How to Use Tapioca

Use this pantry staple in baking, frying, and, of course, making boba tea and pudding.

Tapioca flour

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With bubble tea mania still sweeping the nation, the spotlight on tapioca is brighter than ever. But there are many more uses for tapioca than making homemade boba or pudding. Once you realize that you can use it as a simple thickening agent and coating, tapioca can be as much a part of your everyday cooking as cornstarch or flour. Here’s how to get started working with it.

What is tapioca? 

Tapioca is the name of the extracted starch from the pulp of the cassava root. Cassava is a popular tuber native to South America, but can be found in many other places with tropical climates, such as Thailand and Nigeria. Through a process called washing and pulping, cassava root is grated and the starch is soaked in water for a few days. After some additional kneading, the starch mixture is strained, sifted, and dried. Voila! You have tapioca. 

Are tapioca flour and cassava flour the same thing?

Though both products are gluten-free and come from the same plant, tapioca flour and cassava flour are different. Tapioca flour only uses the starch from the pulp of the root while cassava flour is flour made from the whole root. 

How do you use tapioca?

Tapioca has no flavor, which makes it extremely versatile and helps it integrate into recipes seamlessly. Tapioca flour is an essential ingredient in the Brazilian cheese bread Pão de Queijo, giving the bread its famously chewy texture. You can also use tapioca to thicken soups, stews, and gravies to get that perfect satisfying texture. One of the best things about tapioca as a thickener is that it can absorb liquids before they reach a boiling temperature. This means you can thicken pie fillings quickly without waiting for them to come to temperature. During the holiday baking season, tapioca flour is my salvation while making fruit pies, helping the filling keep its shape without muddying the color or adding an unpleasant starchy taste. 

Tapioca flour is also an excellent help when frying food. First, it creates that golden-hued crust that gets you salivating. It also helps create that prized shatter-worthy crackle from a first bite of a perfectly fried piece of food, as with the Extra-Crispy Fried Fish Adam Evans serves at Automatic Seafood and Oysters in Birmingham, Alabama.

You can use tapioca flour to make pearls, or buy pearls. Tapioca pearls are used to make puddings, like Kay Chun’s Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Mango and Lime or Bill Kim’s Bubble Sundaes with Peach-Blueberry Compote.

How to buy tapioca

You’ll find two main tapioca products at the store; tapioca pearls or tapioca flour or starch. Tapioca flour and starch are the same product, just with different names. They can be found online or in the baking aisle of most grocery stores along with other varieties of flour and thickening agents.

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