My youngest daughter, is obsessed with boba drinks and is constantly asking me to buy some. At first, I didn’t mind taking her every once in a while to buy them, but the drink mixes are often made with tons of additives, artificial flavoring, and tons of sugar…not good. Then it dawned on me…we already make our own smoothies, why not make our own tapioca balls (boba balls) and add them to our smoothies?! I can monitor what goes into the drinks and my daughter gets her boba obsession satisfied – it’s a win-win situation.
What is Tapioca Pearls or Boba Balls?
It’s kind of hard to explain, but tapioca pearls or tapioca balls (boba balls) are made from tapioca starch and are little gooey chewy balls that are tossed into milk tea or fruit slushie mixes. I know that sounds weird to “chew” your drink, but I love the chewing sensation that tapioca balls add. The balls seem to satisfy the need to chew on something and turns your drink into a mini dessert.
These drinks were supposedly invented in Taiwan and have been a popular type of drink since the 1980s. Of course, everything popular overseas eventually makes it way here and you can now buy boba drinks in almost any Asian food establishment. Although, I would highly recommend that you make your own because it’s very easy and you can control the ingredients. All you’ll need is tapioca starch/flour, boiling water, brown sugar, and a little bit of time.
How to Make Tapioca Balls Dough
7/5/2018 I made a video of making Matcha boba balls, which is basically the same, but with Matcha added. It gives a better idea of what the dough will look like.
Fair warning, this takes about 35 minutes to shape these tapioca balls and another 15-20 minutes to cook.
Step 1. Add 4-6 cups of water and 1/2 – 3/4 cup of dark brown sugar* (3/4 cup if you want it sweeter and darker in color) to a pot and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve all of the sugar. *You don’t have to add sugar, but the ball will have no flavor or color.
Step 2. Remove 1/2 cup of the hot sugar/water mixture. Make sure the water was boiling or the dough will turn into oobleck. Turn off the heat for the sugar/water mixture. Leave the pot on the stove for later.
Step 3. Add one cup of tapioca starch to a bowl with about 1/2 cup of the hot boiled sugar/water mixture (just shy of 1/2 cup). Mix until it forms a ball. The ball should hold its shape without being too sticky (It will be slightly tacky). Knead the ‘dough’ ball for a few minutes. If the mix is still too dry, add more hot sugar water, a teaspoon at a time. If the mix is too wet, add more tapioca starch.
Shaping tapioca balls
Optional – add a thin layer of tapioca flour onto a Silpat. Pull off small portions of the dough. Roll the dough into a small ball using your fingertips and the palm of your hand. Make the tapioca balls approximately 1 – 1.5 cm – the size will almost double when cooked.
You can also roll into a small mini log and cut/roll into small balls.
Cooking the Tapioca Balls
Step 1. Once all the balls are completed, bring the pot of sugar water back to a boil on high. Add the balls into the pot, cover, and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes or until the balls look transparent.
Step 2. When the tapioca balls are cooked, the color should turn from a white to translucent with a slight brown tint from the sugar. If the inside of the balls look white, add cool water into the pot and stir. The balls should turn translucent, if not, keep cooking. Once the tapioca balls are cooked to your satisfaction, dip them into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
Storing and Reheating
You should have enough tapioca balls to make 4-5 drinks. Store any leftover tapioca balls in a sealed container with new sugar/water for a day or two. If the balls turn white inside or are a bit hard after storing, just reheat in boiling water or in the microwave for a 30 seconds with some sugar water.
Tip: Uncooked rolled tapioca balls can be stored in a Ziploc bag with a paper napkin for a few days. Just make sure you let them air dry to get a little dry coat on the outside to prevent sticking before storing. I stored mine is a single layer with the tapioca balls on the napkin.
- 1 cup tapioca flour or tapioca starch
- 4 - 6 cups water
- 1/4 - 3/4 cup brown sugar (use 3/4 cup for a sweeter boba)
- cold water
- Add water and brown sugar to a pot and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve all of the sugar. Turn off the heat after you have added the 1/2 - 3/4 cup dark brown sugar in step 2 to the tapioca mix.
- In a glass bowl, add one cup of tapioca starch to a bowl. Remove almost a 1/2 cup of the hot sugar/water mixture and add it to the tapioca starch (turn heat off). The remaining water will be used to boil the tapioca balls. Stir the mix until a ball forms and begin kneading. If the dough is too sticky (dough will be slightly tacky), add more tapioca flour. If it's too dry, add more sugar/water or tapioca flour if it's too wet.
- Optional - add a very thin layer of tapioca flour onto Silpat or parchment paper. Option 1 - Pull off small portions of dough and roll it into approximately 1.5 cm balls and place on Silpat or parchment paper. Option 2 - Roll into mini logs and cut into 1/2" pieces and then roll into balls. Make the tapioca balls approximately 1.5 cm.
- Once all the balls are completed, bring the sugar water back to a boil on medium high. Add the tapioca balls to the boiling sugar water. Cover the pot and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook times will vary between 15 - 20 minutes, depending on how chewy or soft you want the tapioca balls.
- When the cook time is done, the outside of the tapioca balls will turn translucent and the inside may still look white. Don't worry, add cool water into the pot with the tapioca and sugar water and the balls will turn translucent - it's like magic!
- To stop the tapioca balls from over cooking, remove them from the boiling water and place them into a bowl of iced or cold water. Drain immediately. Store any leftover tapioca balls in a sealed container with new sugar/water for one or two days.
Boiling water must be used to form the 'dough'. Hot water from the tap or water dispenser will not do.
To store leftover boba balls, mix brown sugar with water and pour over boba balls until covered. Don't worry about exact measurements. The water just needs to be sweet and prevents the balls from drying out and sticking to each other.
Uncooked rolled tapioca balls can be stored in a Ziplock bag with a paper napkin for a few days. Just make sure you let them air dry to get a little dry coat on the outside to prevent sticking before storing. I stored mine is a single layer with the tapioca balls on the napkin.
When stored in the refrigerator, the centers of the tapioca balls may turn white and harden. Just reheat the balls for 30 seconds in the microwave in sugar water before adding to your drink.
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