Mmmm! You might recognize tapioca as those squishy “pearls” that give tapioca pudding and bubble tea their unique taste and texture. But what exactly is tapioca anyway?

Tapioca doesn’t grow on trees like fruit or in gardens like a vegetable. Instead, it’s a starch that’s made from the root of a plant whose scientific name is Manihot esculenta.

This plant is native to much of South America and the Caribbean, but it is grown worldwide today. The world’s main producers of the plant are Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand.

It goes by many different names around the world. In the United States, it’s commonly called cassava, yuca or simply the tapioca plant. The word tapioca comes from the South American Tupí word — tipi’óka — for the starch.

After cassava plants are harvested, their roots are treated to remove toxins found in the plant. The starch is then processed into one of several popular forms: powder, flakes, sticks or ball-shaped “pearls.” Tapioca pearls are the most popular form.

Tapioca is almost completely free of both protein and gluten. It’s mostly carbohydrate with low amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. It’s a staple food in some areas of the world. People on gluten-free diets often enjoy bread made with tapioca flour.

In addition to tapioca pudding and bubble tea, tapioca is often used as a thickening agent when cooking, especially in soups. Because tapioca does not have a strong taste of its own, it can be added to many dishes to thicken them without changing the taste too much.

The roots of the cassava plant have another interesting use. Besides making tapioca, the plant’s roots can be used to make a substitute for plastic bags that are biodegradable.

 

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    • Hello, Lexy! Thanks so much for letting us know that you love visiting Wonderopolis and exploring each day’s Wonder! That makes us super happy! :-)

    • That sounds like a really delicious experiment, Joel! Thanks so much for sharing today’s Wonder with your family and for leaving us this WONDERful comment! :-)

  1. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Cool wonder! Tapioca is a kind of pudding that tastes creamy and delicious! I think tomorrow’s wonder is about bugs.
    XOXOXOXOXO,
    Paige ;)

    • We’re so glad that you stopped by today’s Wonder, Paige! We can always count on you to let us know something awesome you learned while exploring Wonderopolis! :-)

    • Hello, Leah! Thanks so much for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and for sharing that you’ve tried bubble tea! We like it, too! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know that Ruby doesn’t care for tapioca, Jassie! We learned something new from YOU today! Bubble tea is a kind of tea that has large tapioca pieces in the bottom that look like “bubbles.” It’s really fun to drink and super yummy! :-)

    • We’re so glad you think Wonderopolis is amazing, Suz! We think that ROCKS! Some people like bubble tea, and some people don’t. We like that it’s something fun and interesting to drink, so we really like it! It’s fun to WONDER about new things, isn’t it? :-)

    • That’s GREAT, Maya! Thank you for stopping by Wonderopolis and letting us know you were inspired to try something new after you explored this Wonder…that makes our day! :-)

    • We take it you don’t care much for tapioca, Kaylee? We hope you thought it was interesting to learn where it comes from and some of the treats that can be made with it, though! Thanks for visiting this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • It’s so WONDERful that you are learning about new things, Julie! We hope you are able to try bubble tea soon– make sure you use an extra wide straw! Thank you for WONDERing with us :)

    • Wow, what great news for those with gluten allergies, Wonder Friend! Thank you for sharing this information– we think you’re WONDERful! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is tapioca?
  • Where do cassava plants grow?
  • How is tapioca used in cooking?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to try tapioca? There’s no better way to learn more about tapioca than by heading to the kitchen and whipping up some tasty tapioca treats!

Grab some friends or family members and get ready to cook. Check the recipes below and make sure you have all the ingredients. If necessary, head to the store to get any supplies you may need.

Tasty tapioca pudding is probably the food most people associate with tapioca. Head over to the Food Network website to check out Alton Brown’s Tapioca Pudding recipe. What do you think? Do you like tapioca pudding? Does it taste like you thought it would?

Another tapioca treat that’s starting to become very popular in the U.S., especially in areas with large Asian populations, is bubble tea. Never heard of bubble tea? Just go online to learn How to Make Bubble Tea. You never know. It might be your new favorite!

 

Still Wondering

In Science NetLinks’ What Parts Are There to a Plant? lesson, children observe and document similarities and differences between parts of plants.

 

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