Tapioca

Like cornstarch tapioca is a “pure starch” which means that compared to wheat flour it has no protein, bran or germ in it and as such packs more of a thickening punch. Tapioca comes in “pearls”, in granules (pieces of pearls) and in flour form. All can be used as thickeners, though the smaller the pieces the more readily they dissolve and the faster they act. Tapioca flour, my preference, dissolves almost instantaneously and because it gels at a lower temperature than cornstarch you can see the results immediately if the mixture is above 140 or so degrees Fahrenheit. Like other starch gels, however it also “un-thickens” when overcooked.

The advantage tapioca flour has over, say cornstarch, is that it’s more effective in acidic environments. Due to its small particle size it also creates clear, glossy gels. One other bonus feature: the gels it makes hold up quite well when they’re frozen. On the down side, those gels don’t stand up well to a lot of stirring, so they’re not as good for sauces. Also if tapioca isn’t incorporated well it can form gummy clumps. Still it’s a valuable thickener to have on hand in the pantry.

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4 Responses to Tapioca

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I’ve seen pie recipes that call for adding tapioca pearls to control the runniness of the filling. Is there a benefit to using pearls over powder? My mother always used arrowroot powder. I remember going with her to the local health food store to buy arrowroot powder from the bulk bins in advance of strawberry-rhubarb pie season.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Elizabeth!

      Yes, some people do use tapioca pearls for that purpose. I prefer granules for pie since they’re smaller and you can be fairly certain that they’ll dissolve, that is unless they’re on the surface of the fruit on an open-topped pie, in which case even granules will remain little semi-firm clumps of jelly. For a pie with a top crust however, tapioca works well (though as I said: for me, small particle size is preferred).

      - Joe

      • Mari says:

        I agree, tapioca (Minute brand, which looks like it qualifies as granulated) is a glorious pie thickener for anything involving fruit chunks. I use a combination of cornstarch and tapioca in all my fruit pies, and they usually set up beautifully. I buy tapioca just for that purpose… well, until I discovered that the recipe on the back of the box for tapioca pudding fluff (involving a whipped egg white) is a really tasty guilty pleasure.

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