For the non-initiated, trying tapioca pearls for the first time is definitely something you remember. Before your eyes and mouth become familiar with these semi-translucent, chewy treats, it’s likely the reaction to consuming them is one of confusion and skepticism. You may have been slightly weirded out by the sensation of a mouthful of chewy pearls being sucked up through an extra-wide straw. We’re also guessing that once you got used to this Southeast Asian beverage, you either learned to love it or hate it.
Tapioca pearls can be enjoyed in many ways, but they’re most commonly served in some type of milk tea or juice. In most U.S. cities, you can find many “Boba tea” cafes, also known as Bubble Tea, and this drink has officially entered the mainstream.
If you’re interested in making your own Boba at home, then keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this popular Southeast Asian treat.
What Are Tapioca Pearls?
Before answering the question of what exactly tapioca pearls are, it’s perhaps best to understand what tapioca is. So what is tapioca? Tapioca is the name given to the starchy extract from the cassava root, a root vegetable with an appearance similar to a sweet potato. This extract can be shaped into balls of varying sizes, giving you so-called tapioca pearls.
(A quick note: Tapioca pearls, tapioca balls and boba are all interchangeable names for this sphere-shaped preparation of tapioca.)
While it’s easy to assume tapioca pearls are sought after for their delicious taste, it’s actually their unique, chewy texture that has driven their rise in popularity. More specifically, tapioca pearls are commonly found in tea, pudding and other types of dessert.
What Can You Use Tapioca Pearls For?
As mentioned above, one of the most popular uses, and the driving force behind tapioca pearls’ worldwide spread, is in chilled tea. Bubble tea (or boba tea), as milk tea is known when these bubble-like tapioca pearls are added, finds its origins in Taiwan, where it has been enjoyed for decades. As with anything delicious word spread, followed closely by the product itself, and before long Japan, Hong Kong, The USA and the UK were enjoying bubble tea.
Many preparations of tapioca pearls stick to the original production method, drawing solely on tapioca’s chewy texture and leaving the tea to provide the flavor. However, different sizes and flavors for these pearls have now also been introduced. Some of the most common options are black, popping, mini and clear. Another common preparation uses sugared water to give the pearls an additional hint of sweetness.
Other common foods which use tapioca include tapioca pudding and some desserts which take advantage of the product’s chewiness.
How To Prepare Tapioca Pearls
Given that a lot of tapioca pearls come in packaging with little to no information on what to do with them, we thought we’d offer a general overview of the most common preparation process.
1. Prepare and boil a small pot of water.
2. Add a couple of spoonfuls of sugar or honey to sweeten the water. (This results in tastier pearls.)
3. Once boiling, add the tapioca pearls to the water.
4. Allow the pearls to cook for at least five minutes while keeping the lid on the pan as much as possible.
5. Once five minutes has elapsed, check to see the pearls have turned translucent and swollen.
6. Once this is the case, turn off the heat and allow them to sit for a few minutes before rinsing the pearls with cold water.
7. Transfer your tapioca pearls into a different container. (Tupperware is a good option).
8. Enjoy your tapioca pearls. For the chewiest texture, eat them within two days.
If you’re ready to try tapioca pearls for the first time or already know you love them, read on to find the eight best tapioca pearls available online. We’ve included simple pearls, bubble tea kits and options for tapioca pearls preparations.
1. WuFuYuan Store Tapioca Pearls
These WuFuYuan Store Tapioca Pearls are an ideal choice for first-timers and experienced bubble tea drinkers alike. Handily, you can choose from a range of differently sized packages, depending on your tapioca pearl needs. In addition, their comparatively short preparation time of five minutes means these are a great snack idea for keeping around the house. For added appeal, the pearls are flavored like black sugar to give your beverages or desserts an extra dose of sugary goodness.
2. Fusion Select Tapioca Boba Pearls
Fusion Select Tapioca Pearls are made in Taiwan and come with step-by-step instructions on how they are best prepared. This handy addition on the packaging makes them a great option for beginners to tapioca pearl preparation. Additionally, the range of differently sized bags lets you tailor your order to how many pearls you’re expecting to eat. These vary from a first-timer-friendly, eight-ounce bag all the way up to a one-kilogram, party-size bag if you just can’t get enough.
3. NineChef Bundle WuFuYuan Tapioca Pearls
For something a little different to the traditional, clear and flavorless options, try these well-loved NineChef Bundle WuFuYuan Tapioca Pearls. By simply adding a little brown sugar to the production process, you’ll get a hint of sweetness in every bite as well as more obvious pearls sitting at the bottom of your cup. Each 8.8-ounce bag is filled with gourmet, gluten-free pearls which can be ready to add to your tea in as little as five minutes.
4. See Smell Taste Tapioca Pearl
BEST FOR PUDDING
If you’re looking for tapioca pearls for tapioca pudding, as opposed to bubble tea, you can’t go wrong with these See Smell Taste Tapioca Pearls. They are 100% pure and natural and are free of any colors or preservatives. The Thailand-produced pearls are freshly packed to deliver a bold taste after they’ve been prepared. As for preparation, the most popular option is to soak the pearls in water or milk, the choice of which will depend on your personal preference. However, if you’re looking to create boba tea, we suggest you look elsewhere.
5. E-Fa Brand Bubble Tea Black Tapioca Pearls
As the National Best Taste Award Winner 2002-2004, you can be confident that these E-Fa Brand Bubble Tea Black Tapioca Pearls are going to taste great. The China-produced, easily prepared pearls come in a vacuum-sealed package for added freshness. Once opened, they can be ready to consume in as little as five minutes. Furthermore, the 2.2-pound bag is enough for several rounds of tea, making it a great option for newcomers or experienced tea drinkers after their boba tea fix.
6. Tea Zone Pomegranate Popping Boba Pearls
While they are not actually made of tapioca starch, these Tea Zone Pomegranate Popping Pearls act very similarly to their tapioca kin. However, many people, including the 3,500 people who awarded them a five-rating, prefer the taste and texture of these pearls thanks to the lighter, less chewy, in-mouth feel. These popular pearls are also available in 16 different flavors, including pomegranate, passion fruit, orange and blueberry.
7. NineChef Bundle WuFuYuan Boba Tapioca Pearls
The NineChef Bundle WuFuYuan Boba Tapioca Pearls includes three different flavors of tapioca pearls. You’ll get to choose between green tea, black sugar and multi-color flavors for greater variety in your homemade bubble tea. The pearls can be ready to eat in as little as five minutes. The set also comes with a pack of 35 boba-wide straws and a single NineChef spoon, allowing you to create beverages just like the ones you find at your local bubble tea store.
8. Fusion Select The Ultimate DIY Bubble Tea Kit
BEST FOR BUBBLE TEA
If your sole reason for getting into tapioca pearls is for bubble tea, you’ll want to consider the Fusion Select The Ultimate DIY Bubble Tea Kit. The Taiwan-made product includes everything you need to create a delicious cup of bubble tea. You’ll also be able to choose between four different flavors of premixed bubble tea powders. The options include strawberry, mango and taro. Furthermore, there are two eight-ounce bags of quick-cook tapioca pearls as well as large, plastic straws for a complete Taiwan-style bubble tea experience.