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.