One of my favorite desserts growing up was tapioca pudding. You don't see it that much anymore. Kids get pre-made puddings from the grocery store.
My parents don't make it that often as it requires too much (for them) careful stirring while the tapioca cooks. And you won't find tapioca on any low-carb diets, as it is pure starch, from the same plant as cassava.
Yet, tapioca pudding is one of those comfort foods that conjures up happy childhood memories. It's actually really easy to make.
What Is Tapioca Pudding?
Tapioca is a starch from the roots of the cassava plant, which is native to Brazil. The tapioca is what's leftover when you make manioc flour from the cassava root. The Portuguese brought it on their ships and spread it throughout Africa, Asia and the West Indies.
Tapioca can take many forms, but the small pearls are what's used to make tapioca pudding. Tapioca pearls are usually opaque when raw, but become supple and translucent when cooked.
The larger tapioca balls are the popular boba found in boba drinks and bubble tea all over Southeast Asia, and now the world.
Why Homemade Tapioca Pudding is Better Than Instant
Homemade tapioca pudding has the creamy texture of the milk, combined with the fun pearls of tapioca and the fresh taste of vanilla all mixed into a warm or chilled pudding. Sure, instant pudding is quicker to make, but it lacks that creamy mouthfeel that makes tapioca pudding one of the best comfort food desserts.
The beauty of homemade tapioca pudding is that it's fun, deliciously creamy, and gluten free!
Finding the Right Tapioca in the Store
Not all tapioca pearls are created equally! Why? Because tapioca comes in varying sizes and shapes, colors and textures. You don't want to use instant tapioca pearls, because they are smaller in size and doesn't have the same fun texture as the uncooked pearls.
Look for uncooked, small tapioca pearls in the baking aisle of your grocery store. You can also find them in Southeast Asian markets.
We like Bob's Red Mill Small Pearl Tapioca which is the perfect size and texture for homemade tapioca pudding. It's also non-GMO, which is an added bonus.
Tapioca Troubleshooting Tips
- To keep your tapioca pudding from getting runny, be sure to use whole milk. The fat from the milk is necessary for that creamy texture.
- For a thicker texture, cook the tapioca pearls a little longer than instructed on your package. The pearls absorb the moisture and create a nice and thick pudding.
- Keep the temperature low, and keep stirring as you cook to avoid burning and for consistent heating of the tapioca.
- Don't forget to temper the eggs before adding to the tapioca. You don't want to curdle the pudding.
- Tapioca pudding will thicken more as it cools, so you can serve it chilled straight from the fridge if you like a thick pudding.
How to Store Tapioca Pudding
If you got a little excited and made too much tapioca pudding, don't fret! It's so easy to store tapioca pudding. Just let it sit until it reaches room temperature, then cover with plastic film and refrigerate.
Alternately, tapioca is one of the few puddings that freeze very well. You can freeze the tapioca pudding in individual, freezer-safe containers, cover with plastic film and freeze. Then, just move the pudding into the refrigerator to defrost overnight, and you can serve directly from the fridge, nice and chilled.
Tapioca pudding will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, and up to 3 months in the freezer.
Variations, Substitutions and Additions
Tapioca pudding is already a beautifully simple dessert with easy to find, whole ingredients. It's gluten free and easy to make, but it can serve as a canvas for so many other options.
- For a dairy free version, substitute coconut milk or coconut cream for the milk
- Use a sugar substitute in place of the regular sugar in the recipe.
- For a chocolate version, you can add cocoa powder and/or chocolate chips to the pudding.
- Mix in chopped nuts, chocolate or caramel chips, raisins, other dried fruits, or anything you'd like.
- Feel free to garnish with whatever you fancy, such as sprinkles of cinnamon, toasted coconut shavings, freshly grated nutmeg, or chopped fruit.
More Classic, Creamy Dessert Recipes to Try!
- Chocolate Pudding
- Rice Pudding
- Easy Chocolate Cream Pie
- Coconut Banana Cream Pie
- How to Make Lemon Curd
Look at the instructions on the package of tapioca that you buy. You can usually find it in the baking section of the grocery store. Some small pearl tapioca requires overnight soaking in water. If your package has that requirement, reduce the milk in the recipe to 2 1/2 cups from 3 cups.
1/2 cup small pearl tapioca (do not use instant tapioca)
3 cups whole milk (or skim milk with cream added)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cook the tapioca:
Combine tapioca, milk, and salt in 1 1/2 quart pan on medium high heat. Stir while bringing to a bare simmer. Lower the heat and cook uncovered, at the lowest possible heat, adding sugar gradually until the tapioca pearls have plumped up and thickened.
Depending on the type or brand of tapioca you are using (and if you've pre-soaked the tapioca as some brands call for), this could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes of cooking at a very low temperature.
Stir occasionally so the tapioca doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
Temper the eggs with a little hot tapioca:
Beat eggs in a separate bowl. Whisk in some of the hot tapioca very slowly to equalize the temperature of the two (to avoid curdling).
Add eggs to pan with tapioca, cool and add vanilla:
Slowly add the eggs to the tapioca in the pan. Increase the heat to medium and stir for several minutes until you get a thick pudding consistency. Do not let the mixture boil or the tapioca egg custard will curdle. Cool 15 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Serve either warm or chilled.
Note: If you want to make a more light and fluffy, but still rich, tapioca pudding, separate the eggs. Use the egg yolks to stir in first to the pan with the tapioca. Once the pudding has become nice and thick, beat the egg whites in a separate bowl to form soft peaks. Remove the pan of tapioca pudding from the heat, fold in the beaten egg whites into the pudding. Then, cool and add the vanilla.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 6g||7%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||14%|
|Total Carbohydrate 34g||12%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 23g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|