Tapioca pearls are simply pearls or balls made of tapioca flour which is an extract from the cassava root. Tapioca pearls originated in Southeast Asia as a cheaper alternative to sago pearls which are derived from the pith of various palms. Until this day, you may find that many Southeast Asians call tapioca pearls, “sago” or “sakoo,” when in fact it is not truly sago. Black tapioca pearls get their color from the addition of coconut sugar or brown sugar.
Tapioca pearls have been around for a long time and are available in various sizes with the smaller sized pearls are used in desserts such as tapioca pudding and nam wan. In current trend, larger tapioca pearls are added to various drinks, such teas and milk teas. They are often called boba, the Chinese world for pearl.
- Sticky situation – if you the tapioca starch causes the syrup to stick to the saucepan, let it cool for a minute or drop a tablespoon of cold water into the pan and the mixture will peel right off. Add that to the dough as well. Don’t leave it behind.
- Storage – fresh tapioca pearls are best served the same day. They are typically stored at room temperature if used the same day. You can make additional simple syrup and ensure they are submerged in the syrup and store them in the fridge for two to three days. Without the syrup they will harden. Similar to homemade pasta, you may freeze the pearls after they’ve been rolled and before boiling. Place on a sheet pan and in the freezer for 15 minutes until they are partially frozen, then you can place in freezer bags. Boil them straight from the freezer. This will take longer to cook.
Black Tapioca Pearls
Time: 1 hr
2 cups (266g) tapioca starch
½ cup (100ml) water – plus more as needed
½ cup (100g) coconut sugar or dark brown sugar – plus another 1-2 tablespoons to toss
• In medium saucepan over medium heat, add ½ cup of coconut sugar and ½ cup of water. Heat until sugar has completely dissolved, and syrup begins to boil. Turn off the heat.
• Add about half (approximately 1 cup) of the tapioca starch. Stir into the hot sugar syrup.
• Pour the hot sugar mixture into the other 1 cup of tapioca starch. If there’s mixture left in the saucepan, let it cool for a minute and it will peel right off. Add that to the bowl with the tapioca starch.
• Knead the dough. If it’s too dry, add one tablespoon of water and work it completely into the dough before adding anymore water to avoid adding too much water. Knead until the dough is smooth and not sticky. This may take a couple of minutes.
• Pinch small pieces from the dough ball and form into small balls. Or roll the dough into long logs and cut into pieces. Then roll into small balls. The regular size tapioca pearls are about 1 cm, but you can make them whatever size as desired. I went with the extra large size for mine.
• Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the dough balls into the boiling water. Let it boil for about 5 minutes or until the tapioca pearls have all floated to the top. Turn off the heat. Cover and let it sit over the heat for another 10 minutes.
• After the 10 minutes, remove from the hot water with a slotted spoon. While the tapioca pearls are still hot, sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of sugar onto the tapioca balls and toss. This will prevent the pearls from clumping.
• Serve the same day or see notes for storage.