AskDefine | Define tapioca

Dictionary Definition

tapioca n : granular preparation of cassava starch used to thicken especially puddings

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A starchy food made from the cassava plant used in puddings.



  1. relating to the ingredient or the flavoring used in tapioca puddings.

Extensive Definition

Tapioca is essentially a flavorless starchy ingredient, or fecula, produced from treated and dried cassava (manioc) root and used in cooking. It is similar to sago and is commonly used to make a milky pudding similar to rice pudding. Purchased tapioca comprises many small white spheres each about 2 mm in diameter (although larger grain sizes are available). These are not seeds, but rather reconstituted processed root. The processing concept is akin to the way that wheat is turned into pasta. These tapioca pearls are made mostly of tapioca starch, which comes from the tapioca, or bitter-cassava plant, Manihot esculenta. In other parts of the world, the bitter-cassava plant may be called "mandioca", "aipim", "macaxeira", "manioca", "boba", or "yuca" and "kappa" in Kerala state of India.
Cassava is native to South America. However, it was later planted in parts of the Middle East and India The balls are prepared by boiling for 25 minutes, until they are cooked thoroughly but have not lost pliancy, then cooled for 25 minutes. The pearls have little taste, and are usually combined with other ingredients, savory or sweet.
Tapioca is a word derived from the Tupi language of Brazil (from tipi'óka). This refers to the process through which cassava (Manihot esculenta) is made edible. It should be noted, however, that as the word moved out of South America it came to refer to similar preparations made with other esculents: 'Tapioca' in Britain often refers to a rice pudding thickened with arrowroot, while in Asia the sap of the Sago palm is often part of its preparation.

Production and uses

The cassava plant can have either red or green branches. The toxin found in the root of the red-branched variant is less harmful to humans than the green-branched variety. Therefore, while the root of the red/purple-branched variant can be consumed directly, the root of the green-branched variant requires treatment to remove the toxin. Konzo (also called mantakassa) is a paralytic disease associated with several weeks of almost exclusive consumption of insufficiently processed bitter cassava.
It is processed into either fine dried flakes or, more commonly, small hard white spheres or "pearls" that are soaked before use. These spheres are a common ingredient in Southeast Asian desserts, in puddings such as tapioca pudding, and in Taiwanese drinks such as Bubble Tea, or Boba Milk Tea where they provide a chewy contrast to the sweetness of the drink. Cassava flour (tapioca flour or tapioca starch) is commonly used as a food thickener, and is also used as a binder in pharmaceutical tablets and natural paints.
In Southeast Asia, a common way of preparation is either to cut it in slices, wedges or strips, fried, and served as a snack, similar to potato chips, wedges and french fries. Another method is to boil large blocks until soft, and served with grated coconut as a dessert, either slightly salted or sweetened, usually with palm sugar syrup. Tapai is made by fermenting large blocks with a yeast-like bacteria culture to produce a sweet and slightly alcoholic dessert. A variation of the chips popular amongst the Malays is kerepek pedas, where the crisps are coated with a hot, sweet and tangy chili and onion paste, or sambal, usually with fried anchovies and peanuts added.
A typical recipe for tapioca jelly can be made by washing 2 tablespoonfuls of tapioca, pouring a pint of water over it, and soaking for three hours. It is then placed over low heat and simmered until quite clear. If too thick, a little boiling water can be added. It can be sweetened with white sugar, flavored with coconut milk or a little wine, and eaten alone or with cream.
In various Asian countries (India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia) tapioca pearls are known as Sabudana (Sagu, also called 'Seeme Akki' in Kannada). In Kannada, the actual cassava root is called 'kolli'. It is commonly used as a food after fasting (popularly called 'Khichdi') among some Hindus in central part of India (Maharashtra region). Also the pearls (sabudana) are used to make snacks.
In Southern parts of India especially the state of Kerala consumes a lot of tapioca, either boiled or cooked with spices. Tapioca and fish curry could be considered official food of Kerala. In southern states like Kerala, tapioca is thinly sliced in and made into wafers like salted potato wafers. In the South Indian state of Kerala, Cassava, often referred to as tapioca in English, and kappa (കപ്പ) or kolly or maracheeni in Malayalam, is a staple food. Tapioca is used to make a granules like product called Chowwary in Malayalam. This is used to make a light porridge by adding milk or buttermilk, recommended for patients recovering from illness.
In Indian cuisine, the granular preparation of cassava starch is known as tapiaco. It can also be used to thicken puddings. In Tamil, the roots of tapiaco is called Maravallikezangu (மரவள்ளிக் கிழங்கு), and is used to prepare chips. Tapiaco is also used to prepare maida flour. Tapiaco chips are also prepared in this parts of South India. In TamilNadu, a large number of tapiaco industries are found in Attur Taluk, Salem District. Salem city has a marketing center for the Sago (known as "javvarisi").
During World War II's Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia, many refugees survived on tapioca, as the plant is easily propagated by stem-cutting, grows well even in low-nutrient soils, and can be harvested every two months. The plant thus provided much needed carbohydrate and protein then.
In Brazilian cuisine, tapioca is used for different types of meals. The tapioca is stirred, drained through a sieve, fried into a tortilla shape, and often sprinkled with coconut. Then it may be buttered and eaten as a toast (its most common use as a breakfast dish), or it may be filled or topped with either "doces" (sweet) or "salgados" (salty) ingredients, which define the kind of meal the tapioca is used for: breakfast, afternoon tea or dessert. Choices range from butter, cheese, chocolate, bananas with condensed milk, chocolate with bananas, to various forms of meats and served warm. A restaurant which specializes in tapioca-based dishes (mostly fillings) is called in Brazil a "tapiocaria".
While frequently associated with dessert in the Unites States, tapioca is now being used by some cooks in other courses as well. Thomas Keller, high-profile chef at the California restaurant French Laundry, serves oysters on tapioca. The pairing, called "Oysters and Pearls," is considered Keller's "signature dish."

Tapioca starch

Tapioca starch, sometimes called tapioca flour, is a refined white flour made from the cassava root. It is broadly used as a thickener for sauces, soups and stews. It can also be used in baking. Tapioca starch is very fine, and is often used as a substitute for arrowroot starch and cornstarch. Tapioca starch is gluten-free, and is often added to gluten-free baking as a thickener and binder to make up for the lack of gluten in those recipes.
In USA, Tapioca starch is sometimes used while making yogurt. It is also used to thicken various Asian dishes. Made from pure tapioca, the general purpose is similar to flour. It is also an important ingredient in various Thai desserts.
Tapioca starch is also used in producing alcohol, and a few companies in Asia are using it to produce sorbitol and ethanol.


tapioca in Catalan: Tapioca
tapioca in German: Tapioka
tapioca in Esperanto: Tapioko
tapioca in French: Tapioca
tapioca in Italian: Tapioca
tapioca in Japanese: タピオカ
tapioca in Malayalam: മരച്ചീനി
tapioca in Dutch: Tapioca
tapioca in Polish: Tapioka
tapioca in Portuguese: Tapioca
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