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SummaryTapioca can be used in a variety of ways for cooking or baking, and it’s ideal for making desserts.
Tapioca: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses
Tapioca is the starch extracted from the cassava root, a tuber used as a food staple in many parts of the world. Cassava is a native vegetable of South America that grows in tropical and subtropical regions. In addition to providing daily nutrition for millions of people around the globe, tapioca has become a popular substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free baking. You can find tapioca starch in the gluten-free section of supermarkets and health food stores.
The minerals in tapioca can provide important health benefits. For example, calcium is important for keeping your bones strong and preventing the development of osteoporosis.
Tapioca also contains iron, an essential mineral we need to help transport oxygen throughout the body.
In addition, tapioca can provide other health benefits like:
Tapioca contains no saturated fat. Reducing saturated fat has been found to lower the risk of heart disease. One study concluded that reducing saturated fat intake may be linked to significant reductions in cardiovascular risk.
Modified tapioca starch may have properties that help lower insulin levels. In one study, diabetic mice on high-fat diets were given modified tapioca starch. Insulin resistance was significantly lower in the mice receiving tapioca starch compared to controls. However, more research needs to be conducted to determine if the same benefits apply to people with diabetes.
Tapioca starch is a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour, making it an ideal alternative for people with celiac disease. Tapioca is also very easy to digest, so it’s a good choice for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other digestive issues.
Tapioca starch contains no fat or cholesterol, which makes it a healthy choice for those watching their dietary cholesterol and saturated fat intake. Tapioca is also very low in sodium.
One serving contains 20mg of calcium and 1.6mg of iron.
Nutrients per Serving
A 1/4 cup serving of tapioca starch contains:
- Calories: 100
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 26 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
Things to Watch Out For
Tapioca starch has a high glycemic index. Foods with a high glycemic index can cause a quick spike in insulin and blood sugar, and should only be consumed in moderation.
How to Prepare Tapioca
To prepare tapioca pudding you will need tapioca pearls, which can be found in the bakery section of your local supermarket. You will need:
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup quick-cooking tapioca
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the milk, tapioca, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 more minutes while continuing to stir regularly.
Add 1 cup of the hot milk mixture into the beaten eggs a little at a time while whisking to temper the eggs. Stir the egg mixture into the tapioca until well mixed. Simmer over medium-low heat for 2 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. The pudding may be served hot or cold.
Tapioca starch can be found in the gluten-free section at many grocery and health food stores.
Tapioca starch is easy to use while baking. Gluten-free bakers recommend using tapioca starch in a blend with other flours such as rice flour and potato starch. One example of a gluten-free baking flour mix is:
- 1 cup potato starch
- 1 cup soy flour
- 1/2 cup tapioca starch
- 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
The addition of xanthan gum helps to give the flour some elasticity. Use this flour blend in place of wheat flour.
AllRecipes: “Classic Tapioca Pudding.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Celiac Disease: Following a Gluten-Free Diet.”
ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Tapioca Starch.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “A good guide to good carbs: The glycemic index.”
Mayo Clinic: “Gluten-free? Try these delicious alternatives to wheat flour.”
National Library of Medicine: “Hydroxypropylated tapioca starch retards the development of insulin resistance in KKAy mice, a type 2 diabetes model, fed a high-fat diet.”
National Library of Medicine: “Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease.”
What Is Tapioca and What Is It Good For?
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Taopica is a starch sold as flour, flakes, or pearls that’s low in nutritional value. People may use it as a gluten-free wheat alternative.
Tapioca is a starch extracted from cassava root. It consists of almost pure carbs and contains very little protein, fiber, or other nutrients.
Tapioca has recently become popular as a gluten-free alternative to wheat and other grains.
However, there’s a lot of controversy about it. Some claim it has numerous health benefits, while others say it’s harmful.
This article tells you everything you need to know about tapioca.
Tapioca is a starch extracted from cassava root, a tuber native to South America.
The cassava root is relatively easy to grow and a dietary staple in several countries in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Tapioca is almost pure starch and has very limited nutritional value ( 1 , 2 ).
However, it’s naturally gluten-free, so it can serve as a wheat substitute in cooking and baking for people who are on a gluten-free diet.
Tapioca is a dried product and usually sold as white flour, flakes, or pearls.
Tapioca is starch extracted from a tuber called cassava root. It’s usually sold as flour, flakes, or pearls.
Production varies by location but always involves squeezing starchy liquid out of ground cassava root.
Once the starchy liquid is out, the water is allowed to evaporate. When all the water has evaporated, a fine tapioca powder is left behind.
Next, the powder is processed into the preferred form, such as flakes or pearls.
Pearls are the most common form. They’re often used in bubble tea, puddings, and desserts and as a thickener in cooking.
Because they’re dehydrated, the flakes, sticks, and pearls must be soaked or boiled before consumption. They may double in size and become leathery, swollen, and translucent.
Tapioca flour is often mistaken for cassava flour, which is ground cassava root. However, tapioca is the starchy liquid that’s extracted from ground cassava root.
Starchy liquid is squeezed out of ground cassava root. The water is allowed to evaporate, leaving behind the tapioca powder, which can then be made into flakes or pearls.
Tapioca is a grain- and gluten-free product that has many uses:
- Gluten- and grain-free bread. Tapioca flour can be used in bread recipes, although it’s often combined with other flours.
- Flatbread. It’s often used to make flatbread in developing countries. With different toppings, it may be eaten as breakfast, dinner, or dessert.
- Puddings and desserts. Its pearls are used to make puddings, desserts, snacks, or bubble tea.
- Thickener. It can be used as a thickener for soups, sauces, and gravies. It’s cheap and has a neutral flavor and great thickening power.
- Binding agent. It’s added to burgers, nuggets, and dough to improve texture and moisture content, trapping moisture in a gel-like form and preventing sogginess.
In addition to their use in cooking, the pearls have been used to starch clothing by being boiled with the clothes.
Tapioca can be used instead of flour in baking and cooking. It’s also often used for making desserts, such as puddings and bubble tea.
Tapioca is almost pure starch, so it’s almost entirely made up of carbs.
It contains only minor amounts of protein, fat, and fiber.
Furthermore, it contains minor amounts of other nutrients. Most of them amount to less than 0.1% of the recommended daily amount in one serving ( 1 , 3).
One cup of dry tapioca pearls contains 544 calories (3).
Due to its lack of protein and nutrients, tapioca is nutritionally inferior to most grains and flours ( 1 ).
In fact, tapioca can be considered a source of “empty” calories, since it provides energy but almost no essential nutrients.
Tapioca is almost pure starch and contains only negligible amounts of protein and other nutrients.
Tapioca doesn’t have many health benefits, but it is grain- and gluten-free.
It’s suitable for restricted diets
Many people are allergic or intolerant to wheat, grains, and gluten ( 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 ).
In order to manage their symptoms, they need to follow a restricted diet.
Since tapioca is naturally free of grains and gluten, it may be a suitable replacement for wheat- or corn-based products.
For example, it can be used as flour in baking and cooking or as a thickener in soups or sauces.
However, you may want to combine it with other flours, such as almond flour or coconut flour, to increase the amount of nutrients.
What about resistant starch?
Resistant starch has been linked to a number of benefits for overall health. It feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut, thereby reducing inflammation and the number of harmful bacteria ( 8 , 9 , 10 ).
It may also lower blood sugar levels after meals, improve glucose and insulin metabolism, and increase fullness. These are all factors that contribute to better metabolic health ( 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 ).
Cassava root is a source of natural resistant starch. However, tapioca, a product obtained from cassava root, has a low content of natural resistant starch, likely because of processing (16, 17).
Research is lacking on the health benefits of chemically modified resistant starches versus natural resistant starches.
In addition, given the low nutrient content, it’s probably a better idea to get resistant starch from other foods instead, such as cooked and cooled potatoes or rice, legumes, and green bananas.
Tapioca can replace wheat- or corn-based products. It also contains a small amount of resistant starch, which is linked to a number of health benefits.
When processed properly, tapioca does not seem to have many negative health effects.
Most negative health effects come from consuming poorly processed cassava root.
Furthermore, tapioca may be unsuitable for people with diabetes since it’s almost pure carbs.
Improperly processed cassava products may cause poisoning
Cassava root naturally contains a toxic compound called linamarin. This is converted into hydrogen cyanide in your body and may cause cyanide poisoning.
Ingesting poorly processed cassava root is linked to cyanide poisoning, a paralytic disease called konzo, and even death ( 1 , 18 , 19 , 20 ).
In fact, there have been konzo epidemics in African countries relying on a diet of insufficiently processed bitter cassava, such as during wars or droughts ( 21 , 22 ).
However, there are a few ways to remove linamarin during processing and cooking.
Commercially produced tapioca generally doesn’t contain harmful levels of linamarin and is safe to consume.
There are not many documented cases of allergic reaction to cassava or tapioca.
However, people who are allergic to latex may experience allergic reactions due to cross-reactivity ( 23 , 24 ).
That means your body mistakes compounds in cassava for allergens in latex, causing an allergic reaction.
This is also known as the latex-fruit syndrome ( 25 ).
Improperly processed cassava root can cause poisoning, but commercially produced products are safe. Allergic reactions to tapioca are rare.
Properly processed tapioca is safe to eat and cheap to buy. In fact, it’s a lifesaving staple in several developing countries.
However, people who base a large part of their diet on cassava and tapioca-based products may ultimately lack protein and nutrients ( 26 ).
This may cause nutrient deficiencies, malnutrition, rickets, and goiters ( 26 , 27 ).
For health purposes, experts have experimented with fortifying tapioca flour with more nutrient-dense flours, such as soybean flour ( 1 ).
Tapioca flour may be fortified with more nutrient-dense flours in developing countries where cassava and tapioca are staples.
Tapioca can be used in a variety of ways, including in cooking and baking. Most recipes that use tapioca are for sugar-sweetened desserts.
Tapioca flour is a great ingredient in cooking. It thickens quickly, has a neutral flavor, and provides sauces and soups with a silky appearance.
Some even claim that it freezes and thaws better than cornstarch or flour. Therefore, it may be more suitable for baked goods intended for later use.
This flour is often mixed with other flours in recipes to improve both nutritional value and texture.
Here you can find all sorts of recipes that use tapioca flour.
The pearls need to be boiled before you eat them. The ratio is usually 1 part dry pearls to 8 parts water.
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Stir constantly to keep the pearls from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
When the pearls start floating, reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for 15 to 30 minutes while stirring occasionally.
Remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and let it sit for another 15 to 30 minutes.
Here you can find recipes for desserts with tapioca pearls.
Cooked tapioca pearls are often used in bubble tea, a cold, sweet beverage.
Bubble tea, also known as boba tea, usually consists of brewed tea with tapioca pearls, syrup, milk, and ice cubes.
Bubble tea is often made with black tapioca pearls, which are like the white pearls but have brown sugar blended into them.
Just note that bubble tea is usually loaded with added sugar and should be consumed only in moderation.
Tapioca can be used in a variety of ways for cooking or baking, and it’s ideal for making desserts.
Tapioca is almost pure starch and contains very few nutrients. On its own, it has no impressive health benefits or adverse effects.
However, it may sometimes be useful for people who need to avoid grains or gluten.
Last medically reviewed on June 1, 2021
How we reviewed this article:
Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.