Not too long ago I went to a street fair in New York with a friend. I’m always tempted to try some of the delicious smelling food items, from corn on the cob to meat shish kabobs, though I am often hesitant to dive in because of the high risk for cross-contamination and suspicious ingredients. One of the most popular items at this food fair, however, was the bubble tea. Bubble tea consists of sweetened iced tea with tapioca pearls that sink to the bottom of the cup, and one of my favorite treats pre-gluten-free life. I thought through the ingredients and realized that it must be gluten-free!
Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and spread throughout Asia in the following years. It is a fad beverage that has gotten more widespread attention in the major US cities over the course of the past five years, serving as a substitute specialty beverage from the Italian-inspired coffee drinks. The tapioca pearls, or boba, sink to the bottom of the beverage, giving a chewy texture similar to gummy bears with every sip.
Initially I was a little suspicious that bubble tea was actually gluten-free, as we all know that gluten can sneak its way into most candies due to malting and other thickeners. Fortunately, after doing a little research of my own, I came to discover that the tea is, in fact, gluten-free!
Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava plant (the plant that also accounts for the dairy-free and vegan “daiya” cheese). The starch is often used as a thickening agent (think tapioca pudding) and is virtually complete carbohydrate. Although tapioca is not hugely nutrient dense (it has virtually no protein or vitamins), it can definitely help provide starch to gluten-free baked goods.
If the bubble tea fad hasn’t made its way to your city or town, try making your own! Just combine strong cold black tea with honey, milk, and ice. Place cooked tapioca pearls in the iced tea mixture and enjoy with an extra thick straw. Add in a splash of your favorite juice (like peach mango) if you want some extra flavor!