Ingredient Intelligence

What Is Tapioca, and How Is It Used?

updated Aug 27, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Tapioca is a baker’s favorite ingredient for everything from thickening pie filling to making gluten-free pie crusts. It also shows up in pearl form in beloved treats like pudding and boba tea. Whether you’re just curious about this ingredient or you’ve got some in your pantry that needs using up, here’s everything you need to know about tapioca.

What Is Tapioca, and How Is It Used?

Tapioca comes from the root of the cassava plant. It is a starch that thickens and gels when hydrated and can be found in powdered forms, flakes, and rolled into “pearls.” Tapioca is naturally gluten-free, with a neutral flavor and texture.

Tapioca Forms and How to Use Them

Tapioca starch or “flour” is one of the most common forms of tapioca and ideal for thickening pies. Unlike cornstarch, it doesn’t become cloudy when baked (it turns clear!) and can withstand freezing and thawing. It can also be used in gluten-free baking to gel tender baked goods like pie crust. You can use tapioca starch as 1:1 substitute for cornstarch.

Tapioca pearls are made from hydrating tapioca starch and rolling it into tiny pearls for pudding or large pearls for boba or bubble tea. Tapioca pearls can be colored or flavored but are opaque after soaking and cooking.

Where to Find Tapioca

You can find tapioca in the baking aisle, where you’re most likely to find tiny pearls for pudding, flour for baking, or tapioca “flakes,” which are small granules used for thickening pudding, pies, soups, and stews. Some markets sell large boba-sized pearls, but you can also find these online too.

What’s your favorite way to use tapioca?