Pearl tapioca is made from tapioca starch that is rich in carbohydrates and gluten-free. The pearls are a byproduct in the production of cassava flour, which is obtained from the cassava root (also called mandioca, tapioca, macaxeira, and aipim). The tiny, white, unprocessed tapioca pearls are an alternative binder that can be used in cooking.
From Wikipedia: Pearl tapioca are hard and firm and must therefore be soaked before using. When tapioca pearls are cooked, they increase in size and become transparent. Pearl tapioca is a popular ingredient in South America, Africa, and Asia. In Eastern and South Eastern cuisine, it is used primarily in sweet dishes, desserts, and sweet drinks. A new trend from Asia is bubble tea, a drink that contains tea, milk, and tapioca pearls. Pearl tapioca also works well as a binder for soups, sauces, puddings, and desserts.1
Pearl tapioca can be purchased online and in many supermarkets, organic grocery stores, and Asian shops. Sago pearls, which were originally extracted from the pith of the sago palm tree, are also made today from cassava. When purchasing sago pearls, it is best to first check out the list of ingredients.1
With a little patience, you can also make pearl tapioca yourself. Process the starch into a smooth dough and if you like add some food coloring or alternatively maple syrup, which will turn the pearls brown. Shape the dough into pearls of the desired size, place in boiling water, and let cook for 10 to 15 minutes. If you don’t want the pearls to stick together, store them in water or use immediately.
Pearl tapioca is gluten-free and contains high amounts of start but very little fat and several vitamins and minerals.1
Apart from tapioca pearls, tapioca starch can be used to make tapioca flakes, which are used in much the same way as the pearls in cooking. In the food industry, tapioca starch is often used for a binder in the production of snack goods, gumdrops, and other foods.1
Tapioca root can be used to manufacture biodegradable bags developed from a tapioca resin of the plant as a viable plastic substitute. Not only is it biodegradable, but it can be composted, is renewable, reusable, recyclable and sustainable. Other tapioca resin products include reusable gloves, capes and aprons. Tapioca starch, used commonly for starching shirts and garments before ironing, may be sold in bottles of natural gum starch to be dissolved in water or in spray cans.2
In the north and northeast of Brazil, traditional community-based production of tapioca is a by-product of manioc flour production from cassava roots. In this process, the manioc (after treatment to remove toxicity) is ground to a pulp with a small hand- or diesel-powered mill. This masa is then squeezed to dry it out. The wet masa is placed in a long woven tube called a tipiti. The top of the tube is secured while a large branch or lever is inserted into a loop at the bottom and used to stretch the entire implement vertically, squeezing a starch-rich liquid out through the weave and ends. This liquid is collected and the water allowed to evaporate, leaving behind a fine-grained tapioca powder similar in appearance to corn starch. Commercially, the starch is processed into several forms: hot soluble powder, meal, pre-cooked fine/coarse flakes, rectangular sticks, and spherical "pearls". Pearls are the most widely available shape; sizes range from about 1 mm to 8 mm in diameter, with 2–3 mm being the most common.2
Tapioca is derived from the word tipi'óka, its name in the Tupí language spoken by natives when the Portuguese first arrived in the Northeast Region of Brazil around 1707. This Tupí word refers to the process by which the cassava starch is made edible.2
Tapioca (/ˌtæpɪˈoʊkə/; Portuguese pronunciation: [tapiˈɔkɐ]) is a starch extracted from cassava root (Manihot esculenta). This species is native to the northeast region of Brazil, but its use spread throughout South America. The plant was carried by Portuguese and Spanish explorers to most of the West Indies and Africa and Asia. It is a tropical, perennial shrub that is less commonly cultivated in temperate climate zones. Cassava thrives better in poor soils than many other food plants. Although tapioca is a staple food for millions of people in tropical countries, it is devoid of nutrition and low in food energy. In developed countries, it is used as a thickening agent in various manufactured foods.2