What Is Tapioca—and Is It Healthy?
Tapioca is derived from the cassava root. Specifically, it’s the starch that’s pulled from the root. It has no nutrients of its own, but it makes an effective thickening agent. Tapioca and its root are native to Brazil, but the popularity of tapioca has created a demand for the cassava root in countries throughout the world.
Tapioca’s lack of flavor makes it a versatile food additive, as it can complement both sweet and savory dishes. Tapioca also holds up better than other thickening agents under pressure. Unlike cornstarch, for example, it can be frozen and thawed without breaking down.
Again, tapioca isn’t renowned for its nutritional value, so it should be enjoyed in moderation. A cup of tapioca contains about 500 calories and 100 grams of carbohydrates. There’s no fat, protein, or vitamin enrichment. On the plus side, tapioca contains no gluten, so it’s a great ingredient to have in any gluten-free kitchen. In fact, many commercially prepared foods in the gluten-free aisle are made with tapioca as a thickening agent.
When the tapioca starch is extracted from the cassava plant, it must be soaked and boiled. This process provides it with its gel-like consistency. The tapioca can then be added to foods as a thickening agent, usually before the food is cooked. Uncooked tapioca is usually opaque, but the cooking process eliminates much of the opacity, leaving the substance semi-transparent. The tapioca can then be dyed to complement the colors of whatever food it’s being added to. Tapioca pearls can even be given their own unique colors to create a bold and vibrant presentation, as is often the case with boba drinks.
Tapioca pearls are chewy and dissolve easily. They can be purchased in stores or online, most commonly in the form of individual pearls or tapioca flour. When you’re looking to create some original recipes, tapioca is great for pies, gravies, and puddings. It can even be used to enhance soups.
Read on for a beef stew crockpot recipe that utilizes tapioca balls.