Tapioca is one of those things we know about, but we don’t really know about, you know?
We know it as a pudding flavor or as the small pearls that swirl around the bottom of bubble tea (or boba tea), but this isn’t much help for understanding what it actually is. Tapioca isn’t a flavoring, and it isn’t those little pearls – so what is it?
Tapioca is a starch made from the root of a plant scientifically named Manihot esculenta. Manihot esculenta is the formal name, but you probably know this plant as cassava, yuca, or even the tapioca plant. (We’ll be referring to it as yuca or cassava because we like both names and don’t want either to feel left out). The cassava plant originated in Brazil and is now widespread across South America, where the root itself is enjoyed as a vegetable alternative.
For those who have traveled to places like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, or Cuba, you may be familiar with “yuca” or “cassava” served as an appetizer with side sauces for dipping. After harvesting the yuca root, it can be cut into thick slices (we’re talking the combined size of about eight McDonald’s french fries), fried, and served as fries. Cassava has brown, fibrous skin with white interior flesh and is about two inches thick by eight inches long; sounds like perfect french fry material, right!?
North of the equator, tapioca starch is much more common, as seen in cooking, baking, and yes, bubble tea and pudding. So, what is tapioca? Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava plant, a starchy root native to tropical areas south of the border.
Is Tapioca Good for You?
Mmm, it depends.
Tapioca is almost pure starch; it’s almost entirely made up of carbohydrates. Tapioca contains a negligible amount of fat, protein, and fiber and similarly has less than 0.1% of any significant micronutrients. Further, tapioca flour finds itself in the “high glycemic index” category along with white wheat, whole wheat, and buckwheat flour, with a GI score of 67.
The most significant selling point for tapioca is that it’s gluten-free, making tapioca flour a staple in gluten-free cooking and baking. For those sensitive or allergic to wheat, grains, and gluten, tapioca is one of the best alternatives for wheat or corn-based products.
Let’s talk bubble tea for a moment – one cup of tapioca pearls packs in almost 550 calories and 135 grams of carbohydrates. The amount of sugar is likely just as high, depending on how the pearls were sweetened during production. So, bubble tea is a super sweet and delicious treat, but it’s probably best to enjoy in moderation.
Besides being gluten-free, tapioca is essentially “empty calories” and nutritionally inferior to most other grains and flours. Oh! Cassava flour and tapioca flour are not the same things – we’re about to explain.
It Comes in Different Forms
Tapioca starch comes in flour, flakes, and pearl form.
Tapioca flour is made from the crushed and milled pulp of the cassava root. Now listen closely; cassava flour also originates from the cassava plant, but tapioca flour and cassava flour are not the same.
Tapioca flour is made from the plant’s starchy pulp, whereas cassava flour incorporates its whole root. We see the difference in cassava flour carrying a mild, nutty taste and being much more nutritionally dense.
Tapioca flakes are small granules of tapioca starch often used as a thickening agent in dishes like pies, soups, and stews.
Tapioca pearls – its most popular form – are made by mixing tapioca flour in boiling water until a kneadable, dough-like consistency is achieved. The dough is then rolled and cut to into small, spherical shapes resembling pearls. The result is jelly-like “pearls,” typically lacking flavor, that can be produced in various colors and sweetened to different extents.
What Does It Taste Like?
Not much – tapioca doesn’t have a strong taste of its own.
However, tapiocas lack of flavor and varying texture (in different forms) is advantageous for cooking and baking projects.
What Is Tapioca Used For?
Tapioca serves as a great thickener and binding agent, making it an extremely useful and versatile ingredient in the kitchen.
With cooking, tapioca flour brings more thickening power and thickens more quickly than other flours. Tapioca flour may also survive freezing and thawing cycles without losing its gel structure, allowing for more versatile usage. Its neutral flavor also makes it a perfect ingredient for both sweet and savory recipes.
As a binding agent, tapioca starch will help give baked goods volume, texture, and firmness. Tapioca works to improve texture by trapping moisture in a gel-like form and preventing sogginess. This stabilizing property is another reason tapioca is a common ingredient for gluten-free products, as it helps maintain their shape and consistency in the absence of gluten.
So, what can we make with tapioca? A bunch of things; grain-free bread, flatbread, and sweet desserts like pudding and bubble tea, to name a few.
#Learningmoment: during World War II, there was a severe shortage of food across Southeast Asia, and many refugees survived on tapioca. The cassava plant is easily cultivated, growing well in low-nutrient soil and tolerating different amounts of rainfall. It can be harvested every two months and used in various types of cooking, making it a lifesaver for thousands of soldiers during the shortage.
This Is How We Use It
Eclipse ice cream is made entirely from plant-based ingredients and is free of most common allergens. AKA, it can be enjoyed by everyone because no one should miss out on ice cream.
The base of Eclipse ice cream is made from six ingredients: oat, corn, potato, cassava, organic cane sugar, and non-GMO canola oil. There’s beauty in simplicity, right? Simple, wholesome ingredients like these – things we actually know of and can pronounce – are the only ingredients we should be putting into our bodies. Better yet, Eclipse ice cream is made without soy, nuts, coconut, gluten, GMO’s, or any artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, or stabilizers.
Psst, using cassava helps us achieve the perfect rich, creamy texture and consistency without needing gluten.
Before you start imagining a bland, chalky, too-good-to-be-true ice cream, we’re going to stop you right there. Eclipse ice cream is the best-tasting ice cream, like ever. It’s the first plant-based ice cream indistinguishable from dairy ice cream; creamy, rich, and with no compromise to flavor, texture, nor functionality.
Don’t just take our word for it; Eclipse ice cream has received glowing reviews from CNN, Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, and more. If you haven’t tried it yet, we highly recommend you do. Not only is it the tastiest, but better for your body and better for the planet, too. The classic flavors of chocolate and vanilla are a great place to start and the perfect toe-dip into this new and improved world of ice cream.
Eclipse ice cream is good by design: simple, wholesome, and delicious, as it should be.