In short, yes, tapioca is vegan.
But, tapioca is used in a lot of different types of food and many of those are not suitable for vegans. In fact, tapioca pudding, one of the most popular tapioca-containing foods, generally contains multiple animal-based products.
Before we dive into the vegan-ness of different foods that contain tapioca, let’s take a closer look at where this scratch comes from and how it is made.
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What Is Tapioca?
If you are from an older generation or spent a lot of time at grandma’s house as a kid, you probably know this former kitchen staple well. But the younger generations may have less familiarity with it.
Tapioca is made from the root of the cassava plant–a tropical tree native to South America.
The thick, tuberous roots are harvested and squeezed to collect the starchy liquid from inside. The liquid is then allowed to evaporate until only a fine powder is left behind.
Tapioca powder can be sold as is or compressed into small pearls, larger balls, or flakes.
What Is Tapioca Used For?
Tapioca is most commonly used in recipes as a thickening agent. You can find it on the ingredient label of many products including frozen prepared meals, dry soup mixes, and even burger patties and chicken nuggets.
Some recipes, such as soups and gravies call for tapioca in place of cornstarch as a thickener.
It is also a common ingredient in gluten-free breads and pastas. It is typically mixed with non-wheat flours like rice and pea to help better emulate the consistency of traditional baking flour (we do this with our Girl Scout Samoas and gluten-free waffles recipes).
Tapioca is probably most well known for its use in tapioca pudding where it is commonly used in pearl form, and in Bubble Tea where it is used to create the boba balls.
When Is Tapioca Vegan?
Tapioca itself is vegan. Both the ingredients that go into it (cassava root) and the processing methods that create it are free of animal products.
Most of the breads and pastas tapioca is used in are also vegan.
But other products containing this starch may contain animal products.
Burgers, chicken nuggets, and many frozen meals aren’t vegan. And tapioca pudding isn’t usually vegan either. It is typically made with dairy milk and eggs. But it is possible to find vegan tapioca pudding recipes (like this delicious one from Pretty Simple Sweet).
Boba tea is generally vegan but some types do incorporate milk, which means not all flavors of this fan favorite are appropriate for vegans.
Your best bet?
Check all labels thoroughly and look for the Vegan certification on the product packaging.
The Bottom Line
Yes, tapioca is vegan.
But you do have to check labels carefully to assure the products it is used in are also free from animal products.