The Extra Step You Should Take When Using Tapioca As A Thickener

Whether it's in your bubble tea or mixed into pudding, there is one thing that everyone knows about tapioca: It is lumpy. While this is sort of the point when you're spinning Boba balls around the bottom of a fruity drink, there are other times when you just want your food to have a smooth, creamy consistency. Luckily, there is a shortcut that can help you reap all the benefits of tapioca in sauces and puddings without having to take the lumps that come with it.

While most of us have encountered or consumed tapioca at some point, it's one of those ingredients that you may not fully understand. According to Healthline, tapioca is a starch derived from the South American cassava root by evaporating the liquid from the tuber's extract. The substance is "almost pure starch" and therefore has little nutritional value. However, it is gluten-free and therefore makes a helpful additive or wheat substitute in cooking and baking.

In addition to working as a serviceable wheat alternative for those on a gluten-free diet, tapioca is often used as a thickening agent for sauces and puddings, much like cornstarch, though Better Homes & Gardens notes that tapioca starch is actually the ideal thickener for sauces or foods that are going to be frozen since they will retain their texture better than sauces made with flour or cornstarch.

Powdered pearls

The downside to using tapioca as a thickener is it can stay lumpier than flour or cornstarch once cooked since, as Wisconsin State Farmer explains, tapioca primarily comes formed into little, hard pearls — also known as boba. These pearls need to be cooked to soften up. However, they can still retain their shape and stick together even when incorporated into other food, which can cause undesirable lumps in your sauce or pudding.

In order to avoid this conundrum, Better Homes & Gardens has a simple suggestion for an extra step while preparing your sauce, soup, or pudding. Before adding the tapioca to the mixture, take a mortar and pestle and grind up the tapioca pearls into a fine powder. This can then be added to your food more like flour or cornstarch and prevent lumps from forming, while still retaining texture if you need to freeze your creation.

Cooking With Lane agrees that a mortar and pestle can be used to smooth out the consistency of your product, even when using different forms of tapioca.