The term “tapioca” refers to a type of starch extracted from the root of the cassava plant. Most U.S. retailers sell flour, pearl and instant tapioca, but Asian grocers sometimes sell tapioca straws and other unusual varieties. This versatile starch thickens desserts and sauces and is an important ingredient in some beverages. Tapioca starch resists acids, produces a high gloss and withstands freezing and reheating, but it can change the texture of a dish in an unexpected manner.
Better the Next Day
Tapioca pudding is a dairy-based European and American dessert that uses small or instant tapioca pearls. You can serve it warm or cold, but use care when reheating it. Warm up tapioca pudding in the microwave, over a double boiler or in the oven. Avoid re-cooking it over direct heat, however, since it can cause the pudding to stick, leaving shreds of dark, overcooked material in your dessert. If you reheat it in the oven, take advantage of its crisping ability by adding a little sugar and cinnamon to the top of your pudding. The addition creates a warm, crisp topping and prevents skin from forming.
Thicken Your Pie
Instant tapioca pearls and tapioca “flour” make excellent thickeners for fruit pies, especially if you plan to freeze the pie to serve later. Unlike cornstarch, which tends to separate when chilled and reheated, tapioca maintains a glossy surface and attractive texture at all temperatures, according to The Splendid Table. Pies made with tapioca thickeners sometimes thin a little on reheating.
“Boba” Bubble Teas
You can cook large traditional tapioca pearls in sugar syrup to create homemade bubble teas. They work best if you use them right away, but storing them in sugar syrup can extend their shelf life to a few days. If your boba begin to harden, reheat them in their syrup using a microwave or saucepan, but don’t overcook them. Long cooking can make this kind of tapioca lose its shape and form a pudding.
The high gloss of tapioca makes it a second choice for most savory sauces, but some cooks use it when they intend to freeze and thaw the sauce. You can reheat tapioca-based sauces on the stove or in the microwave. They are usually thickest when they are very hot, thinning a little at serving temperatures. Tapioca starch thickens very quickly, however. If your reheated sauces end up runnier than expected, simply mix in a thin paste of tapioca flour and water and continue to heat until you reach the desired consistency.
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G.D. Palmer is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Milwaukee, Wis. She has been producing print and Web content for various organizations since 1998 and has been freelancing full-time since 2007. Palmer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and studio art from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis.
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