Tapioca and I go way back, I was the kid who didn’t have the chocolate pudding cup, I always had the tapioca. Needless to say I was at the bottom of the lunchroom blackmarket totempole. I loved the stuff, obviously as a kid I didn’t understand what I was eating. A pudding that was more than just a one trick pony, this cup of joy had some texture to it. But as I grew older and began my culinary journey tapioca never came into the fold. I honestly assumed that tapioca was a certain method of pudding making. A couple years later I was taught how to turn fats into powders using an ingredient called “maltodextrin”. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Eventually it was my job to make the powder, that’s when I saw the container and it read “tapioca maltodextrin”. I needed to know more about this magic powder. Could I turn this oil powderizer into my childhood pudding? Where does this stuff come from? Turns out it’s a bigger topic than I expected. So this article is here to help you choose the correct type of tapioca starch for your recipe.
“What type of tapioca is right for me?”
All Tapioca, All Different
Let’s first cover what Tapioca is and where it comes from. Tapioca is a starch from a tuber called cassava. This tuber is also known as yuca amongst other names. They contain the tapioca starch. One thing to note is that you cannot buy cassava, dry it, and powderize it to get tapioca starch. Tapioca starch must be extracted from the tuber. Tapioca starch in its raw form is a white powder. When it is hydrated and cooked it becomes sticky and elastic, this gives it a chewy texture. Tapioca starch makes great noodles and gluten free bread because of this texture. That’s not all that tapioca can do. Tapioca much like other starches can be modified. These modifications are used to accentuate specific properties of the starch. Ultra-tex 3, Ultra-tex 8, and Ultra-sperse 3 are amazing examples. These ingredients are modified tapioca starches that allow you to thicken any liquid without the need to heat it. While this is still technically tapioca starch, it has changed the properties completely. No heat is required to hydrate ultra-tex and ultra-sperse and it gives a smooth texture and creamy mouthfeel. As we touched on earlier the soluble fiber, maltodextrin can be extracted from tapioca and used to turn oils/fats into powders. These powders will melt back into the oil/fat when you eat them and add a bit of intrigue to any dish. Another modification seen in Expandex and I’m Free Rapid Tapioca Starch is to enhance the sticky and elastic qualities. These qualities can be used to make gluten free bread have better proofing and final texture that closely resembles traditional bread.
But what about those little chewy bits that were in my pudding snacks? Traditional tapioca starch is processed into a few forms; powder, flakes, and pearls. The pearls are what you find in the pudding and they come in various sizes. The small pearls are used as a thickener in pudding and larger versions as the “bubbles” in bubble tea.
Depending on what benefit you are looking for in your recipe you will need to know exactly what ingredient to use so I have created an easy to follow chart to help you. Check it out below.
|Tapioca Starch||Any||Hot||Elastic, chewy||Used for noodles, corn starch replacement, thickening, and doughs|
|Rapid Tapioca Starch||10-12% to the weight of the flour||Hot||Elastic, chewy||Gluten-free baking|
|Expandex||10-12% to the weight of the flour||Hot||Elastic, chewy||Gluten-free baking|
|N-Zorbit M||40%||Cold||Powdery||Used primaily for turning oils/fats into powders|
|Ultra-Tex-3||0.2-8%||Cold or Hot, High Shear (Blender)||Smooth||Glazes 2-3%, Dessert sauces 3-4%, Good for cold applications, can be heated|
|Ultra-Sperse 3||0.2-8%||Cold or Hot, Low Shear (whisk)||Smooth||Gravy 3-4%, Pudding 6-8%|
|Ultra-Tex-8||0.2-8%||Cold or Hot, High Shear (Blender)||Creamy||Cream sauces 3-3.5%, Gravy/Jus 4%, Purees 6%, Pudding 8%, Good for cold applications resists heat better than 3,4. Higher viscosity than other ultra-tex and ultra-sperse.|
Ready to get Cooking?
Give our Khao Piak Sen (Lao Style Chicken Noodle Soup) and Szechuan Chili Oil Powder recipes a try! Our version of this traditional Laotian comfort food combines an aromatic chicken stock base with handmade udon-style noodles that are a cinch to make . This dish hits the delicate balance between light and filling on a rainy day, or in our kitchen, any day of the week.
One of our all time favorite dishes was at Chicago’s Lao Sze Chuan, a classic restaurant that serves up hella ma la and more. Their Famous Empress Crab with Dry Chili – Dungeness crab covered in mind- and mouth-numbing peppercorns – continues to beckon for a return visit. In the meantime, we’ve dreamt up our own Szechuan Chili Oil Powder, infusing the hot layered flavors of the peppercorns into a neutral oil and turning it into aromatic atomic snow. Sprinkle this bold orange powder lightly or liberally onto any dish to call to mind your favorite spicy plate.