What is Tapioca?

Wondering What is Tapioca? Here's the Information You Wanted

Tapioca is commonly used as a thickener in foods. Read on to know more about cassava roots, from which tapioca products are made.
Tastessence Staff
Last Updated: Mar 8, 2018
You might have heard about tapioca pudding, which is prepared with milk and tapioca pearls. This pudding is a popular dish made of tapioca. Tapioca is a type of starch that is used extensively as a food thickener.
How is Tapioca Made
The name tapioca is derived from the Tupi (a South American language) word 'tipi'óka'. The word is used by the native people, to refer to the starch made from the roots of the cassava plant. The tapered and tuberous roots of this plant, have firm and white inner flesh. It is said that the roots have to be properly processed, so as to get rid of toxins found in them. Some of the tapioca plant varieties, especially the red-stemmed ones, contain less toxins. In order to prepare tapioca from cassava, the pulped roots are washed with water, to remove the starch. The residue that settles, is heated to form a paste, which is further processed to make powder, granules, flakes, and sticks.
While the sticks and pearls may come in colored versions, other forms of tapioca are usually white. Tapioca granules, which are often referred to as pearls; are used in various food recipes, and beverages, like bubble tea. Its flour is nothing other than tapioca starch, which is available in the powder form. This flour is used as a thickener in various foods, like soups. It is also used to prepare baked goods, like bread, cakes, and biscuits. Tapioca flour is sometimes used as a binder in certain medicines as well as paints.
Cassava - The Tapioca Plant
So, tapioca is a starch, which is prepared from the roots of the cassava plant, that is known in different names, across the globe. The cassava plant (Manihot esculenta), which is native to South America, has woody stems; and is commonly found to produce a single stem, that can grow to a height of up to seven meters. Though uncommon, some of these plants have branches. The stem is almost smooth with a light brownish tinge, and the leaves are attached to the stem with long petioles.
The starchy tuberous roots of this plant are edible, and are used in certain regions, as a root vegetable. Cassava roots, that are produced in clusters, have reddish-brown rind, which is around one millimeter in thickness. These roots have a diameter of up to four inches, and a length of around 10 to 15 inches. However, cassava roots can grow to larger sizes. These roots are rich in carbohydrates. Apart from carbohydrates, cassava roots have significant amounts of calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin C. While the leaves are rich in protein, the roots lack this nutrient. This plant is mostly cultivated in tropical regions, and require warm humid climate for a healthy growth. Though native to South America, the cassava plant is now cultivated in tropical regions across the world; and the roots of this plant have been incorporated into the regional cuisines of different regions.
What is Tapioca Pudding?
It is a sweet dish made of tapioca and milk (animal milk or coconut milk). You may use any form of tapioca, like meal, flakes, pearls, or sticks. Even flavors can be added to this recipe, to make it more delicious.
  • Small tapioca pearls - ⅓ cup
  • Whole milk - 3 cups
  • Sugar - ⅓ cup
  • Egg yolks (slightly beaten) - 2
  • Vanilla extract - 1 tsp.
  • Salt - a pinch
Soak the tapioca pearls in a cup of milk for at least an hour. Once done, add the eggs, the remaining milk, and sugar. Cook over medium heat, till it starts boiling. At this point, lower the heat, and allow the pearls to cook for another 20 minutes. Once cooked, the tapioca pearls will become translucent. However, make sure to stir the mixture constantly, so as to avoid burning. You may serve it hot or cool.
Cassava field