For many, tapioca conjures up images of childhood and eating tapioca pudding.
But the truth is that tapioca can be prepared in a variety of ways and is almost as versatile as the potato.
In honor of Tapioca Day, June 28th, let’s explore tapioca in all of its tempting forms.
What Exactly Is Tapioca?
Tapioca is a starch, frequently used as a thickener in gravies, puddings, soups, and stews.
It comes from the fleshy root of the cassava, a tall, slender plant with poinsettia-type leaves that can grow as high as 16 feet.
The cassava plant (also called the Manioc) has red or green branches with blue spindles on them. While the red branches are safe for humans, the green branches contain a toxin so they must be treated before they are edible.
Tapioca’s middle name is ‘versatility.’
For starters, it comes in different forms: soluble powder, meal, flakes, sticks, and pearls.
It is also prepared in many ways around the world including:
- Bubble Tea: Tapioca pearls are used in the increasingly popular bubble tea.
- Gluten-Free Bread: Tapioca flour is often an ingredient in gluten-free bread.
- Vegan Cheese: Non-dairy cheese can be made with tapioca.
- Chips: In Southeast Asia, chips are prepared using tapioca strips.
- Tortilla: In Brazil, tapioca is used to make tortillas and crepes.
- Alcohol: Tapioca is also used to brew alcohol (tiquira in Brazil, kasin in Africa, and masato in Peru).
- Casabe: Usually made from cassava root (without leavening), casabe is a thin flatbread that can be eaten alone or with other dishes. It is believed that casabe predates the use of cornmeal.
Tapioca is even used in other products besides food, for example, toothpaste, ironing starch, and even biodegradable items like bags and food containers.
The History of Tapioca
The cassava was originally native to the northeast region of Brazil.
When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil around 1707, the country’s natives were already preparing cassava starch, which they called tipi’óka, the Tupi word from which tapioca is derived.
The Portuguese and the Spanish explorers later introduced the plant to the West Indies, Africa, and Asia.
Cassava is now cultivated worldwide.
The first definition of tapioca appeared in the Cassell’s Dictionary of Cooking in 1875, recommending the use of tapioca in making a pudding dessert.
During World War II, there was a shortage of food in Southeast Asian so many refugees survived on tapioca; it provided the carbohydrates and nutrients they needed and could be grown in nutrient-poor soils.
Tapioca pudding was very popular the world over in the mid-20th century. However, with the introduction of instant chocolate and vanilla pudding, tapioca pudding lost its appeal and gradually was consumed far less.
The best way to celebrate National Tapioca Day is to eat some tapioca!
As a native Brazilian, tapioca is a food very close to my heart.
Instead of giving you a recipe for tapioca pudding, I would like to share a recipe for tapioca crepes—one of the favorite ways to serve tapioca in my native country.
Try these Tapioca Crepes—you will never think of tapioca the same way again.