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~ Pearl Tapioca, Minute Tapioca and Tapioca Starch ~

IMG_4307Tapioca -- tap-ee-oh-kuh.  You've seen it in your grocery store.  Perhaps you keep some form of it in your pantry.  Tapioca is a starch commonly used as a thickener, and, because it was a staple in my grandmother's and mother's pantries, it is in mine too.  My grandmother used tapioca powder to thicken jelly, quick-cooking tapioca granules to thicken pie fillings, and whole tapioca pearls to make one of my favorite childhood comfort-food desserts:  tapioca pudding.

6a0120a8551282970b01910444e3e0970cA bit about tapioca:  The name tapioca comes from the South American, Brazilian Tupi name "tipi-oka", which means "starch".  Tapioca doesn't grow on trees like fruit or in the garden like vegetables.  It is extracted from the root of the shrub-like cassava plant (also known as manioc) via a complex process that leaches out the toxins (cyanide) to get to the usable starch.  

The starch is then processed into several forms: powder (flour), granules (flakes) and balls (pearls), with stick form being the least common in the USA.

Cassava is native to South America and the Caribbean, but is grown worldwide, with Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand being three of the biggest producers.  Many cultures, including us in the US, have adopted tapioca for culinary use in their own cuisine.  After rice and 6a0120a8551282970b01910444f050970cmaize, cassava is the world's largest gluten-free source of carbohydrates (it's basically pure unadulterated starch), but, sadly, because it contains no protein or other nutritional value (zero), this is problematic in countries with malnurished populations that rely upon tapioca as a hunger-statisfying staple.

The flavor is neutral, making tapioca powder (also marketed as flour or starch) and granules (which come in quick-cooking or instant form), a great thickener for  both sweet and savory foods.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e4f705b970bWhole pearls (which come sized S, M or L), become soft and chewy when cooked, and, lend a whimsical "squishy" texture to smooth puddings and creamy soups. If a recipe instructs to soak tapioca in water prior to cooking it, do it.  Upon soaking or cooking, tapioca rehydrates and doubles in size. Upon cooking, soaked or unsoaked tapioca turns translucent.  Soaking (or not) affects how long it will take to cook and how much liquid it will absorb from the mixture it is being cooked in.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e57e134970bA bit about instant "minute" tapioca: As per the MINUTE Tapioca company, tapioca pudding was born in 1894 in the kitchen of Susan Stavers.  Mrs. Stavers, a Boston housewife who took in boarders for extra cash, took in an ailing sailor who had brought some cassava roots from his journeys.  Hoping to soothe the sailor's upset stomach, she made a sweet, delicious pudding from the roots.  To create a smoother consistency, Stavers took the sailor's suggestion and processed the roots through a coffee grinder. The pudding turned out smooth, and Susan received rave reviews from her other boarders.  Soon, Stavers began regularly grinding tapioca, packaging it in paper bags and selling it to the neighbors.  John Whitman, a newspaper publisher, heard of Susan's process and pudding, bought the rights to Susan's recipe, and, the MINUTE Tapioca Company was born.  It became part of General Foods in 1926 and Kraft Foods in 1989.

Try my Tapioca Pudding --  Just like Grandma used to Make:

6a0120a8551282970b01901e5059fa970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)


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