Saturday, May 22, 2010

From The “Burning Question” Department, What Is Tapioca Anyway?

Admit it. Some of you have been waiting, maybe even decades, for someone—anyone—to ask. I know. It’s almost embarrassing to be the first, like being the new kid in school when the teacher calls on you explain boogers.

Why me, you may be asking. Do we really want to talk about this publicly? I mean, doesn’t everyone know what tapioca is? After all, our moms have been feeding it to us since we were old enough to squeegee a little bolus of the stuff down our gullet. So, how could we not know? Well, as it turns out there’s an awful lot an awful lot of us may not know about tapioca—until now. So, sit back and relax. It might be a lumpy ride. You can thank me later for smoothing things out for you.

You might not have noticed it but there are all sorts of brand names now marketing tapioca products. The best known form is, of course, tapioca pudding—you know, the stuff that resembles vanilla pudding with little bumpy things that look a little like frog eggs minus the black dots. In fact, it’s the little lumps that give tapioca its distinctive character—at least in pudding. Otherwise, it would just be, well, pudding.

So, what is it that makes tapioca what it is? Let’s start with the obvious. And what better way to research the contents of tapioca than reading the ingredients on a product label. The main stuff seems fairly non-descript and plain, what with the non-fat milk, water and corn starch. Pretty much half our food supply has those ingredients. Adding a little coconut oil, cream and several complex chemical compounds still doesn’t make it distinctively different from any other thick, smooth, sweet, puddingy substance currently on the market.

But now for the big reveal. What makes tapioca tapioca is, believe it or not, tapioca. That is, tapioca is what it is, I suppose in the same way vanilla is vanilla. Most sources agree it comes from a starch-rich plant found in South America, Asia, India and several other places. It is most commonly known as cassava. And if you saw the young plants growing as you zip by on the highway, you might even think the leaves bear a uncanny resemblance to another well-known, although illegal plant—AKA weed.

Yes, strange but true. But I digress. With or without a clear description of its genetic make up, I’m convinced the miracle of tapioca is a discovery still waiting to happen—or more specifically, I have made the discovery. Drum roll, please. Tapioca combined one-to-one with none other than yogurt is pure ambrosia. That’s right. To all the pudding and yogurt peddlers out there, remember. You read it here first—call it “tapiogurt” or “yogioca” in all its fruit-on-the-bottom flavors. Either way, I’ve got dibs on the product concept and I’m ready to deal. In the meantime, pass the pudding.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Cassava is a featured vegetable in a children's book I'm illustrating, and I'd previously had no idea that's where we get tapioca. I LOVE tapioca in pudding, but not so much in the "bubble teas" that are gaining popularity here in the States.

    Learn more about Cassava here:

    (I think I may be double-posting, Bill. If I am, please post this comment instead of the first!)

  3. Hi, Christina. I pulled the first one and kept the second. Thanks for taking a look. Yeah, tapioca is one of my favorites as well. Mixing it with yogurt is a match made in heaven---especially with a few sunflower seeds tossed in....