Tapioca is the starch obtained from the squeezed liquid of ground cassava roots. It is nutritionally inferior but may make a good alternative for those on a strict diet, including grain-and-gluten-free diets.

Tapioca refers to the starch produced by squeezing the liquid in the ground cassava roots. Although its flour is often mistaken for cassava flour, the two are different, with the latter being prepared from ground cassava roots as opposed to their milk-like liquid. On its own, tapioca may not have many health benefits, but its flour makes a good replacement for wheat and other grains with gluten, especially for those on a strict diet. Besides, it may not have serious health effects, but it may be less ideal for people with diabetes, considering that it is almost pure starch. Here is everything you need to know about tapioca, including how it is made and the health implications linked to it.

Understanding tapioca

When people hear about tapioca flour, they immediately think about cassava flour. While the two are extracted from cassava, they are processed differently. Tapioca flour is produced from the liquid of ground cassava roots, while cassava flour is basically ground cassava roots. Cassava are root tubers with a South American origin but have become popularized in Asia, Africa, and South America, where they are taken as stale foods. In fact, during wars, drought, and other crises, cassava roots have become a savior to humanity.

Tapioca is almost entirely pure starch. This means that it’s basically made up of carbs, with little (if any) nutrients and fiber. Although cassava roots make a good source of resistant starch, your gut needs to be healthy, its liquid used to make tapioca is deficient in this starch. As such, tapioca is nutritionally inferior to most grains whose flour it replaces, but the form is appreciated for its gluten-free nature. Tapioca is sold as a dried product, and you can purchase it as pearls, beads, sticks, or flakes that you soak or boil to consume the pure carb.

Tapioca: the preparation process

Like any other food product, tapioca preparation differs according to locations. Nonetheless, the skeleton steps are alike and start with squeezing the liquid part of the starchy ground cassava roots. This is followed by subjecting the liquid to evaporation, letting off the water, and leaving a dry powder behind. The dry powder is tapioca, which is then made into sticks, flakes, beads, or pearls, as per the company brands. Puddings, desserts, and bubble tea often incorporate tapioca pearls, the commonest form of tapioca. The forms in which tapioca is sold are dehydrated and have to be boiled or soaked to be used. For instance, you have to do so for flakes or sticks to use them. The soaked or boiled tapioca is leatherier, almost double the size, and more translucent.

How is tapioca used?

Tapioca has a wide range of uses, especially as a gluten-free substitute in the developing world. It can be used in;

  • Making flatbreads for dinner or breakfast
  • Grain-and-gluten-free flour replacement for wheat flour when baking bread, preferably besides other flours
  • Puddings, desserts, and bubble tea preparation which features tapioca flakes
  • Binding agent since it can prevent moisture buildup and sogginess when used in creamy form
  • Desserts, soups, and sauces as a thickener with a natural flavor and that does not alter the taste

Tapioca: the nutritional profile

Tapioca is often called an empty calorie because it supplies the body with energy without adding any nutritional value. In fact, tapioca is used as a flour replacement in baking, not because it is nutritionally rich but because it is gluten-free. However, it lacks an impressive nutritional profile because it’s almost made entirely of pure starch. As such, it is only loaded with carbs with barely any nutrients. For instance, some tapioca forms have trace amounts of proteins and fibers, but these hardly constitute 0.1% of the required daily intakes (RDI). Still, they are packed with many calories since a cupful of tapioca has as many as 544 calories. As such, they can suitably be defined as empty calories.

Health benefits linked to tapioca

On its own, pure starch tapioca may not have many impressive health benefits because of its inferior nutritional profile. However, it is linked to some advantages, including;

i. It makes a good substitute for those on a restricted diet

Many people worldwide are allergic to grains, gluten, or wheat, forcing them to live on a tight diet. Consequently, they might need gran-and-gluten-free replacements from time to time. Tapioca makes an ideal substitute since it is both grain and gluten-free. This is why it can be used as a sauce or soup thickener, or even in place of wheat flour while baking. Combining it with other flours, including coconut or almond flour, helps you reap more nutritional benefits from it.

ii. It may be linked to resistant starch

The body benefits from complex starch, a more complex form of starch that promotes gut health and lowers blood and cholesterol levels, among other benefits. Tapioca is linked to this starch since it is prepared from cassava roots that naturally have resistant starch. However, it is worth remembering that the starch is found in the cassava roots and not the liquid from which tapioca is prepared.

Health concerns linked to tapioca

In the same way it lacks impressive health benefits on its own, tapioca may not have serious health implications, especially when it is properly processed. However, the following are health concerns attached to it;

i. It may not be ideal for diabetics

Tapioca is pure starch loaded with carbs. Consuming it or products made from it will result in sugar and insulin spikes, followed by a sharp drop in energy. Repeated consumption of this product puts the body in a rollercoaster mode, which is risky for those with diabetes.

ii. Poor processing of cassava roots may lead to cyanide poisoning and death

Cyanide poisoning or death has been recorded with the consumption of cassava roots. Limanarin, a compound in cassava, oxidizes to hydrogen cyanide, causing the paralytic disease konzo, probably resulting in death. However, these are unlikely as long as tapioca is processed well.


Tapioca is the starch prepared from the liquid in ground cassava roots and is sold as flakes, sticks, pearls, beads. It is nutritionally inferior and laden with calories but makes a good replacement for the gluten, wheat, or grain-intolerant fellows. As such, it is readily used in baking and as a thickener in sauces, desserts, and soups. Still, diabetic patients must consume it in moderation because it is heavily packed with carbs and may cause sugar spikes.

Latest posts by Anastasia Filipenko (see all)

Anastasia Filipenko is a health and wellness psychologist, dermatolist and a freelance writer. She frequently covers beauty and skincare, food trends and nutrition, health and fitness and relationships. When she's not trying out new skincare products, you'll find her taking a cycling class, doing yoga, reading in the park, or trying a new recipe.

Latest from Health