What Are Tapioca Pearls? Plus 10 Unique Ways to Use Them

black tapioca pearls
Tapioca pearls are small balls made from tapioca starch that are commonly used in bubble tea drinks. Besides enhancing this Taiwanese milk tea, you can use boba in various dishes, drinks, and desserts.

What Are Tapioca Pearls Made Of?

Tapioca pearls are chewy balls made from tapioca, the cassava root starch. The cassava plant is the same plant used to make tapioca pudding. Tapioca pearls are also known as tapioca balls or boba.

They originated as a cheaper alternative to sago, which is commonly used in Asian desserts. They are usually 0.2 to 0.4 inches in diameter and are gluten-free. Since these pearls naturally contain gelatin, they are also vegan. You can purchase sago in specialty stores or purchase online such as Amazon.

Sago - Small Tapioca Boba Pearls from Cassava
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Boba pearls made from tapioca starch are naturally white. However, it’s not uncommon to see different forms of boba, such as black tapioca pearls, flavored pearls, popping pearls, mini pearls, and clear pearls. 

How to Make Tapioca Pearls

To make tapioca balls, combine boiling water, tapioca starch, and a sweetener. After the dough is made, roll it out into small balls to dry. Coat the dried tapioca pearls with tapioca flour and boil them again, then transfer them immediately to cold water to stop the cooking process. Tapioca starch is also called tapioca flour and can be easily found online.

SEE ALSO:  Boba Tea for Kids: Safe or Not?

What Do Tapioca Pearls Taste Like?

Tapioca Pearls by themselves don’t taste like anything. They are commonly cooked with brown sugar or with caramel syrup to make them sweeter. Black tapioca pearls were once the most common boba balls, however, they now come in many different flavors. Typical flavors include blueberry, peach, matcha, mango, passion fruit, and strawberry. Local bubble tea shops may have even more flavor options.

Is It Possible to Eat Too Many Tapioca Pearls?

Tapioca Pearls are full of carbohydrates. They are calorie-dense and don’t have much nutrition. However, they have a small amount of calcium, iron, and potassium.

Consumed in moderation, boba balls don’t usually cause problems. Consuming large amounts of tapioca pearls could lead to gastrointestinal discomfort. Some boba pearls are made with thickeners, food colorings, or preservatives to improve shelf-life. These additives could also cause gastrointestinal distress if consumed in large amounts.

Black Tapioca Pearls vs White Tapioca Pearls

Black tapioca pearls were the first tapioca pearls added to bubble tea. These dark boba balls make a beautiful contrast to light-colored milk tea. Black tapioca pearls have a sweet flavor and turn dark brown/black during the cooking process as they absorb brown sugar syrup or caramel.

white tapioca pearls
White tapioca pearls

White tapioca pearls are usually made from just two ingredients— tapioca starch and boiling water. They have a neutral flavor and a chewy texture. Sometimes these white tapioca pearls are made with caramel or chamomile, though their flavor remains mild.

Both black tapioca pearls and white tapioca pearls can complement bubble tea.

10 Ways to Use Tapioca Pearls Aside From Bubble Tea

Cooked boba (stored in sugar syrup in the refrigerator in an airtight container) will only last a couple of days. Luckily, you can use tapioca pearls to make or enhance other dishes. 

  1. Oatmeal: Add the cooked tapioca pearls to the center of your bowl and pour your favorite cooked oatmeal around them.
  2. Yogurt: Top your yogurt bowl with a few tapioca pearls for a burst of flavor and texture.
  3. Fried: Heat them in a pan of hot oil until crispy. After draining, sprinkle with salt and pepper. These Tapioca Crisps (or Sabudana Vada) are popular in India.
  4. Salads: Add some tapioca pearls to the top of your favorite salad for added texture.
  5. Jams, jellies, and marmalades: Experiment by stirring tapioca pearls into your favorite flavor of jam. 
  6. Smoothies: Top your favorite smoothie with a few boba balls or mix them in. You’ll get a new flavor and texture combination.
  7. Tapioca Pudding: Tapioca pearls can be store-bought in various sizes. Tapioca pudding is often made with tiny tapioca pearls. Combine them with eggs, milk, and sugar, as this recipe suggests.
  8. Es Campur: An Indonesian treat made from fruit cocktails and tapioca pearls served over shaved ice.
  9. Bubble Tea Face Masks: These masks were made famous by Annie’s Way.
  10. Boba Cocktails: Add tapioca pearls to your favorite cocktail with gin, vodka, or rum.


Sarah loves indulging in bubble tea near her home in southern Indiana. She constantly experiments with flavor combinations, but her favorite flavor is passion fruit. She enjoys experimenting in her home kitchen and hopes to one day be a pro at making her own bubble tea.

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