What is tapioca, what nutrients and benefits does it provide? Plus recipes to make with tapioca

23/06/2021

Tapioca is a food native to the Americas that is obtained from the extraction of starch from the cassava root. It is rich in vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and potassium. Its benefits include strengthening the immune and circulatory systems and improving digestion.

Tapioca, also called manioc, cassava, or guacamole, is a starch extracted directly from the cassava root. Although its most popular form is in the form of spheres or pearls, it can also be found in the form of flour, starch, or flakes. Tapioca is generally white in color, odorless, and slightly sweet in taste.

Its name comes from the Guarani language, where tipiog means "starch or carbohydrate extracted from cassava". It comes from South America, where it is considered a staple food, while in the rest of the world it has gained popularity in recent years and its consumption has spread to Asian countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and also to the African continent.

History

It is believed that the cultivation of tapioca dates back to 4 thousand years ago, in the lands of Central and South America, in countries such as Guatemala and Brazil. There are also indications that as early as 1,600 B.C. it was cultivated in Mayan and Inca regions of countries such as Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and El Salvador. Later in the timeline, tapioca use expanded to the Caribbean, including Cuba, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.

In order to obtain tapioca from cassava, the starch must be extracted from the tuber and undergo an artisanal process in which it is boiled and washed, and then dried. This procedure is indispensable to completely eliminate the toxins that are naturally found in the food and which are slightly poisonous, such as cyanide. The final product results in dried tapioca that is safe to use and has no added ingredients such as fats, sugars, sodium, or preservatives.

Tapioca, because it has a neutral flavor, is used both in sweet-tasting preparations, such as pudding, milk desserts, or tapioca pearl tea, and in savory preparations such as soups and sauces, and works very well as a food thickener. Being a gluten-free food, it has gained popularity in recent years by being added to products for people with intolerance to this protein.

What nutrients and benefits does it provide?

In addition to being delicious, tapioca has gained a lot of interest from consumers around the world due to its wide variety of uses and gastronomic applications. Some of its nutritional benefits are its contribution of calories, fat, protein, and fiber, and it is a source of micronutrients such as vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and potassium.

These natural components of tapioca prevent anemia, raise platelets, improve circulation and bone health, and strengthen the immune system by combating the cellular effects of free radicals that cause aging. Due to its high fiber content and viscous consistency, it protects the gastric mucosa of the stomach and intestinal tract, reducing inflammatory processes, making tapioca an excellent food to promote good digestion and combat constipation.

In any of its presentations, tapioca has the potential to be an energetic food that can be incorporated into the diets of growing children, athletes, people seeking to gain weight, and gluten intolerant people, since being a starch it is an important source of calories. Moreover, according to a study, tapioca is a source of linamarin, a substance that helps eliminate cancer cells.

Among the multiple benefits of tapioca is its satiating effect and it is potentially useful to have adequate levels of folates in the blood and essential nutrients to prevent congenital malformations in pregnancy.

Gastronomically, tapioca can be incorporated into the diet as gluten-free flour, is low in sodium, contains no cholesterol, and is low risk for people with common allergies, so it can be consumed in various preparations such as pie fillings, homemade cakes, milk desserts, as a thickener for soups, sauces, and drinks with tapioca pearls.

It is important to keep in mind that since it is a food composed of almost 100% of carbohydrates and has a high glycemic index, it should be consumed in moderate amounts and avoided when blood glucose levels are high, as in the case of people with uncontrolled diabetes. On the other hand, in athletes, tapioca can be an ideal food for training with energy or consumed after exercise for muscle recovery.

How is it recommended to consume it?

The suggested consumption is to hydrate it and boil it until it forms a translucent gel that can be added as a thickener to some foods such as purees, cold teas, milk desserts, or sweets. It can also be incorporated into savory preparations such as dough, meatballs, or ground meats to stabilize them. Tapioca should be consumed in its traditional form and it is important to leave behind the ultra-processed and sugary beverages that have displaced its consumption in today's population.

Tapioca dessert with peaches and cinnamon recipe

Ingredients (4 servings):

4¼ cups milk

1 cinnamon stick

1¼ cups tapioca pearls

1½ teaspoons cinnamon powder

1 natural sweet peach

Preparation:

Boil the milk with the cinnamon stick. Add the tapioca and let it cook until it becomes translucent (about 20 minutes). Add the diced peaches and enjoy.

Boba coffee recipe

Ingredients (3 servings):

¼ cup dry tapioca pearls for cold beverages.

500 milliliters of skim milk

Cold-brewed Americano coffee

Water

Ice

Preparation:

Hydrate the tapioca for 30 minutes by boiling it in 3 cups of water and let stand for another 30 minutes or until the pearls are soft. Mix the Americano coffee with the milk and ice to taste. In a glass place the tapioca without the excess water and add the coffee mixture.

Vegetarian tapioca recipe

Ingredients (1 serving):

80 g tapioca flour

50 g grated or shredded cheese

50 g cooked broccoli

1 tomato

Vegetable oil

Preparation:

Add a little vegetable oil to a frying pan and sprinkle the tapioca flour over the entire surface, so that it binds and cooks. Add sliced or diced tomato, chopped broccoli and grated cheese. Fold in half like a quesadilla and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Turn over and cook for another 3 minutes.