Looking for a cool, refreshing drink to quench your thirst on hot summer days? Then you might want to try boba, or bubble tea. Made with chewy tapioca pearls, this beverage will leave you craving more. Enjoy it in moderation, though, because it's packed with sugar and carbs.
Depending on the ingredients, bubble tea can have 200 to 450 calories per cup. A large cup can exceed 500 calories and 96 grams of sugar — that's a lot more than even a can of soda.
What Is Bubble Tea?
Boba shops are popping up all over the U.S., offering a wide array of sweet, creamy refreshments that melt in your mouth. Their specialty is a chewy beverage with brown dots on the bottom, known as boba, pearl milk tea or bubble tea. This popular drink comes from Taiwan and has been around since the '80s, according to a review published in Food Science and Nutrition in March 2016.
Today, bubble tea is available in hundreds of styles and varieties. Most recipes call for tea, water or milk, boiled tapioca pearls, sugar or artificial sweeteners and some sort of flavoring, like fruit syrup or fruit puree. Other boba ingredients, such as jelly, honey, egg pudding and creamer, can be used to create new flavors.
The primary ingredient in bubble tea is tapioca, which consists of sweet potatoes or cassava starch and brown sugar rolled into balls (boba). The color and texture of tapioca balls may vary depending on the recipe. They are used as a thickening and flavoring agent. Green or black teas are commonly used as a base.
Boba Nutrition Facts
Bubble tea can be prepared in various ways. Therefore, its nutritional value depends on its ingredients.
According to the Food Science and Nutrition review, this beverage can have anywhere between 200 and 450 calories (per 16 ounces). A popular bubble tea brand provides the following nutrients per 8-ounce serving, as reported by the USDA:
- 120 calories
- 28 grams of carbs
- 20 grams of sugar
- 1.5 grams of fat
- 25 percent of the daily value of calcium
Its main ingredients are filtered water, boba, sugar, non-dairy creamer, green tea extract, flavorings and food dyes, such as Blue 1 and Yellow 5. The safety of food colorings is subject to debate.
However, not all boba brands contain synthetic dyes. If you're concerned about their potential toxicity, you can make bubble tea at home or switch to organic or natural brands.
Read more: How Many Calories Are in Tapioca Bubble Tea?
This beverage is also high in sugar, warns the Food Science and Nutrition review. A large cup of bubble tea containing extra ingredients like jelly and egg pudding can exceed 500 calories and 96 grams of sugar. Even a small cup of boba made with milk tea and tapioca has nearly 40 grams of sugar and 400 calories.
Is Bubble Tea Healthy?
Depending on the ingredients used, bubble tea can be higher in sugar than a can of cola and other soft drinks. Sugary beverages may significantly raise the risk of breast cancer and overall cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, according to a large-scale study published in the BMJ in July 2019. Artificially-sweetened drinks may carry health risks, too.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men. A small cup of bubble tea provides more sugar than the recommended amount for an entire day. On top of that, most brands contain ultra-processed ingredients, such as flavored syrup, maleic acid and hydrogenated palm oil — a major source of trans fats.
Clearly, bubble tea isn't the healthiest choice. If you love its flavor, try making your own version at home. Clayton State University, for example, recommends a simple bubble tea recipe with just three ingredients: milk, brewed tea and tapioca pearls, which are available in most supermarkets. You may also add healthy extras, such as orange juice, unsweetened applesauce or fresh fruits.
- Food Science and Nutrition: "Calories and Sugars in Boba Milk Tea: Implications for Obesity Risk in Asian Pacific Islanders"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Boba, Bubble Tea, Green Tea, Lychee Bobas"
- International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health: "Toxicology of Food Dyes"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Cola"
- The BMJ: "Sugary Drink Consumption and Risk of Cancer: Results From Nutrinet-Santé Prospective Cohort"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- Singapore Food Agency: "Taiwan Recalls Food Products Due to Unapproved Food Additive"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "By the Way, Doctor: Is Palm Oil Good for You?"
- Clayton State University: "Bubble Tea"