When you think of tapioca, the old-school pudding full of little squishy pearls probably comes to mind. But what exactly is the mysterious ingredient known as tapioca? In the United States, it may be reserved for dessert; but in the rest of the world, tapioca is a major part of many peoples’ diets. Enjoyed in creamy pudding recipes or Taiwanese boba tea, used as a flour for adding to recipes sweet and savory, or as instant flakes to thicken up sauces and gravies, it’s a handy ingredient to keep stocked in the pantry for recipes far beyond pudding.

Think of tapioca flour like you would corn starch or potato starch—it looks similar and has similar uses. In fact, tapioca flour is sometimes called tapioca starch! A baker’s best friend for thickening the fillings of fruit pies and a beloved flour swap for folks with restrictive diets, it’s no wonder its popularity has soared in recent years. The good news is that tapioca flour is so much easier to find today than years prior. Just head to the baking aisle of your supermarket or try a natural foods store if you have one nearby. Tapioca flour should be right next to other alternative flours. (Of course, if you can’t find it at your local grocery store, check out these easy tapioca flour substitutes.)

So what is tapioca? Find out everything you need to know below

What exactly is tapioca?

Tapioca is a starch derived from the cassava root, a long, thick tuberous plant (also known as yucca) that’s native to South America. But don’t go hunting for raw cassava—it’s poisonous! Alternatively, the tapioca found in stores is nothing to worry about. As long as it has been processed or fully cooked, tapioca is perfectly edible.

How does tapioca taste?

It doesn’t have much flavor, which is actually a good thing! This means it’s a blank canvas ready to be added to dishes with any flavor profile. Think of tapioca as more of a texture enhancer than any sort of flavor additive.

What is tapioca used for?

The most common form of the ingredient is tapioca flour. It’s made from the starch extracted from the cassava root and has tons of uses. In baked goods, tapioca helps bind together the ingredients and improve texture. It can add chewiness and tenderness to breads (like Brazilian cheese bread!) and crispness to a pizza crust. You can also dredge meats or vegetables in tapioca flour before frying them for perfect outer crispiness or mix tapioca flour with liquids (think sauces and soups) to help thicken them. The flour has terrific gelling abilities, and unlike cornstarch, it can withstand being frozen and thawed. The pearls—made by hydrating tapioca flour and rolling it into spheres—are typically reserved for puddings and beverages.

Is tapioca good for health?

Tapioca is a staple ingredient in countries in South America, Asia and Africa, but it isn’t exactly loaded with nutrients. Tapioca is packed with carbohydrates and only contains minuscule amounts of fiber, fat, and protein. However, for those with a gluten intolerance, tapioca flour is a great substitute for wheat flours. Tapioca is naturally gluten-free! So while it’s no extraordinary health food, it can bring delicious baked breads and pastries back to the menu for anyone with a gluten-free diet.

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Source: The pioneer woman


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