It's Just Tapioca!

With Thanks to Chez Bettay
Honestly, it won’t bite.
The stuff that children’s worst nightmares are made of, Tapioca has had a bad press almost certainly since it was first invented.
My mother refers to it as slime, frog spawn or slimy frog spawn. It is an old fashioned Tom Brown's School Days type pudding that seems to send people spiralling back into a yawning nightmarish chasm of overcooked cabbage, watered down ketchup, grey, gristly mince and teachers standing over you whilst you finished every scrap of foul tasting food.
Fortunately for me, whilst I too suffered the indignation of degrading school dinners, I wasn’t exposed to Tapioca so it has no horrible connotations for me. Therefore, I was quite excited to prepare Tapioca after seeing a delicious looking recipe in the Latin American Kitchen by Elisabeth Luard.
I have always had a rather strange desire to try these tiny, dazzlingly white spheres. I couldn’t possibly imagine what could be so disagreeable about them. What I was interested to discover was that Tapioca is not, as I originally thought, a grain, but in fact reconstituted, processed Cassava Root (and if that fact doesn't make it seem all the more appetising, then I don't know what will!). Tapioca and Cassava are extremely popular in India and Latin America where they is used as a root vegetable, thickener or served as a sweet dessert. In Taiwan, it is served in Bubble Tea, the globes of Tapioca offering a startling contrast to the tea.

The recipe in Luard’s book is called Postre de Tapioca con Coco which makes it sound infinitely more romantic and appetising than Tapioca Pudding. The little pearls are simmered gently, immersed in a creamy bath of canned Coconut Milk and Sugar and then served chilled. I altered the recipe slightly to add a slightly more exotic feel to the dish, by adding a little cinnamon, some freshly grated nutmeg, vanilla sugar and a few drops of coconut extract. I also added cream and milk to the dish and a knob of butter for added enrichment. My final South Sea-esque flourish was Mango Puree.
I was recently asked by Derek from Natco Online to sample some of their huge range of Indian ingredients (so expect more unusual ingredients as the week goes on) and Mango Puree was in the box of goodies sent over to me (thanks Derek!). I am not generally a fan of tinned fruit, with the exception of tinned plums which are great in a cake, but I was hugely impressed by the Natco Mango Puree.
I remember reading a recipe for Mango Bellinis – apparently the celebratory drink du jour – and being aghast at the price of £5.00 for the puree alone, which comes in swish silver sachets. For more than half this price, you can buy a huge tin of this slightly sweetened Mango puree, use some today, some tomorrow and freeze the rest to make a delicious sorbet. Or just eat it straight out of the tin. You can also make smoothies with it too, which is how my husband will be utilising the remaining pulp.
The Postre de Tapioca con Coco would make a fun dessert to serve at a dinner party; it would be interesting to see the general opinion of Tapioca change rapidly as they taste this heavenly concoction, which is comfortingly creamy but redolently spicy too. The Mango puree cuts through the richness perfectly, although you could use fresh mango or any other tropical fruits, pineapple, papaya, passion fruit or even some poached pears, plums or apples to make it a delicious wintry pudding.
And, because this is produced from the Cassava Root, which is from a shrub, I think it also counts as this weeks Weekend Herb Blogging entry! The root of the Cassava Plant is usually cooked up and used instead of potatoes. It is an excellent source of Calcium and Vitamin C, although it can't be consumed raw as it contains cyanide. Once cooked or processed though, it has a myriad of uses, from treating Hypertension and Irritable Bowel Syndrome to being ground into flour. The bitter Juice is turned into a thick syrup called Cassareep and the leaves are pounded up and used in meat stews (called, rather fittingly, palavers). But, until we can buy Cassava Root in its most natural form in the supermarkets over here, we must satisfy ourselves with Tapioca:

POSTRE DE TAPIOCA CON COCO adapted from Elisabeth Luards Latin American Kitchen
Serves 4
125g Tapioca
1 Can Coconut Milk
Milk and Cream to bring the total volume of the coconut milk up to 1 ½ pints
Pinch Cinnamon
Grating of Fresh Nutmeg
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Sugar (or more to taste), regular sugar is OK too
Mango Puree, I used Natcos own brand, or fruit of your choice.
In a large heavy based saucepan, pour the milk, cream and coconut milk mixture, the tapioca and the sugar. Mix well.
Add the Cinnamon and Nutmeg to taste.
Gently simmer over a very low heat for about an hour or until the Tapioca is soft to the tongue but still retains its shape.
Taste and add more sugar if required.
The original recipe suggests leaving this to chill but I preferred it warm. Serve in glasses or bowls with Mango Puree or the fruit of your choice.
Enjoy and forget all your childhood nightmares....


Patricia Scarpin said...


We eat tapioca here, too, in a dish called "sagu" - very similar to the one you made (so beautiful, love the mango combination), in whick the tapioca is served with a syrup made of wine.

Brilynn said...

I've never actually had tapioca pudding, but I love bubble tea, so I think I would like it.

My Dad has some horrible aversion to the stuff, something about him eating it everyday for a long time and then one day deciding he hated it.

wheresmymind said...

mmm...slimy frog spawn!!!

Ulrike said...

I always liked tapioka, as a child and now.

Kelly-Jane said...

I have never eaten tapioca, the idea of the little balls has put me off a bit... but your dessert looks great, and I seem to like anything with mango in it.

Susan said...

Freya, I have to admit, I am a product of bad tapioca experiences. I don't think I've touched since elementary school. But your recipe with coconut milk and mango might just convert me. I really would happily try this one! Looks and sounds great! (and trust me, I never thought I'd say that about tapioca pudding). ;)

Joyce said...

Tapioca has been a favorite since childhood - with beaten egg whites, called Spanish Cream, or with melted chocolate changing it from that pale face to a rich dark brown that just cries for whipped cream on top. But your rendition with the coconut milk and mango will soon make an appearance at my table. Thanks.

sarah said...


I love tapioca! My dad always liked it, and as a result I ended up liking it too. The mango adds a nice color too!

Melting Wok said...

freya, oo...haven't seen nancy and sluggo for a wee-while since my childhood years hahaha, that's cute !:) your mango tapioca dessert, I fix this in the summer time, it is so so soooo goood !! Isn't it great that tapioca pearls, I love the texture flirting around my mouth haha :)

Kathryn said...

Hmm. I am afraid I can't dissociate tapioca from school dinners. I very much doubt I ever ate any, but it is on the no-no list for me. That said, if I didn't know that that dessert had tapioca in, I'd dive straight in, so maybe I ought to be brave! It looks yummy. And I do love mango puree....

Kathryn x

Peabody said...

I have only had tapioca powder...I will admit I do fear it slightly.

AmandaJaney said...

Oh my goodness, that looks SO good. I remember eating tapioca as a child with a big dollop of strawberry jam in the middle but with the mango puree on top, it looks a far more grown up desert! I must give that a go.

Gattina said...

slimy frog spawn...ha! They do look alike! I love tapioca, espically the way you made it.
Excellent write-up, I enjoy reading it a lot!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I've always love tapioca pudding. Yours is really beautiful!

valentinA said...

I love your tapioca drink! We have it usually with fresh watermelon balls which we cut out from the fruit! Sounds delicious with cinnamon & nutmeg!

p.s: I hope you don't mind but I've added you to my food blog list:)

Quellia said...

That looks funky! (Good, not bad!)
I think most people who have tapioca fears are fearing the instant stuff that comes out of a box, which is NOTHING like tapioca made from real tapioca pearls!

Helene said...

I love tapioka and mango. Well just have to make sure that my kids like it.

Kalyn said...

Cute cartoon. I remember that comic strip. I confess, I've never really like tapioca, but I do like coconut milk and mango. I just might like this.