Answer: Yes. Tapioca is made of cassava plant roots and is used in varied vegan recipes.
Tapioca isn’t a new ingredient, yet it has got popular in recent years in the U.S with the spread of bubble tea. Many people question if it’s vegan due to its unique texture – it resembles gelatin. This confusion comes from the lack of knowledge about tapioca and how it’s made.
Let’s see if tapioca is vegan or not!
What Is Tapioca?
Tapioca is a starch extracted from the yuca plant’s roots (cassava). This plant is commonly cultivated in Africa, Asia, and South America and is famous for its culinary versatility. It can be mashed, cooked into a soup, fried, and famously made into tapioca.
Tapioca contains almost pure carbs and very little protein, minerals, or fiber. For that reason, we use it as an additive for enhancing texture. In contrast to what people think, it’s gluten-free. Hence, it’s a perfect vegan substitute for wheat flour and suitable for people with gluten allergies.
Tapioca comes in varieties such as balls/pearls, powder, and flakes. It’s famously known as the chewy, soft bubbles in the bottom of the teacup.
Is Tapioca Vegan?
Veganism is a lifestyle philosophy based on not using animals or animal products for food, clothing, or other purposes. It promotes the use of animal-free alternatives to limit the cruel exploitation of animals. Therefore, you will find vegans regularly asking whether tapioca products are vegan or not!
Tapioca is 100% gluten-free and made from plant sources. Meaning it is 100% vegan. But that doesn’t mean that every tapioca product is vegan, as it depends on the other ingredients.
For example, as the most famous tapioca product, bubble tea can be vegan, but it doesn’t have to be. Bubble teas come in different types; depending on the type, we can decide whether it is vegan.
Fruit-based bubble tea drinks are entirely vegan-friendly. Fruit syrup is compatible with the vegan diet, and tapioca balls are vegan. So it is vegan.
However, when cow’s milk is added to it or if it’s a milk bubble tea, then it’s not.
Health Benefits of Tapioca
Even though tapioca is rich in carbs and offers little protein, minerals, and fiber, unlike the Yuca plant, it still has health benefits.
Easy to Digest
Nutrition doctors advise people who suffer from digestive problems to alternate wheat flour with tapioca flour, as it’s easier to digest.
It’s an ideal alternative for people who suffer from digestive issues such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and diverticulitis, which can cause flares of digestive symptoms.
As said before, tapioca mainly consists of carbs. One cup of tapioca pearls contains 544 calories and 135g of carbohydrates.
As a quick source of carbs, some Southeast Asian countries survived primarily tapioca in World War II.
However, it’s yay for you if you want a healthy weight gain. If not, then keep your consumption of tapioca products limited.
Reduces the Risk of Heart Diseases
To protect your heart and lower the risk of heart disease, you must reduce saturated fat. According to a study, reducing saturated fat from your diet significantly reduces cardiovascular risk. As tapioca doesn’t contain saturated fat, it is a healthy choice to take it.
Perfect for Those on a Restrictive Diet
Tapioca is not just plant-based, but it’s also gluten-free. Therefore, tapioca is the right choice for people who suffer from a gluten allergy or celiac disease or choose a particular lifestyle philosophy, like vegetarians and vegans. It’s an alternative to wheat or grain flour; you can use it in different recipes, not just baking. You can also use it as a thickener in foods.
Combining tapioca with plant-based flour such as almond or coconut flour is good to increase its nutritional value.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
In a study published in Advances in Nutrition in March 2015, researchers looked at studies focused on animals and humans to assess the function of resistant starch beyond gut health. Resistant starch was discovered to improve insulin sensitivity.
Crucial for Pregnant Women
Tapioca has many nutrients that give pregnant women different health benefits. It contains folate, a type of vitamin B essential for forming the baby’s DNA within the womb, and is also vital for brain development.
Pregnant women must get enough folate and other nutrients to avoid congenital disabilities such as neural tube defects or spina bifida in babies. One hundred grams of tapioca produces 6 milligrams of folate to meet 2% of the daily requirement.
Things to Watch Out for in Tapioca
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, consuming improperly prepared cassava could lead to cyanide poisoning. This issue is usually a big concern in developing countries.
Concerning the health of people diagnosed with diabetes, tapioca must be consumed within limits as it massively consists of carbs. Also, for people who are looking to get in shape, tapioca may hinder their quest. Tapioca is a source of concentrated calories.
Before consuming tapioca, you should consider both benefits and risks equally. Regarding your health, checking out everything you chew won’t be an exaggeration.
Tapioca in Processed Vegan Food
Tapioca starch substitutes gelatin or other animal-based products for texture and consistency. So it’s found in vegan cheese recipes such as mozzarella and provolone. It has the texture and taste of real cheese without exploiting animals.
Tapioca starch gives the cheese a stretchy consistency as it melts in vegan cheese, making it a common addition to vegan pizzas and a topping for vegan casseroles.
In vegan egg alternative products, vegans may also use tapioca flour as a coagulant. It enables vegans to make recipes that require eggs as a binding agent. Even though its thickening quality is not near cornstarch, it still works fine.
Tapioca in Non-vegan Food
Tapioca can be featured in non-vegan recipes and food too. Tapioca flour is used in gluten-free recipes to replace wheat or gluten-based flour. Tapioca flour is white flour with a tender sweetness and gives a crispy but chewy crust in pies and cakes recipes.
To replace cornflour with tapioca flour, use two tablespoons for every cornflour tablespoon. Plus, it can help lighten gluten-free flour mixtures and prevent gluten-free baked goods from collapsing in combination with gluten-free flour.
Due to its thickening powers, we can use it to perfect the consistency of soups, sauces, and even ice cream. It doesn’t have a taste or color, so it doesn’t mess up the flavor, color, or smell of soups, sauces, ice cream, and other foods.
To not compromise on the meat’s flavor, juiciness, and tenderness, meat manufacturers started to use tapioca starch to increase customer acceptance of low-fat meat.
Consumer preference studies indicated that ground beef containing 15% to 20% fat is preferable. Below 20%, it’s not considered tasteful nor appealing to the customer. So, to meet the health-conscious customers, they started to use tapioca flour and sodium alginate to improve the properties of low-fat beef.
Tapioca is the superstar ingredient for every vegan. You can use it in varied recipes that you couldn’t do because there isn’t a vegan alternative for a specific element. You can now make gluten-free and gelatin-free bread, cakes, pies, and pudding that makes the mouth water, just as the non-vegan version does.
It’s not just about veganism! It’s a healthier alternative for non-vegans too. Tapioca is zero-fat energy food and a healthy and cheap ingredient to alternate in many recipes.
So, is it vegan? Yes, as it is a plant extract.
Is every tapioca-featured food or product vegan? No!
Why? Tapioca is vegan but usually mixed up with other ingredients to enhance its notational value. Depending on the other ingredients, you can determine whether the food/product is vegan-friendly.