If you are looking for gluten-free flour for all your recipes, look no further. Tapioca flour is becoming immensely popular as a healthy, gluten-free substitute for white flour.
Tapioca flour can be used in the same way that you would use regular flour – by mixing it into baked goods or adding it as a thickening agent to sauces.
However, tapioca products might get a little confusing when you start reading things like tapioca starch vs tapioca flour.
You might be wondering, are they the same thing? What’s the difference between tapioca products? The discussion can get even more complicated when you read that ingredients like cassava flour and cornstarch are involved too.
To give you an easy answer to all of your tapioca-related questions, here is a comprehensive guide to tapioca starch vs tapioca flour.
Table of Contents
What is Tapioca Flour?
If you want to know what tapioca flour is, you need to understand how it is made. Tapioca flour is made using the starchy pulp of the cassava root.
This shrub is native to parts of South America and the Caribbean. Nowadays, the cassava root is being found in more and more places which can be attributed to the popularity of tapioca flour.
In terms of texture, tapioca flour is a very fine, white-colored powder. This quality makes tapioca flour a great substitute for regular flour in baking and cooking.
You can even use it as a replacement for cornstarch in recipes for pies, pudding, sough, and sauces. When you bake with tapioca flour, you will notice a crisp outer crust with a chewy inner texture.
The Cassava Root
Now that you know tapioca flour comes from the cassava root, you should know that there is another product that also comes from the same woody shrub: cassava flour.
Many people confuse tapioca flour and cassava flour as the same thing, but they are actually very different after all. Like we explained, tapioca flour is made using the starchy pulp of the cassava root only. Cassava flour, on the other hand, makes use of the entire root.
Not only is the cassava root used for cassava flour, but it is also consumed whole or grated to add to various different recipes.
Apart from eating it raw, the cassava root can be eaten in any other way that you like. Cooking the cassava root is a great way to substitute regular flour as the root is both gluten-free and nut-free.
Making Tapioca Flour
If you are wondering how a fine-textured flour is made from a starchy root, then we are happy to explain the entire process to you. To make tapioca flour, the cassava root is peeled off, washed, and shredded finely.
As a result, you get pulp from the cassava root. This pulp is further washed and spun until only pure starch and water is left. The water is drained out, and the starch is dried. When all of the moisture has left the starch, you are left with what we know as tapioca flour.
Tapioca Starch vs Tapioca Flour: What’s the Difference?
Now that you know how tapioca flour is made, you must have noticed that it is the starch that is dried. Does this mean that tapioca starch and tapioca flour are the same things?
Technically, the answer is yes. The reason why tapioca starch and tapioca flour are used as two different terms is because of the producers in different areas of the world.
Most US-based producers tend to label their product as tapioca flour, whereas Asian producers like to call it tapioca starch. Perhaps this is because US consumers want to use tapioca flour as a substitute for white flour in gluten-free baking.
On the contrary, Asian consumers want to use tapioca starch in their soups and sauces. Due to this different usage of the same product, we have two different names and types of packaging.
In simple words, there is not much difference between tapioca flour and tapioca starch. Both can be used interchangeably to keep your recipe gluten-free and nut-free.
Modified Tapioca Starch
The discussion about tapioca flour and tapioca starch might become a little complicated when you consider modified tapioca starch.
Remember that the term ‘modified’ often refers to heavily processed. If you find modified tapioca starch on the shelves of your grocery store, you should know that it is not the same thing as tapioca flour.
This is a more processed and refined form of tapioca starch and should not be used in the same way as tapioca flour.
However, even modified tapioca starch is gluten-free, so you can easily use it even if you have certain dietary restrictions.
Cassava Flour vs Tapioca Starch vs Tapioca Flour
At this point, you should know that tapioca starch and tapioca flour are essentially the same product. It is made from the starchy pulp of the cassava root, not the whole shrub itself.
However, there is another product in the market that is very similar to tapioca starch and tapioca flour: cassava flour. As we explained earlier, the cassava flour is made using the entire cassava root of the woody shrub.
Cassava flour is often sold to cater to the Caribbean and South American consumers who use this ingredient in a wide range of recipes. For the rest of us, maybe it is best that we stick to regular tapioca flour or tapioca starch.
While tapioca starch/flour is made by taking out the pulp from the starchy cassava root and drying it, the entire process of making cassava flour is very different. The root is peeled completely and left out to dry.
Once there is no more moisture left on the root, it is finely grounded. No part of the root is left behind, which means that the flour created from the entire cassava root contains a lot more nutritional fibers. While it is poisonous to consume the raw cassava root, the cassava flour extracted from it is completely safe to eat.
In some recipes, using cassava flour might be a better idea than tapioca flour. For example, making rich tortillas with tapioca flour might not be a good idea because your dough will not be rich enough. In this case, you need high-fiber flour such as cassava flour.
Remember that substituting between different kinds of flours can be a complicated process, so you should always consult a professional chef before making any variations to a recipe.
Uses of Tapioca Flour and Tapioca Starch
Tapioca flour can be used as a great substitute for white flour in all of your baking recipes. If you are making pudding or cookie dough, then using tapioca flour gives you a gluten-free treat to enjoy.
With tapioca flour, you will not have to compromise on the texture as it gives you the same crispy crust and chewy center as your typical white flour.
If you are making sauce, soup, or gravy, then tapioca starch can be a great gluten-free substitute for cornstarch. It has the same thickening properties as regular cornstarch and is actually better than alternatives like arrowroot starch or potato starch.
Here are a few popular uses of tapioca flour/starch in both cooking and baking:
1. Thickening Agent
When you add tapioca starch to liquid-based batters, you can use it as a thickening agent. This means that tapioca starch is the perfect substitute for cornstarch in recipes such as soup, pudding, or even homemade sauces.
Instead of your typical cornstarch slurry, you can use a tapioca starch slurry instead. Tapioca starch is great for many different recipes because it retains consistency despite being frozen or thawed.
Even if you freeze your pudding and thaw it later, using tapioca starch means that it will remain creamy and delicious throughout.
2. Bubble Tea
If you keep up with the latest trends, you might have noticed the rising popularity of bubble tea. The entire hype behind bubble tea is based on the tapioca pearls that are added to flavored teas to create a rich and creamy drink.
These chewy pearls are made using tapioca flour, and the best part is that you can even make them at home. All you need to do is mix the tapioca flour with hot water to form a dough, and then shape it into small balls.
Put the balls into boiling water and voila, you have beautiful little tapioca pearls. Feel free to create your own bubble tea drinks at home by experimenting with tapioca pearls in recipes like matcha bubble tea or berry bubble tea.
When you use tapioca flour as a substitute for regular flour, you can enjoy airy and fluffy baked goods. Whether you use tapioca flour to make cookies, waffles, or pie dough, you will never regret switching to this gluten-free, healthy alternative.
Since tapioca flour/starch has no specific odor or taste, it can be added to a variety of recipes without worrying about the consequence.
For sweet and savory dishes alike, tapioca flour/starch is a perfect way to make your favorite dishes gluten-free.