Tapioca is an ingredient that you may not be able to guess is vegan right off the bat. Perhaps you’ve never heard of it before, or maybe you’re having a memory flashback to childhood when you used to snack on tapioca pudding with the soft, chewy pearls.
Either way – tapioca is, in fact, vegan.
What is Tapioca?
Tapioca is a gluten-free starch that’s extracted from the yucca or cassava root, a plant native to Brazil that has now spread through South America and Africa.
Tapioca is wholly derived from plant matter, and has no animal ingredients whatsoever in it. Whether it’s tapioca flakes, tapioca powder, or tapioca balls (boba) – it’s tapioca no matter which way you chew the pearl. It’s vegan in all of its forms.
It’s a main staple food for many third world tropical countries, and it’s used as a thickening agent in sweet and savory dishes.
It’s also preferred to corn starch in baking, as it can endure a freeze-thaw cycle and maintain its gelatinous structure, making it an excellent thickener.
The most common experience people have with eating tapioca is consuming it in balls, which are used for smoothies or bubble tea.
Tapioca is pretty much pure carbohydrates, with little nutritional value, which is why it’s often used as an additive (it gives a nice texture!) … You’ll see that it’s more commonly used in its flour form in South America, whereas in North America you’ll see it more used in dessert recipes.
How is Tapioca made?
Tapioca is a by-product of making manioc flour from cassava tubers.
The pulped cassava roots are squeezed dry until they make a starch-rich liquid that is collected together and settles at the bottom of the container. Once this liquid is drained off the top, a starchy sediment is left on the bottom of your container.
Once this sediment is dried, you now have tapioca powder.
From there, this powder is turned into flakes, pearls, tapioca flour, meal, powder, and sticks.
What are Tapioca Balls or Pearls?
Tapioca that you find in the form of balls or pearls is also known as boba – they’re pretty much little cassava starch balls.
Their gelatinous structure sometimes causes people to think that tapioca balls have animal gelatin, but most do not. It is important to double-check the label to verify it doesn’t have animal gelatin, as you will sometimes (but ever so seldom) find tapioca balls that have animal-derived gelatin in them.
Also, double-check the ingredient label for honey, if you’re a vegan that prefers not to have this animal product in their diet.
Tapioca pearls don’t have any taste on their own, if you were wondering.
Which foods with Tapioca are Vegan?
Let’s remind you that every food item should always be individually assessed by checking the ingredients list and scanning for a vegan certification on the food packaging if there is one.
The main dish that you will likely come across in life with tapioca as an ingredient is tapioca pudding.
This dessert is generally made from a blend of pearl tapioca with milk or cream.. though you can always substitute this with non-dairy milk for a vegan version of this.
The answer to this question lays behind what kind of milk is used in the pudding recipe.
For a recipe on how to easily make tapioca pudding, check out this video link:
And, for the how-to on where to buy premade tapioca pudding mix for those of you that don’t have much extra time on your hands, click here.
This is a pre-made tapioca pudding recipe that has precooked tapioca and soy lecithin as the ingredients – so it’s 100% vegan tapioca. However, if you’re allergic to soy, then it’s best to avoid soy lecithin.
One of the food products you will find tapioca in is gluten-free bread, where this ingredient may be used as an additive.
Ener-G Tapioca Loaf is a popular brand of bread that is gluten-free, non-GMO, and features tapioca starch as a key ingredient.
You’ll also find tapioca starch in vegan cheese like provolone and mozzarella, as it helps provide a texture that resembles cheese. It also helps give it a “real” cheese-like texture when it melts, making it perfect if you’ve been daydreaming about making quesadillas without the animal products and milk.
Also, you’ll find tapioca in the form of tapioca flour, which is preferred amongst bakers that want to keep their dough from becoming crumbly, as this type of flour maintains its consistency.
For those of you that are gluten-free, tapioca flour is a great substitute for wheat flour, and nowadays there are quite a few vegans out there who do opt to go gluten-free when possible, or have sort of condition where they need to for health reasons, so this is a great alternative to wheat-based flours.
If you visit this link– you’ll find quite a few vegan recipes with tapioca flour if you’ve been wanting to whip up tapioca-infused dishes in the kitchen.
If you are vegan and bake a lot, consider tapioca flour a good cornstarch substitute, too.
Vegan bakers also like to use egg replacements tapioca in recipes where eggs are listed as an ingredient.
If you ever have a doubt as to whether your tapioca is vegan or not, you can always email the product company or check out its website.
What’s the difference between tapioca flour and tapioca starch?
It’s normal to hear tapioca flour and tapioca starch be synonymously referred with each other.
These two ingredients are one in the same- both are made from the crushed and dried pulp of cassava roots.
What is Tapioca’s effect on the environment?
On one hand, tapioca is vegan-friendly in the sense that its root can be used for producing biodegradable products, instead of plastic, as the main material. For example, reusable grocery bags could be made for stores, reducing the amount of plastic waste – this is good news, as plastic bags take anywhere from ten to a hundred years on average to decompose.
On the other hand, tapioca’s production can have a bit of a bad rap, as the amount of water that’s used in the process is more than just a few trickles. Quite a bit of water is used in this process.
In addition, some vegans may express concern for the fact that tapioca naturally produces hydrogen cyanide, which is poisonous to humans and animals.
During the processing, cyanide’s poison is removed, making it safe to eat, but this doesn’t make it any better for the waterways.
The way the wastewater is handled is crucial, as it can sometimes be deposited into surrounding bodies of water, killing fish and other marine life.
Some vegans do not wish to support buying tapioca, in efforts to protect the wildlife.
While tapioca itself is vegan – some of the food products that contain this as an ingredient are not. So, it is always important to verify which ingredients are being used in recipes. Whether you like to enjoy your tapioca as tapioca pearls in your pudding or whether you like to bake with it, there are many ways to enjoy tapioca.