For one, tapioca as a word is derived from tipi'óka, a word from the Tupi language of the natives of the Northeastern mountains of Brazil. It means ‘coagulant’ or ‘sediment’ owing to the sticky nature of the starch.
Take note that the cassava root for processing has to be treated to remove toxins — specifically linamarin, a naturally-occurring cyanogenic glycoside that can be converted to cyanide and become poisonous. It is then ground to a pulp using a mill (hand-powered or diesel-powered) and dried to produce the powder form.
The tapioca starch is then mixed in boiling water to achieve a kneadable consistency. From there the dough can be cut into different shapes just like in bread. The most common forms are:
- Rectangular sticks
- Spherical pearls
Of course, out of all the possible shapes, pearls are the most common variant. That’s how the squishy balls in boba drink came into being. Well, you can also experiment using rectangular-shaped boba pearls on your next bubble tea prep. But, you may have to find another way of siphoning them up as you can’t use the regular plastic straws.
Question 6: What makes them taste/look so good?
Looking at those little, starchy caviar-like pearls at the bottom of your bubble tea can certainly get your appetite going. Indeed, looks are everything. So how do these balls get to look so delicious?
When raw, tapioca pearls are generally opaque. After being cooked, they become translucent. So that explains why you can see boba with such pale-looking spheres. It means they’re uncoloured.
To give them more depth, brown sugar is added so they end up dark. With sugar, the pearls obtain a richer hue, not to mention they stay sweet. It’s no accident the most common tapioca pearls are the black ones. They’re not just sweet but also look so much more inviting.
But hey, there’s no one stopping you from getting other colours as well. You can use food colouring for this purpose. And here’s a guide on how to get such a process going.
Question #7: Why is the Cassava Root everywhere?
Cassava is native to Brazil but as you may have noticed now, the plant has spread worldwide. Take note that this has to do with the cassava plant itself which is a hardy perennial shrub. This means it can thrive in challenging circumstances. In fact, it is common in Asia even in poor soil conditions where temperatures are extremely high.
Technically, Manihot esculenta, commonly called cassava or manioc or yuca, is considered a vegetable, a root vegetable to be exact. In this sense, it is valued mainly for its roots just like potatoes.
Cassava has grown in just about every corner of the planet. And the United Kingdom is no exception. Although the country is primarily an importer of cassava, the English nation has been exporting the tubers for decades now. Here’s a quick look:
Top-performing export markets for the UK when it comes to cassava are the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, the US, and Malta.
Question #8: What country produces the most tapioca?
You’d be surprised at how much cassava from which tapioca came has become a staple in a slew of countries in the world, especially in the underdeveloped ones. Just take for example Ghana. To note, 46% of the country’s GDP is due to trade in cassava. Imagine that.
It’s small wonder the biggest producer of the woody shrub is from Africa. Below is a list of the topmost producers of the plant from WorldAtlas.com. In other words, the list reveals the biggest source of tapioca balls:
It’s good to note that although Brazil is the origin of the cassava shrub, the South American country is not the biggest producer. Quite simply, that shows how much the plant has spread all over the planet.
Question #9: What are tapioca uses other than food?
Well, we’ve seen how tapioca has graced our food tables for decades. As a starch, it has been an ingredient common in puddings, noodles, bread, and a long list of other food products. True to its starchy nature, however, tapioca is also used as a thickening agent in sauces, soups, and fruit pie fillings. It’s an ideal ingredient as it has basically no taste of its own.
However, there are uses of tapioca other than food. It may sound surprising but this goes back to the glue-like nature of the substance. Here’s a brief.
Still, you’d be surprised at how many delicious meals of all sorts you can prepare using tapioca starch. Here’s a look.
Question #10: Why are tapioca pearls best for bubble tea?
Indeed, many bubble tea fans are asking if there are ways to have little, starchy brown spheres in your bubble tea other than the ones made from tapioca. And the short answer is yes, of course. There are other toppings you can use.
The popping boba is a prime example. There’s also the jelly boba. For this, you can use gelatin. You can also use sago, the starch from tropical palm stems so commonly used in Southeast Asian nations.
But if you want a better shot at a best-tasting bubble tea without producing a huge hole in your wallet, then tapioca pearls could be your best bet. Not only is it cheaper than sago, but the unique colour and taste should also be proof enough of its staying power.
And yes, when it comes to the best bubble tea experience, the Chinese say it best in one word: QQ. It simply refers to the unique untranslatable bouncy, rubbery, chewy consistency found in tapioca pearls. Let’s sip to that!