Tapioca pearls are small spherical-shaped balls made out of tapioca, and they are often referred to as boba pearls. Tapioca is a starch extract that can take form in lots of different ways and add to food and drink as a thickening agent or for added texture.
People originally started using tapioca pearls as a more cost-effective alternative to pearl sago. Both tapioca pearls and pearl sago are very popular ingredients in Asian cuisine.
You might already be familiar with tapioca pearls from popular Asian tea and juice drinks. This article covers everything you need to know about tapioca pearls. From how to make them to how to color them and more, this post has it all.
There are a few ways to make tapioca pearls. You can purchase dried tapioca pearls that only need to be boiled, or you can make the pearls from scratch. Let’s have a look at how to make tapioca pearls from tapioca starch first.
Making homemade ‘boba’ pearls from scratch is a little time-consuming, but if you are looking for a fun activity to do with your kids to occupy them during a long rainy day, this is a great contender!
You Will Need:
- Muscovado sugar (Barbados sugar)
- Tapioca starch
Mix water and sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan. Boil the well-mixed water and sugar solution.
2. Add Tapioca
Once the water and sugar solution has boiled, mix half of the tapioca starch with the wet ingredients until it forms a smooth, damp paste. Once a paste has formed, mix the remaining half of the mixture in by hand.
Transfer the mixture to a clean work surface and knead well. Don’t worry if it takes you a long time to get the mixture smooth; patience is key during this stage of the process.
4. Divide Dough
Divide the dough into four equal parts. You can weigh the sections if you like, but a rough estimate is also fine. Once the dough is divided, roll the dough into a long log and cut it up into small marble-sized chunks.
5. Roll Balls
Roll the small sections into balls and put them on a tapioca dusted plate.
6. Remove Excess Starch
Dust off excess starch before cooking or freezing.
7. Boil or Freeze
You can freeze boba for up to six weeks, which is a great way to store homemade tapioca pearls.
8. To Boil
Boil some water and add the balls. You should use a 4:1 water to tapioca ratio for the best results. This usually takes about four or five minutes.
9. Add Sugar
Once the pearls have been cooking for about two or three minutes, you can add some more sugar to the mixture to make it sticky and cook for a further minute or so.
Benefits of Making Tapioca Pearls From Scratch
Making homemade tapioca pearls from scratch does sound like a long and daunting process; however, it is oh-so-worth-it! Here are some of the benefits of making homemade pearls:
Great Activity for Kids
Kids love to get their hands dirty. How many times have you been nagged y your children when you are cooking or baking as they eagerly try to ‘help’ you with your chores?
Getting them involved in tapioca pearl making will give them hours of fun, and furthermore, you can then use the pearls as a sensory experience activity once they are ready.
You Know What Goes into it
This way, you know exactly what goes into your food. Using this three-ingredient recipe is great for anyone on a limited diet.
Learn Something New
Isn’t it fun learning something new? Boba is so popular right now, and adding them to milk teas and juices is all the rage. If you love drinking bubble tea and can’t go without your morning fix, making it at home rather than buying one daily can save you lots of money too!
Tips and Tricks:
Homemade tapioca pearls dry out very quickly, so working fast is recommended. The great thing is that the pearls do not need to be perfect, and if working fast means that the pearls aren’t even, don’t worry!
Add Extra Moisture if Needed
If your dough is starting to get very crumbly and hard to mold, simply add some more moisture to the mix. Rub your hands together to remove the dried dough and sprinkle a little water over the mix to make it easier to recombine.
Keep a Spray Bottle of Water Near You
Using a spray bottle of water to add moisture is better than pouring water on the mixture as it is easier to control. Spray some water on the mixture any time the dough gets dry and doesn’t stick.
Get help from friends and family and turn boba making into something fun. Plus, if you have the extra help, you can make more boba, so it is a win-win!
How to Color and Cook Ready Made Tapioca Pearls
Tapioca pearls can be colored very easily. Once the pearls are cooked, all you need to do is follow these simple steps to color your pearls a color that suits your drink creation.
Light-colored cream tapioca pearls are the easiest to color, so make sure you use cream-colored pearls as a base. Once your pearls are colored, you can use them as a sensory game for young children, or as added texture to your drink.
1. Purchase Pearls
Make sure you purchase pearls that can be cooked in just five minutes. This method doesn’t take long, and you will have your colorful pearls ready in no time.
2. Boil 10 Cups Water
Then, you will need to boil 10 cups of water on very high heat. It is very important that the water is boiling hot before you proceed to the next step.
3. Add 1 Cup Pearls
You should add one cup of pearls to the water and wait until you see that all of the pearls have risen to the top of the water. Only once most of the pearls have risen do you stir the content of the pot.
Once you have given the pot a good stir, place a lid on the pod and leave the pearls alone to boil for four minutes. Do not get tempted to stir the pearls at all during these four minutes. Set yourself a timer so that they don’t overcook.
5. Allow to Sit
Turn off the heat and let the pearls sit in the water for a further 10 minutes. This is a very important step as the pearls should be nice and soft before serving. If you take the pearls out of the water without letting them rest for 10 minutes, they will be hard and unappealing.
6. Strain the Pearls
Now strain the pearls in a colander over the sink. Run cold water over them to help them cool down completely.
7. Add Color
The next few steps may get a little messy, so grab yourself a bowl that you don’t mind getting stained by the food dye. If you want to color them multiple colors, separate the pearls into multiple bowls so that you have a bowl of pearls for every color.
8. Food Coloring
You can use a liquid or gel food coloring for this part. I recommend adding just one or two drops of dye to the pearls at a time. Mix the pearls with a spoon after every drop of dye until you get the desired color.
9. Let the Color Set
Now, let the food coloring absorb fully into the tapioca pearls. Some people like to pour the pearls onto paper during this step, but I think that keeping them in the bowl is easier and less messy. Make sure the pearls are left to absorb the color for about 15 minutes, and sometimes even more.
10. Rinse Again
Rinse the balls in cold water again to remove any excess food coloring.
Benefits of Using Ready-Made Tapioca Pearls
Ready-made tapioca pearls certainly aren’t as fun to make as homemade pearls from scratch. With that being said, there are still lots of benefits of buying ready-made pearls that only take a few minutes to cook. Here they are:
They Don’t Take Long to Make
Buying dry pearls is very convenient. They only take a few minutes to cook, and the preparation time takes about 30 minutes, which is a fraction of the time that homemade tapioca pearl making takes. If you are in a rush or have decided that boba pearls would make the best topping of a cake you made or dessert, then ready-made pearls are the ones you should go for.
Ready-made pearls are perfectly spherical and look great. These pearls are ideal as decorations for beautiful desserts.
They Are Small
Ready-made pearls are smaller than homemade pearls. This is simply because homemade pearls are difficult and fiddly to shape, thus making the end result bigger.
Keep their Shape
Homemade pearls are much softer than store-bought dry tapioca pearls. This means that they keep their shape brilliantly.
About the Tapioca Pearl Trend
It will not come to you as a surprise that the internet is now the number one way of influencing people’s thoughts, opinions, and even what hobbies they take part in. Millennials are constantly on the hunt for the next best trends or to take a picture that will get thousands of likes, so much so, that people go to extraordinary lengths to achieve this goal.
Social media has had a huge part to play in the tapioca pearl trend. Tapioca pearls look elegant, they can be made in lots of different colors, and they make a simple drink or smoothie bowl look magical.
Adding tapioca pearls to your homemade drinks will certainly wow guests, and giving them an Instagramable delight will get people talking! If you think about it, adding pearls that don’t add much to your food or drink flavor is rather a strange thing to do, so how did this trend start? Let’s discover the roots of the ‘boba pearl’ trend in this section.
Boba pearls first hit the scene in the late 1980s in Taiwan. Taipei is supposedly the city in which tapioca pearls made their debut; however, this is not known for certain as many cities in Taiwan claim to be the boba pearl trendsetters.
For centuries, milky tea has been part of East Asian culture, and buying your favorite milky tea from a food stall near you is part of the Asian culture even then. One summer, one of the stall owners decided to experiment and combine three popular elements into one drink; shaved ice, tapioca pearls, and milk tea, and the rest is history! Fast forward more than 40 years, and the trend is still going strong globally.
Tapioca Pearls, Bubble Tea, and Fruit Juice
Tapioca pearls were used to decorate and add texture to Asian desserts. Originally, they didn’t have a flavorful purpose, but over time, as culinary technology improved ingredients and techniques, tapioca pearls were made in every color and flavor.
There is something about the added burst of flavor that boba pearls add to a beverage that gives it a really cool dimension. Due to the huge success of Bubble Tea, tapioca pearls are now added to fruit juices too.
Nutritional Content of Tapioca Pearls
Are tapioca pearls good for your health? This is something many boba fans ask themselves, and at first, you might assume they are healthy, especially if you have them in a green tea or healthy fruit drink.
Tapioca pearls have a high starch content and minuscule amounts of protein, fats, and fibers. They only amount up to 0.1% of your recommended daily amount in one serving, which is very poor indeed.
28 grams of tapioca pearls contains 100 calories. These pearls are made out of mainly starch, and too much is not recommended in a balanced diet.
Health Benefits of Tapioca
Although there isn’t much nutritional value in tapioca pearls, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Let’s review the health benefits of tapioca pearls and what good it might do for you.
Brilliant for Restricted Diets
Tapioca is naturally grain-free. This is great for anyone allergic to wheat, grains, or gluten.
Can Be Used in Baking and Cooking
You can use it in baking or as a thickening agent in food. Having a bag of tapioca in your pantry will come in handy, that is for sure.
Top Tip: Mixing tapioca with cornflour or almond flour is a good idea if you want to use it in baking so that its nutritional value goes up.
Here are some tapioca pearl and Bubble Tea fun facts for you to learn. Who would have thought that tapioca pearls would have such an interesting history?
- Each tapioca pearl contains up to 14 calories. This is a lot of calories, but it highly depends on their flavoring and sugar content.
- In 2012, bubble tea was so popular that over 800 branches of McDonald’s’ started selling bubble tea to their customers.
- The chewier the tapioca pearl is, the higher quality they are. Chewy tapioca pearls that take a few bites to break up are the best. If you go to a bubble tea stall that serves you pearls that break apart after one bite, you should find a new local tea shop!
- When you order brown sugar milk bubble tea, it actually doesn’t contain tea at all! Brown sugar bubble teas usually contain brown sugar, milk, and tapioca pearls.
- Tapioca starch is an extract of the cassava plant. Cassava has been a food source since the 1400s.
- Tapioca pearls are also referred to as ‘boba’. Boba is a Chinese word for ‘bubble’ or ‘big’ which is slang for big breasts.
- Bubble tea was around way before tapioca pearls were used in it! So, you might be wondering if it was still called bubble tea? The answer is yes, it was! The ‘bubble’ in bubble tea refers to the soft milk foam that sits on top of the freshly shaken tea.
- The use of the word ‘tea’ doesn’t mean that the drink actually contains tea! These days, even a fruit drink with tapioca pearls and other fun ingredients in it could be referred to as bubble tea without actually containing any tea at all!
- Boba iced coffee was the American way of welcoming bubble tea into their lives. Americans, like other Westerners, have a deep love for coffee, so this cool twist to their iced caffeinated drink was welcomed with open arms.
- Boba juice doesn’t only contain fruit juice and boba. People like to incorporate fresh fruit pieces, stripes, bits of jelly, and more to create a heavenly and refreshing beverage.
- Boba is a big hit for many reasons. It is photogenic, has an interesting texture, comes in lots of different colors and flavors, and more!
Now it is time to learn a little more about tapioca. You might have some more questions that need answering; after all, tapioca is a wonder in the western world.
I have compiled some frequently asked questions along with their answers for you to look over that should help you understand more about tapioca. Here they are, enjoy!
Q: What is tapioca?
A: Tapioca is a starch extract. It comes from the cassava root, which is a big food staple originating from South America.
Q: Is tapioca bad for you?
A: Tapioca has very little nutritional value. It isn’t bad for you, but it isn’t valuable for your body either. Eating lots of tapioca with an unbalanced diet can lead to weight gain due to its high-calorie content.
Q: Can tapioca kill you?
A: No, the tapioca that you find in the grocery store has been refined and processed. This process makes it harmless and safe for consumption, but tapioca didn’t start its journey like this. Its origins are more toxic and can be dangerous if the plant is eaten without going through processing.
Q: Can tapioca make you gain weight?
A: Yes, tapioca does support weight gain. You can use it as part of a weight gain program to help you achieve your ideal weight, but it can also cause you to put on excess and unwanted weight.
Q: What is better, tapioca or rice pudding?
A: Rice pudding is made using rice, milk, and sweetener, which are far fewer ingredients than what goes into tapioca pudding. Because of this, many people choose to eat rice pudding over tapioca pudding.
Q: Is tapioca easy to digest?
A: Yes, tapioca is very easy to digest and well known for being a great ingredient for people with sensitive stomachs.
Q: Can vegans eat tapioca?
A: Yes, tapioca is completely plant-based, regardless of what form it takes. Make sure you look at the packet for the vegan symbol to make sure that the whole of the manufacturing process was cruelty-free.
Q: Is tapioca good for your skin?
A: Yes, tapioca is very good for your skin, hair, and nails. This natural root vegetable extraction can be used in many different ways in cosmetics.
Q: Is Bubble Tea good for you?
A: Bubble Tea is full of sugar and starch, which isn’t the best combination for anyone looking to watch their weight.
Q: Can children eat tapioca pearls?
A: Yes, they can. Ensure that your children can chew on the pearls and understand that they need to take their time while eating them for their own safety. Don’t let kids younger than three years old eat tapioca pearls as it may be a choking hazard.
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any more tips, tricks, or tapioca pearl recipe suggestions, please share them with the other readers in the comments section below and me.
Have fun with these weird and wonderful ingredients and don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t go your way the first few times. Soon you will be such an expert that people will be coming to you for some pearly advice!