Tapioca: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses

Tapioca is the starch extracted from the cassava root, a tuber used as a food staple in many parts of the world. Cassava is a native vegetable of South America that grows in tropical and subtropical regions. In addition to providing daily nutrition for millions of people around the globe, tapioca has become a popular substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free baking. You can find tapioca starch in the gluten-free section of supermarkets and health food stores. 

Health Benefits

The minerals in tapioca can provide important health benefits. For example, calcium is important for keeping your bones strong and preventing the development of osteoporosis.

Tapioca also contains iron, an essential mineral we need to help transport oxygen throughout the body.

In addition, tapioca can provide other health benefits like:

Heart Health

Tapioca contains no saturated fat. Reducing saturated fat has been found to lower the risk of heart disease. One study concluded that reducing saturated fat intake may be linked to significant reductions in cardiovascular risk. 

Diabetes Control

Modified tapioca starch may have properties that help lower insulin levels. In one study, diabetic mice on high-fat diets were given modified tapioca starch. Insulin resistance was significantly lower in the mice receiving tapioca starch compared to controls. However, more research needs to be conducted to determine if the same benefits apply to people with diabetes.

Digestive Health

Tapioca starch is a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour, making it an ideal alternative for people with celiac disease. Tapioca is also very easy to digest, so it’s a good choice for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other digestive issues.

Nutrition

Tapioca starch contains no fat or cholesterol, which makes it a healthy choice for those watching their dietary cholesterol and saturated fat intake. Tapioca is also very low in sodium.

One serving contains 20mg of calcium and 1.6mg of iron.

Nutrients per Serving

A 1/4 cup serving of tapioca starch contains:

Things to Watch Out For

Tapioca starch has a high glycemic index. Foods with a high glycemic index can cause a quick spike in insulin and blood sugar, and should only be consumed in moderation.

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How to Prepare Tapioca

To prepare tapioca pudding you will need tapioca pearls, which can be found in the bakery section of your local supermarket. You will need:

  • 3 cups whole milk  
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the milk, tapioca, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 more minutes while continuing to stir regularly.

Add 1 cup of the hot milk mixture into the beaten eggs a little at a time while whisking to temper the eggs. Stir the egg mixture into the tapioca until well mixed. Simmer over medium-low heat for 2 minutes until thickened.  Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. The pudding may be served hot or cold. 

Tapioca starch can be found in the gluten-free section at many grocery and health food stores. 

Tapioca starch is easy to use while baking. Gluten-free bakers recommend using tapioca starch in a blend with other flours such as rice flour and potato starch. One example of a gluten-free baking flour mix is:

  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 1 cup soy flour 
  • 1/2 cup tapioca starch
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum

The addition of xanthan gum helps to give the flour some elasticity. Use this flour blend in place of wheat flour.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on September 22, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

AllRecipes: “Classic Tapioca Pudding.”

Britannica: "Tapioca."

Cleveland Clinic: “Celiac Disease: Following a Gluten-Free Diet.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: "Tapioca Starch."

Harvard Health Publishing: “A good guide to good carbs: The glycemic index.”

Mayo Clinic: “Gluten-free? Try these delicious alternatives to wheat flour.”

National Library of Medicine: “Hydroxypropylated tapioca starch retards the development of insulin resistance in KKAy mice, a type 2 diabetes model, fed a high-fat diet.”

National Library of Medicine: “Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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