Have you ever wondered what’s in the pearls in bubble tea that makes them so chewy? Or perhaps tapioca pudding? The answer lies in tapioca starch – a popular gluten-free baking alternative to wheat flour.
But its applications extend far beyond the world of gluten-free baking. In this article, we’ll dive into how tapioca starch is made, and its various benefits and uses.
What is tapioca starch?
Tapioca starch (tapioca flour) is a white, powdery substance that is extracted from the roots of the cassava plant (manihot esculenta), also known as yuca.
To make tapioca starch commercially, the cassava roots are first washed and peeled. They are then grated into a fine pulp and soaked in water to separate the starch from the fibrous material. The starch is then dried and processed into a fine powder.
What’s the difference between tapioca starch and regular flour?
The main difference between tapioca starch and regular flour is the source of ingredients and their unique properties. Tapioca starch is made from the cassava root, while regular flour is usually made from wheat grains.
Tapioca starch is much lighter and finer than regular flour. It also has a higher starch content, which makes it an effective thickener or additive in all-purpose gluten-free baking flours.
Benefits of tapioca starch
Made from the cassava plant, tapioca starch is naturally fat-free, paleo-friendly, gluten-free, and is very easy to digest, making it a great alternative for those with celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (its low FODMAP), or other digestive issues.
Tapioca starch is a great thickener for soups, sauces, gravies, and puddings. It creates a smooth and glossy texture without imparting a flavor of its own. When cornstarch is mixed with acidic ingredients such as fruit, it turns the mixture cloudy. One of the major advantages of tapioca starch is that it doesn’t do this! That’s why I love using tapioca starch for fruit pies and crumbles.
It’s also an excellent binding agent in recipes for meatballs, veggie burgers, and baked goods – improving their texture and making sure they don’t fall apart.
Tapioca starch nutrition facts
|Flour (¼ cup)
|Tapioca flour (starch)
How to bake and cook with tapioca starch
Tapioca starch can be used alone, but a 1:1 substitute for all-purpose flour will make for a gummy bake. It’s best used in combination with other alternative flours such as cassava flour, arrowroot flour, and potato starch.
Use tapioca flour/starch to make paleo/gluten-free tortillas, crepes, angel food cake, and my all-time favorite – Brazilian cheese bread… tapioca flour is a must for the soft, chewy inside and light crunch on the outside!
As an effective binding agent, tapioca starch makes meatballs or veggie burgers that won’t fall apart. To use tapioca starch as a thickener for stir-fry sauces, mix it with a small amount of cold water to create a slurry, and then add it to your recipe.
It’s important to note that tapioca starch is more absorbent than other types of starches like cornstarch, so you may need to use less of it in your recipes. A general rule of thumb is to use about half as much tapioca starch as you would cornstarch.
Popular tapioca starch baked goods and dishes
- Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread)
- Bubble tea
- Thickener for fruit pie fillings (instead of cornstarch or flour)
- Gluten-free baked goods (cookies, cakes, and bread)
- Chicken or vegetable pot pie
- Puddings and custards
- Stir fry and sauce thickener
How to make tapioca starch at home
Making tapioca starch at home isn’t easy, but it can be done.
- Peel and wash cassava roots.
- Cut the cassava into small pieces and boil them in water for 20-30 minutes or until soft.
- Puree the cassava into a smooth paste.
- Knead the paste in water to separate the starch from the fibers.
- Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any remaining fibers.
- Spread the starch out on a flat surface to dry completely (important!).
- Grind the dried starch into a fine powder using a high-speed blender or food processor.
How to store tapioca starch
Tapioca starch lasts for years (1-3) if stored properly. It’s best to keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. This will prevent moisture from getting into the starch and causing it to clump or spoil. You can use a glass jar or a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid to store the starch.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make sure homemade tapioca starch is completely dry before storing it. If you notice any signs of moisture or discoloration, it’s best to discard the starch and make a fresh batch.
What are the best substitutes for tapioca starch?
Cassava flour and tapioca starch are good substitutes for each other, as the two are made from the same plant. As a result, both cassava flour and tapioca starch have similar binding and thickening properties. However, tapioca starch is higher in starch and is better as a thickening agent, whereas cassava flour can be used on its own for baking and cooking!
Arrowroot flour and cornstarch are also good substitutes for tapioca starch.
For more alternative flours and starches such as coconut flour and potato flour, check out our guide!
No, tapioca starch and cornstarch are not the same. Tapioca starch is derived from the cassava root, while cornstarch is derived from corn. This gives them slightly different textures and properties.
Tapioca starch itself does not have much nutritional value and is mainly a source of carbohydrates. However, it is gluten-free and can be a good alternative for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It’s also low in fat and sodium, but it’s important to consume it in moderation due to its high glycemic index.
In some cases, you can use cornstarch instead of tapioca starch as a thickener, but it may not give you the same results. Tapioca starch has a unique texture and provides a glossy finish to sauces and fillings. Cornstarch can make the mixture cloudy and does not work well with acidic ingredients. It’s best to use the starch recommended in the recipe for optimal results.