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Boba Vs Tapioca – What’s The Difference?

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You have probably heard about boba and bubble tea. If so, you have probably tried to learn what they are and how they are made. When trying to learn about boba, you will come across tapioca, and here’s when the confusion begins.

What is the difference between boba and tapioca? Put simply, tapioca is a starch. It is used to make boba balls. Similar to boba balls are tapioca crystals. One thing that differentiates the two is that boba is sweetened with brown sugar syrup. Alternatively, brown sugar can be added while making the boba balls. 

Read this article to finally understand what is boba, what is tapioca, and how they are similar and different. Get to know how boba and tapioca crystals are made to understand the difference between the two. 

What Is Tapioca?

Tapioca is a starch derived from cassava root. The latter was domesticated thousands of years ago in Brazil and later spread to other parts of South America. 

To make tapioca, cassava root is ground. The starchy liquid that comes out of the crushed tapioca eventually dries up and what is left is tapioca powder. 

Tapioca starch is widely used in many Asian and African countries. It is used in baking and as a thickening agent for soups and sauces. 

There are two things to know about tapioca starch:

  • It does not have much nutritional value.
  • It is gluten-free.

Tapioca is simply starch, which means it is pure carbohydrates. There are negligible amounts of protein and fiber in tapioca starch. 

Being a source of carbohydrates, tapioca provides lots of energy but zero nutrients. Its energy-boosting property is the reason why civilizations, including Aztec and Inca, widely used cassava roots. 

While tapioca has common uses in baking, as a gluten-free substitute in bread and dessert recipes, it has become popular in recent years in making boba.

The latter is also known as bubble tea. It consists of sweetened tapioca pearls, brewed tea, milk, syrups, ice, condensed milk, etc. 

What Are Tapioca Pearls and How Do You Make Them?

Tapioca pearls, also referred to as tapioca balls, are clear bubbles/balls made with tapioca starch and water. They can be sweetened or flavored. However, on their own, plain tapioca pearls don’t have much of a flavor. 

Tapioca pearls also come in a smaller size. The small-sized tapioca pearls are used in making tapioca pudding

To make simple tapioca pearls that you can later add sweetness or other flavors to, you will need two ingredients – tapioca starch and water.

Add tapioca starch to boiling water. There are no measurements. Add as much starch as you need until you reach a ‘dough’ texture.

Once ready, start kneading the dough. Form thin logs of dough and start cutting into small equal pieces. Form the pieces into balls.

Now you have tapioca crystals. To cook them, boil tapioca crystals for 5 to 8 minutes. 

Tapioca crystals are chewy and taste like nothing, so you should flavor them. 

Keep the tapioca balls in a simple syrup (water plus sugar) and use it within 8 to 10 days.

It is important to keep tapioca crystals in syrup to prevent them from drying out as well as sweeten them. 

Use tapioca crystals to make your favorite brewed tea drink. 

Types of Tapioca Balls

Plain tapioca balls are translucent and don’t have much flavor. 

There are different varieties of tapioca crystals. There are flavored tapioca balls and mini ones. 

Boba pearls may be considered a variety of tapioca crystals as they are technically the same as them but with added brown sugar (as syrup or added in the dough for boba balls).

What Is Boba?

Boba is essentially a type of tapioca crystal. Boba pearls are made with three ingredients:

  • Tapioca starch
  • Brown sugar
  • Water

The name ‘boba’ itself is confusing. Some people use it to refer to tapioca balls while others use it to refer to a drink that has become popular in recent years – bubble tea.

Boba pearls are added to drinks containing brewed tea, milk, ice cubes, and other additives to give the drink different flavors. 

Another misconception about boba is that some people think that there is gelatin in boba. While the pearls have a chewy gummy texture, there is no gelatin used to make boba pearls. 

Plain tapioca pearls also have a chewy texture. So, the unique texture is provided not by gelatin but the tapioca starch. 

Boba pearls have a distinct brown color which they acquire after boiling in water for around 20 minutes. This color comes from the brown sugar used to make boba.

For a more intense brown to black color, some people choose to add artificial colors while making the dough for boba balls. 

How to Make Boba from Scratch

Making boba from scratch is not difficult. You can, of course, purchase pre-made tapioca balls and cook them with brown sugar.

However, making boba pearls at home from scratch can be a nice activity.

It may require you a few tries and some practice to get it right. But you will eventually master the art of making your own boba pearls at home. 

Considering the simplicity of the ingredient list, you should certainly give it a try if you like bubble tea. 

Ingredients for boba:

  • 45 g brown sugar
  • Tapioca starch
  • 60 ml water

Follow these steps to make the perfect boba balls:

  1. Combine 60 ml of water with 45 grams of brown sugar in a heated pan. 
  2. Leave the heat on until the sugar dissolves turning into a syrup. 
  3. Turn off the heat and start adding the tapioca starch. Start with a smaller amount and mix well to prevent the starch from forming lumps.
  4. Turn the heat on until the combination of starch and syrup starts to thicken up.
  5. Add more starch to form a dough and take it off the heat.
  6. Start kneading the dough and add tapioca starch as needed. Add starch to your working area so that it doesn’t stick.
  7. Once the dough is formed, divide it into sections and start working. If you are not working with the dough wrap it with plastic wrapping paper to prevent it from drying out.
  8. Start forming the boba balls. Form 7 mm thick logs and cut into small equal pieces.
  9. Start molding the pieces into balls. 
    • Pro Tip: Try molding 3 boba crystals at once by putting three pieces in the palm of your hand and forming balls by working with the other hand. This way you will speed up the tedious process of forming the crystals by spending 3 times less time!
  10. Add boba balls into the boiling water. Leave for 20 minutes while keeping the pot covered. Stir to prevent them from sticking together. 
  11. Once you have taken out the boba balls from boiling water let them rest before you use them to make yourself a drink. 

For a simple but delicious boba drink, pour milk, whipped cream, and ice over the pearls sitting at the bottom of the glass. You can add brown sugar syrup for extra sweetness.

Is Boba Good for You?

Boba is typically enjoyed not for its nutritional value (as there isn’t much of it) but for the experience it provides. 

The sweet and chewy boba crystals are fun to get thought the huge straw.

The only thing you will get from boba are the carbs form the tapioca starch and the sugar that gives sweetness to the crystals. Without added sugar, boba will not taste like anything. 

Boba crystals are added to the drink to provide a contrast of textures, thus making bubble tea fun to drink. 

While a few bubble tea drinks every now and then won’t hurt, be mindful to not overindulge in them. 

Summary: The Difference Between Boba and Tapioca

So, what is the difference between boba and tapioca? The difference between the two is difficult to explain, as people use these terms to refer to various things. 

To avoid misconceptions, it is important to know that tapioca is a starch used to make tapioca crystals, including sweetened boba balls. Tapioca crystals, by the look of them, are similar to boba balls. 

However, boba balls are generally brown, resulting in the brown sugar added either while making the boba crystals or after cooking the tapioca crystals and adding brown sugar syrup to them. 

Boba, on the other hand, makes things more confusing as people use this term to refer both to the crystals themselves and to the popular bubble tea drink. 

While the texture of boba and plain tapioca crystals is the same, boba crystals are sweet due to the added brown sugar. 

Related Questions 

What Does Tapioca Boba Tastes Like?

Tapioca boba, if not sweetened, will have no taste.

It can be sweetened by adding brown sugar either while making the boba crystals, or cooking the tapioca crystals and then keeping them in syrup or adding honey. 

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