Tapioca is a starch extracted from the root of a plant, whose scientific name is Manihot esculenta or, more commonly, cassava. It is a typical Brazilian delicacy, native to South America.

Tapioca is commonly produced as a flour but can also be bought as ‘pearls’, or coarse flakes. Tapioca flour has a similar texture to cornflour, while the spherical pearls look a bit like large couscous. The smell and taste of cassava flour is often described as sour, fermented or musty.

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HOW DO YOU GET TAPIOCA FLOUR FROM A CASSAVA ROOT?

Cassava is grown in all Brazilian states, and is the eighth most prominent agricultural product of the country. It’s a hardy crop that can withstand most weather changes, from tropical rainstorms to droughts or poor soil. It’s also inexpensive, costing an average of two reais per kilo (30p).

Once harvested, the cassava root is processed to remove any toxicity, then ground to a pulp in a small mill. This doughlike pulp, called masa, is then squeezed of all its liquid and dried out, leaving behind a fine-grained tapioca powder.

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WHERE CAN YOU BUY TAPIOCA?

In Brazil, tapioca is readily available in supermarkets, street food markets and organic shops. If you live outside of Brazil, you might find that it’s less readily available in shops, but it’s easy enough to buy online through sites such as Amazon.

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WHAT CAN YOU MAKE WITH IT?

Tapioca and cassava are both really versatile. The cassava root has a delicate flavour and can be used to replace roast and mashed potato. Or, you can turn it into bite-sized croquettes, or blend into a creamy cassava soup. You can also add grated cassava into a flour mix for a cassava cake.

Check out these ideas for using tapioca and cassava:

  • Sagu: Boil tapioca pearls, then soak in red wine and add sugar and cloves for this typically Brazilian dish. Chill overnight before serving.
  • Toasted farofa: Simply toast the cassava flour to make farofa. Add onion and garlic to flavour and fry until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Feijoada: This Brazilian stew of pork and beans is traditionally served on a bed of farofa.
  • Pão de queijo: The traditional cheesey breads of Brazil are made with tapioca flour.
  • Tapioca crepes: Replace wheat flour with tapioca for thin, slightly pale pancake. Best served hot with chocolate spread!
  • Tapioca pudding: Similar to rice pudding, tapioca pudding is traditionally a simple recipe of cassava flour, milk and eggs. It sets into a thick and creamy pudding, a bit like a custard.

Now that you know the basics, you can experiment with all sorts of tapioca flour and cassava recipes. One of my favourite ideas is using tapioca pudding in a trifle. It’s called a Colchester pudding – you’ve got to try it, it’s great!


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brazil, brazilian street food, tapioca

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