For many of us, the word tapioca brings to mind the chewy pearls found in bubble tea (also called Boba). Some may even know it as an ingredient used to make a pudding base.
However, if you’re someone who reads food labels carefully (something all plant-eaters should do), you would know that tapioca is (now) used in a whole lot of products. And that may have you wondering about the source of tapioca.
Is tapioca vegetarian?
Let’s trace the origin of this commonly used ingredient and find out if there’s room for it in your plant-based diet or not.
Is Tapioca Vegetarian-Friendly?
The short answer is yes. Tapioca is suitable for vegetarians.
For those who may not be satisfied with this short answer, let’s take a deeper look into what tapioca is made of and how it’s manufactured to develop a better understanding.
What Is Tapioca and How It Is Made?
Tapioca is a form of starch extracted from the roots of the Cassava plant, also referred to as Yuca or simply tapioca plant. The scientific name of the plant is Manihot esculenta.
The plant is native to Brazil but now also widely grows in the tropical parts of South America and several other parts of the world.
Tapioca is extracted from cassava roots in liquid form, then dried out to make tapioca powder or tapioca flour.
|It’s important to note that tapioca flour is different from cassava flour. Even though both these flours come from the same plant, but they are not the same.Tapioca flour is made from the starchy pulp of the cassava root, whereas cassava flour is made from crushing and grinding the whole plant root. Both also have different tastes and nutritional values.|
What is Tapioca Used For in Foods? The Many Uses of Tapioca
Tapioca is primarily used as a binding and thickening agent; however, it also helps improve the shape and texture of gluten-free and baked goods. Tapioca is a great stabilizer and prevents sogginess, helping to keep foods fresh for longer.
Moreover, this plant-based starch has a neutral flavor, which further increases its versatility and allows for its use in both for sweet and savory foods. It’s also commonly used as an alternative to gelatin in foods specifically made for plant-eaters; vegetarians, and vegans. Certain vegan foods also use tapioca as a substitute for eggs.
The commercial food industry uses tapioca in various foods, ranging from soups, stews, gravies, and puddings to chicken nuggets and burger patties to gluten-free pastas and breads to vegan cheese. And, of course, to make Boba balls for bubble tea.
So, Is Tapioca Suitable for Vegetarians?
Tapioca itself is vegetarian. Not only is it derived from a plant source, but its extraction procedure also doesn’t involve the use of any animal ingredients. Hence, tapioca is absolutely perfect for plant-eaters.
It’s important to note that while tapioca itself is vegetarian, not every product containing tapioca may be suitable for plant-eaters. As mentioned earlier, tapioca is also used in several meat-based products, like chicken nuggets, which (obviously) aren’t vegetarian. Therefore, you should also consider other ingredients used in a product to make sure it’s completely free of animal ingredients.
Always read complete food labels to find out if a product is vegetarian or not.
Is Tapioca Vegan?
Yes. Tapioca is 100% vegan. It’s not only free of animal ingredients, but there is also no animal cruelty involved in the harvest of cassava roots and tapioca starch extraction procedures.
However, you should always consider other ingredients used in a product to figure out if you can eat it as a vegan or not. For example, tapioca pudding is typically non-vegan, as it has eggs and milk. Similarly, a few varieties of Boba tea also have milk in them.
Frequently Asked Questions
§ Do tapioca balls have gelatin in them?
The texture of tapioca balls makes many think that they contain gelatin. But, it’s not true.
Tapioca balls are gelatin-free. Their jelly-like texture that confuses many comes from tapioca itself. Due to this incredible property, tapioca is widely used as an alternative to gelatin in plant-based foods.
§ Is bubble tea vegan?
Bubble tea can be vegan or non-vegan. Certain flavors of bubble tea contain milk. Therefore, always take a look at the ingredients to determine their vegan status.
§ Is tapioca pudding vegan?
Tapioca pudding typically has egg and milk in it, which means it is non-vegan. There may, however, be certain varieties of vegan tapioca puddings available on the market, made without eggs and with non-dairy milk.
Read the food label or look for the vegan logo to find vegan tapioca pudding. You can also try making it on your own. Here’s a simple vegan tapioca pudding recipe for reference…
Did you find this article helpful? Are you interested to learn about other commonly used food additives as well? Read my article Is Cellulose Gum Vegan to determine if that widely used food stabilizer is suitable for plant-eaters!