Tapioca is a starch extracted from the roots of the cassava plant. It is used to thicken sauces, pies and puddings. It is sold in small pearls, usually used in puddings and pies, or as tapioca starch, which is used to coat foods that will be fried or to thicken sauces. If you find you don't have any tapioca when you need it, there are several other starches that can replace it. Changing the thickener you use can sometimes change the texture, appearance and taste of your dish.
Replace 2 tbsp. of quick-cooking tapioca with 1 tbsp. of arrowroot or cornstarch. Combine arrowroot or cornstarch with a little water to make a paste before adding it to the liquids in the recipe. Cornstarch works better with dairy-based recipes; arrowroot works better when you are thickening an acid mixture, such as lemon pudding or a fruit-based recipe. Tapioca and arrowroot work better in dishes that will be frozen than cornstarch does.
Replace 2 tbsp. of quick-cooking tapioca with 1 tbsp. of potato starch or rice starch, also called potato flour and rice flour. Combine the potato starch or rice starch with the other dry ingredients of the recipe before adding the liquid ingredients.
Replace 2 tbsp. of quick-cooking tapioca with 2 tbsp. of all-purpose flour. Combine the flour with sugar or salt before stirring it into wet ingredients to prevent lumps.
Use 3 tbsp. of kudzu powder to every 2 cups of liquid called for in your recipe. Other more exotic thickeners are lotus root powder and sahlab, a starch made from orchid tubers. Follow the package instructions when using the more exotic starches.
Clearjel is a modified cornstarch that works well with acid ingredients and tolerates the high temperature at which pies bake.