How to Know if Tapioca Is Gluten-Free — and How to Make Bubble Tea and Pudding With It

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The little pearls in your bubble tea are made of tapioca.
Image Credit: insjoy/iStock/GettyImages

It's flour, it's pudding, it's the delicious chewy ingredient in your boba tea. Tapioca truly knows no limits.

And it's even gluten-free — what can't tapioca do?

However, if you're on a gluten-free diet, you'll want to double-check that all the ingredients are gluten-free before you order that tapioca dessert or bubble tea.

Why Tapioca Is Gluten-Free

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and these grains' derivatives.

Tapioca is a starch derived from the cassava plant, which is naturally gluten-free, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. And while tapioca flour can be easily be mistaken for standard wheat flour (which isn't gluten-free), it makes a great GF alternative in many recipes.

Tapioca can be eaten in many forms, including tapioca flour and tapioca pudding. But tapioca pearls found in bubble or boba milk tea are probably the most common way this starch is enjoyed.

Since tapioca is a starch, tapioca pearls are naturally free of fat and protein and are composed completely of carbohydrates, according to the USDA.

Although they don't contain many nutrients, tapioca pearls do provide some iron, packing about 7 percent of your daily recommended value per half cup.

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Although it's naturally gluten-free and safe to eat, you'll want to be wary when you're buying tapioca-based products or ordering tapioca-based foods. Cross-contamination is a risk with all processed or pre-prepared foods.

Cross-contact happens when foods come in contact with gluten ingredients either through shared utensils or preparation surfaces, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Once gluten-free foods come in contact with gluten ingredients, they're no longer necessarily safe to eat on a GF diet.

How to Find Gluten-Free Tapioca Products

To avoid cross-contamination, there are a few precautions you'll want to take when buying tapioca products at the store.

First, look closely at the ingredient list, keeping an eye out for any hidden gluten foods. Also check the allergen listing for either wheat or gluten.

Then, flip the product package to the front and look for a "Gluten-Free" label. This mark is regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and guarantees that the food contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, a generally safe amount for people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.

The tapioca you're buying may even have a certified gluten-free seal on the package.

This mark means that the food has been tested and certified by a trusted third-party organization, such as the Gluten-Free Certification Organization. In that case, the food contains less than 10 ppm of gluten.

If you want to add some tapioca pearls to your tea or stock your pantry with some tapioca flour, give these gluten-free tapioca products below a try.

Gluten-Free Tapioca Products to Buy 

  • Anthony's Organic Tapioca Flour Starch ($11.99 on Amazon.com)
  • Edward & Sons Let's Do Organic Tapioca Granules ($7.59 on Amazon.com)
  • Unpretentious Baker Tapioca Starch ($10.48 on Amazon.com)
  • Royal Command Premium Grade Large Tapioca Pearls ($22.99 on Amazon.com)

Gluten-Free Tapioca Recipes

If you're struggling to find tapioca-based dishes at your local restaurants, try your hand at these two at-home recipes instead.

1. Vegan Bubble Tea

Shake up your usual tea time with this vegan bubble tea.

Traditionally a Taiwanese drink, bubble tea is now popular all over the world. Packed with chewy tapioca pearls, this tea makes for a great pick-me-up, so long as you don't overload it with sugar.

Bubble tea will take only about 20 minutes to prepare and can be totally personalized with your favorite tea type, sweeteners and plant milk. Coconut nectar, maple syrup, honey or stevia are just a few natural sweeteners to consider.

Get the full recipe at Veggiekins.

2. Coconut Mango Tapioca Pudding

This low-calorie coconut mango tapioca pudding is also vegan-friendly.
Image Credit: jreika/iStock/GettyImages

This coconut mango tapioca pudding makes the perfect dessert for just about any diet. Gluten-free, vegan and paleo-friendly, this pudding takes only 25 minutes total to prep and cook, yielding up to four servings per batch.

Free of added and refined sugar, this pudding gets its sweetness from nutrient-dense mango. Just a cup of this juicy fruit will provide about 67 percent of your daily recommended vitamin C value, according to the USDA.

Get the full recipe at Unconventional Baker.

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