Tapioca is the starch of cassava root, a plant indigenous to parts of South America, Asia, and Africa. It comes in many different forms including tapioca balls, tapioca flour, and tapioca starch, creating many possibilities for incorporation into restaurant menus. Its neutral flavor makes it ideal for use for its thickening properties, without the drawback of undesired flavor added to dishes. Tapioca is a carbohydrate, without many other nutritional properties. Its main uses in the culinary world stem from its textural, gluten-free, and tasteless properties.
Tapioca balls are most often associated with bubble tea and tapioca pudding. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, though they are usually opaque white. Tapioca pearls are formed by pushing tapioca starch through a sieve at high pressure. The globules are sold dried and rehydrated and softened by cooking in large amounts of water or other types of liquid. Since tapioca pearls have a very neutral taste and color, a tapioca recipe usually relies on taking on the flavor and color of the fluid in which the pearls are cooked. Tapioca balls can be used in a variety of interesting dishes for restaurant menus. However, their use should be minimized or written clearly under the dish description, since a large percentage of people have an aversion to their texture. Besides classic tapioca pudding, tapioca balls can be used in a variety of other tapioca recipe options. They can be cooked in coconut milk and served with mango and/or caramelized pineapple cubes, or cooked in water with a bit cream and topped with vanilla-rum caramelized bananas. On the savory side, they can be cooked in reduced, concentrated chicken stock and served on a unique serving spoon as canapés, or hors d’oeuvres, similar to the “caviar” of molecular gastronomy. Tapioca recipe options go beyond tapioca pearls, incorporating tapioca flour, or the cassava root itself, into gluten free dishes.
Tapioca Flour and other Tapioca Ingredients
Tapioca flour is a great gluten free flour option due to the neutrality of its flavor. Its chewy texture makes it ideal for dough and other gluten free foods on restaurant menus that need the chewiness that gluten usually provides. Tapioca flour and starch can also be used as a thickeners, similar to cornstarch. In areas where cassava root can be purchased fresh, it can be used similarly to potatoes, roasted, or fried in wedges or as chips.
Tapioca on Restaurant Menus
Cassava-root-derived tapioca products can have many applications on restaurant menus. As mentioned earlier, tapioca pearls should be used with caution, if at all, on restaurant menus. The advantage in using them lies in providing interesting, gluten free desserts, baked goods, and drink options. Tapioca desserts also lend themselves easily to beautiful food presentation, being most comfortably eaten from small glassware such as brandy glasses, which give the dish a gourmet, haute cuisine look. Tapioca flour and starch usually go unidentified when used in restaurant dishes, and are therefore free of the problem affecting the use of tapioca pearls. Since pearl tapioca recipes are usually hit or miss with customers, many venues steer away from using tapioca pearls on restaurant menus altogether. However, restaurants that succeed in using the root and incorporating it into restaurant menus in interesting ways, can gain an edge of uniqueness for their venue due to the rarity of tapioca dishes on restaurant menus.