We had a caller recently who was interested in making tapioca pudding but had picked up the large pearl variety instead of the small. I enjoy tapioca pudding as well and thought it would be interesting to find some tapioca tidbits.

Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root and although it has little nutritional value (tapioca is fat, protein, and gluten free) it is often used as a thickening agent as it has a neutral flavor, strong gelling power and can withstand the freeze/thaw cycle without breaking down. It also helps improve texture and moisture in the absence of gluten which is why it is used in many gluten free products. It is most often sold in pearl form. Small pearls, easily found in the grocery store, are used for puddings, and large pearls, usually found in health/natural food stores, are typically used in boba/bubble tea. It is also sold as flour and in flakes or powders. Some tapioca, sold as “minute” or “instant”, comes in a granulated form. You should use the kind of tapioca your recipe calls for or you may not be happy with the way the finished product gells.

Tapioca pearls must be soaked and then boiled with a liquid to form a gel. They are opaque prior to cooking but turn translucent upon hydration. Usually they are white or off-white but can be dyed to take on many colors which they often do when making boba tea.

If you are considering substituting tapioca starch for cornstarch, Bob’s Red Mill recommends 2 Tablespoons tapioca starch to 1 Tablespoon cornstarch. You can substitute instant tapioca for cornstarch in most recipes 1:1.

Instant, or minute, tapioca is the most commonly used for pie thickening. If you are using it in a pie filling, mix the instant tapioca with the other dry ingredients then toss with your fruit and let set for 10 minutes for the fruit juices to be absorbed. When baking the pie make sure it is bubbly in the center before removing it from the oven. This will assure the thickener has been fully activated. It is also recommended to let the baked pie rest overnight allowing starches within the pie time to re-bond and letting the juices be reabsorbed.

Tapioca can be stored indefinitely as long as it is kept tightly sealed to prevent exposure to heat and moisture.

Our recent caller has inspired me to make some tapioca pudding in the very near future. I may even try the boba/bubble tea! Click this link for a simple Bubble Tea recipe you might enjoy trying.


Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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10 thoughts on “Tapioca

  1. Can you use other starches to make boba Pearl’s other than tapioca starch, like cornstarch or arrowroot?

  2. Good morning, I am not finding a way to make bubble tea without tapioca. You can put other toppings on the tea but it won’t be similar to the tapioca bubbles. Other starches won’t act the same way the tapioca pearls will act.

  3. When I go through radiation prep, I am limited on what I can eat for 6 weeks. I crave milk but I can’t have dairy, soy, salt, oats, or anything processed. Making nut milks is lots of work. I tried making tapioca milk because I am allowed to have tapioca. I looked online and couldn’t find a tapioca recipe substitute for milk. How can I make tapioca milk?

  4. I use instant tapioca to make pudding. For the last year or so, when I make it, the tapioca doesn’t set. I’m following the instructions exactly. I’ve tried boiling it longer, but it still doesn’t set and I’m worried that more extra cooking will scramble the egg. Any ideas?

  5. Hi Ginny, what kind of tapioca pudding are you making? It sounds like the classic (https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/106859/classic-tapioca-pudding/) with quick cooking tapioca. If so, have you changed brands of tapioca? Tapioca pudding usually sets as it cools assuming it has been cooked properly. Perhaps adding a little more tapioca will help; overcooking as you suggest should be avoided as it can cause the protein in the milk and eggs to break down which also help to thicken the pudding.

  6. I’ve made Kraft Minute Tapioca my whole life, but I, too, have had my last several batches of pudding not set up. I’m wondering if Kraft made an error in the product. My box’s expiration date is 16 May 2024.

  7. Hi Karen, there is some consumer speculation that Kraft may have changed the formulation of their product; however, I cannot verify that claim. Be sure to make your pudding with whole milk. If you still have problems, up the amount of tapioca used from 3 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons.

  8. I want to make my own dry mix for an instant pudding that can be added to a cake recipe. I do not enjoy fluffy cakes. Can I use tapioca flour instead of cornstarch in a dry instant pudding mix? those that are sold have too many chemical ingredients. If I cannot pronounce it or identify, I do not eat it.

  9. Hi Opal, If you want to make a true instant (no cook or heat involved) pudding mix, the only thickening agent suitable for that is instant clear gel. A special quality of tapioca flour/starch is that it can absorb liquids before they reach a boiling temperature. However, to complete thickening, it needs heat. Check out the recipe for dyi instant pudding mix from Bakepedia: https://www.bakepedia.com/homemade-instant-pudding-mix-recipe/

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