Boba pearls (also known as bubble pearls, or tapioca balls ) are those super lovely chewy black balls of tapioca that you see in boba milk tea. Making boba pearls is easier than it looks – all you need are tapioca flour, water, and a few other simple ingredients. Follow this step-by-step guide to make your own boba pearls!
Caution firstly, this is a time-consuming recipe due to the long time rounding process. Make this in your leisure time for example during watching TV. To make these chewy small balls, we only need three ingredients, brown sugar or dark brown sugar, tapioca starch, and water. Sound quite easy and healthy. We are making brown sugar boba this time, once tried, you can use other color ingredients like fruit juice or mocha powder to make the boba balls colorful and appealing. But among all of the newly popular types, this one with brown sugar syrup is the most common and popular one.
Table of Contents
- What are boba pearls?
- Where does boba come from?
- What's tapioca starch
- Why use tapioca starch for boba pearls?
- Can I use other starch?
- What boba pearls taste like
- How to use boba pearls
- Is boba pears healthy?
- Cook’s Note
- How long can the pearls keep
- Coloring the boba pearls
- Are you supposed to swallow boba or chew it?
- How to cook the boba pearls - a half half method
What are boba pearls?
Boba pearls are made of tapioca starch come from cassava root (木薯). In some other cases, they are also called black pearls, tapioca pearls, or boba balls. They are the key ingredient in boba milk tea.
Dark color boba pearls are made from brown sugar or dark sugar. While there are lots of other boba pears colored by other ingredients including transparent boba, strawberry boba, and yellow colored boba.
Where does boba come from?
Boba milk tea is one of the most popular beverages now. The history of boba milk tea can be traced back to Taiwan in the 1980s when it was originally known as bubble tea. Bubble tea was created by a group of innovative Taiwanese tea shop owners who wanted to find a way to make their tea stands out from the competition. They came up with the idea of adding chewy tapioca pearls, or boba, to their tea, and the new drink quickly became a hit with customers.
Since then, bubble tea has continued to evolve, with new and creative variations being created all the time. Today, there are countless different types of boba milk tea available, from classic milk teas to fruity and flavorful blends. And there are so many ingredients that can be combined including taro balls, sago pearls, and this boba pearls.
In Chinese, milk tea with boba pearls is called "珍珠奶茶", this shows a lovely picture of pearls in the sea. Boba pearls are super small and lovely pearls that be translucent if no coloring ingredient is added. But typically they are brown or black. In this recipe, the color of dark red boba pearls is gotten by brown sugar. Sometimes, boba pearls are also called "tapioca boba pearls" in order to separate from other milk tea ingredients made from other flour like sweet potato flour and sago.
What's tapioca starch
Tapioca starch is a gluten-free starch that is extracted from the root of the cassava plant. It is often used as a thickening agent just like cornstarch, sweet potato starch, or potato starch. Tapioca starch is also known as tapioca flour or cassava starch. When cooked, it has a slightly sweet flavor and a chewy texture. Tapioca starch is high in carbohydrates and calories, but it is gluten-free and does not contain any other major nutrients. Tapioca starch can be found in most grocery stores, and it is often used in Asian cooking.
Why use tapioca starch for boba pearls?
Tapioca starch is the perfect boba pearl base because of its sticky texture and chewy consistency. When boba pearls are cooked, they absorb the liquid that they’re in and become soft and chewy because of the high content of resistant starch. The tapioca starch makes it easier for boba pearls to hold their shape while also giving them a unique texture.
Can I use other starch?
Yes, boba pearls can be made with other starches such as potato starch. However, tapioca starch is the most popular because it creates a softer and chewier boba pearl than other starches.
What boba pearls taste like
Tapioca starch is a very strong starch, so boba pearls can be a little bit chewier. They have no taste themself, just a very faint sweetness from the starch. Very faint and you can only get it if you chew boba pearls for a long time with a focus mode. In boba milk tea, boba pearls will absorb the flavor from the syrup and milk in boba milk tea and give this drink its unique texture.
How to use boba pearls
Boba pearls are usually served cold, but can also be served hot. They are often added to boba milk tea as a topping, but they can also be used in various desserts such as boba ice cream, boba yogurt, and even boba cake!
1. the most popular way of using boba pearls is to make a boba milk tea.
2. You can add it to a smoothie.
3. Boba can also be used as a decoration for cakes, ice cream, and desserts.
Is boba pears healthy?
There are lots of discussions about where milk tea is healthy and you may also wonder whether boba pears are healthy too. Boba is made from tapioca, which is a resistant starch. resistant starch is a type of carbohydrate that is not fully broken down by the body, so it has less of an impact on blood sugar levels, but it is quite hard to digest. Another risk is the coloring ingredient used by the factory. So in general, I don't think it is very healthy food.
But one advantage of making boba pearls at home is we are much safer with the ingredients used.
About the starch
1. Tapioca starch is the most commonly used option for chewy boba pearls. In Chinese, it is called "木薯淀粉". You can get it from amazon. Currently, I have never tried other types.
2. Making part of the tapioca starch gelatinization is the best way of holding all the flour together and forming a dough for further steps. I get several failure reports for this one, mainly caused by the over-gelatinization or lack of gelatinization.
If the starch is added directly to the boiling water or cold water, then we get a thing named non-Newtonian fluid and can't form a dough. So we add part of the starch for the gelatinization. However, if the starch is overheated or cooked, the pearls can't hold the round shape and chewy texture after cooking. Becomes quite soft and shapeless. So please follow the steps exactly. I highly suggest watching the video and reading the recipe before starting since we don't get too much time for thinking during the process.
Our boba pearls are made of tapioca starch, brown sugar (as a coloring), and water. Then we will coat them with brown sugar syrup to avoid stickiness.
Tapioca starch - is a gluten-free starch made from cassava root. Tapioca starch contains a large amount of resistant starch (抗性淀粉), making it the perfect ingredient for boba pearls.
Brown sugar - mainly for coloring purposes.
Water- should be cooked until boiling.
Brown sugar syrup -- to sweeten the pearls
How long can the pearls keep
The cooked pearls should be used within hours. If you want to use it next time, freeze them after the shaping.
Coloring the boba pearls
Some of the recipes may call for food coloring for example black food coloring to make the boba pearls completely black. I believe that's not so necessary. Brown sugar can give it a lovely deep brown color. But if you want to make the boba pearls more creative, there are always other options. You can use natural colors to make boba pearls in different colors. Or you can completely dismiss color ingredients and make them crystal and transparent.
Purple boba pearls with blueberry juice
Orange boba pearls with mango/papaya juice
Green boba pearls with matcha powder
These boba drinks will not only look great but also taste delicious. Once this recipe succeeded, try to make them more interesting.
Are you supposed to swallow boba or chew it?
Boba pearls are meant to be chewed and not swallowed. While boba is safe to consume, it is not good for your digestive system as it is difficult to digest. Chewing boba releases more of its flavor in the drink while also making it easier to digest.
In a small pot, slightly warm the water and dissolve brown sugar (or dark brown sugar). Let the liquid boil completely over the slowest fire. Adding a cover can help to avoid too much water loss. Add ½ of the tapioca starch in and mix well (count: 6-7 seconds). Remove from heat for the electric stove or turn off the fire, then add the remaining tapioca starch and continue mixing until gathered. Be quick during this process.
Place the remaining flour on an operation board. Transfer the smooth paste and knead it into a dough with the help of a scraper blade. At first, it might be slightly sticky. Slightly dust the board during the kneading process until it becomes smooth, not sticky anymore but still soft.
Divide the dough into four parts and then shape one portion into a thin and long log. Cut into small cubes.
Round each small square into small balls (be patient and do not require perfect roundness). You can simply skip this process and save yourself lots of time if you get no requirement for the shape. Longer shaping will make the balls more stable after being boiled.
On a large plate, spread some flour and coat each ball with enough flour to avoid sticking to each other. Then shift the extra starch off. You can now package them in air-tight bags and freeze them for later use.
How to cook the boba pearls - a half half method
Bring a large pot of water (at least 6 times the volume of the pearls) and cook the pears for 20 to 30 minutes. Then cover the lid and let it stay for 20 to 30 minutes. Then transfer the balls into cold water (they shrink to their original size immediately).
Drain and mix with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar syrup or honey to avoid sticky together.
How to make a brown sugar boba drink| in a small pot, melt 1 slice of brown sugar slab and 1cup of brown sugar with 100ml water in a small pot. Simmer until melted. Set aside to cool down.
How to assemble a brown sugar boba drink| drizzle some brown sugar syrup in the serving cup, and rotate the cup so the syrup can form marbles on the cup wall. Place boba pearls in. Pour in milk. Shake or stir before enjoying.
How to Make Boba Pearls at Home
For boba pearls
- 1 cup around 135g tapioca starch , + 2 tbsp. more for adjusting and coating
- 6 tbsp. water 90ml
- 60 g brown sugar
Brown sugar syrup
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 brown sugar slab , around 70g (can be replaced by brown sugar too)
- 100 ml water ⅓ cup + 1.5 tbsp.
Make boba pearls
- In a small pot, slightly heat the water and dissolve brown sugar over slowest fire (to avoid too much water lost). Make sure the sugar is dissolved. Heat the liquid to a boiling and then use slowest fire. Now, add ½ of the tapioca starch in and mix quickly (Count 6 to 7seconds). Turn off the fire or remove from fire and add the remaining ½ of the tapioca starch. Mix until gathered. Quick during the process.
- Place the remaining flour on an operation board. Transfer the smooth paste in and knead into a dough with the help of a scraper blade. At first, it might be slightly sticky. Continue kneading until smooth. Be quick during the process. The dough becomes hard to control when cool down completely.
- Divide the dough into 4 portions. Remember to cover the other three with plastic bag. Then shape one portion into a long log (around 1.5 cm in diameter), cut the log into small cubes.
- Round each small squares to small balls (be patient and do not require prefect roundness).
- In a large plate, spread some flour and coat each ball with enough flour to avoid sticking to each other. After finish all of the pearls, shift the extra flour off. You can now package in air-tight bags and freeze for later use.
- In a small pot, melt 2 slices of brown sugar slab and 1cup brown sugar with 100ml water in a small pot. Heat until there are large bubbles. Or you can simply use brown sugar syrup.
How to cook the boba pearls
- Bring a large pot of water (at least 6 times of the volume of the pearls) and cook the pears for 20 to 30 minutes. Then transfer the balls into a cold water (they shrink to original size immediately). Wash under running water. Drain and mix with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar syrup or honey (or sugar) to avoid sticky together.
- Now, make your creations and make lovely boba drinks!
Is it possible to substitute the tapioca starch with another ingredient?
You can try sweet potato starch. But the texture will be less chewier.
Thank you so much for such an informative text and video.
I tried your recipe and it was perfect even on the first try.
Is there anyway to make this recipe with four times the amount as your stated recipe?
Thanks so much for your lovely feedback.
I recommend you making small dough once because the texture changes very quickly. The dough will dry very quickly unless you get helper to shape them. But you can try to double the ingredients. 4 times seems too much!
If I do a small batch (1/3 of the recipe) for how long I should cook them? The same time, 20 min?
Yes. No matter how much you cook, the process is the same.
This recipe is fantastic!
I made mango boba, substituting mango juice and reducing the amount of brown sugar. I've made boba before, but the fruit ones always turned out weird texturally. These however, were great. I will say my boiling water got a little thick in the middle and I had to switch it out, but it could be because I always use less water than recommended.
I had mine with mango juice. I will definitely be using this again in the future.
Keep in mind:
The dough may initially be very uneven or not clumped together. Do not worry! Knead it and it'll work out.
The boba will harden when it cools. Warm, mine were quite puffy and not firm enough, but 20 mins was just enough time for it to cool to a perfect texture!
Thanks, Paige for such a lovely comment and your tips about the dough and the cooking time.
How do you make flavored pearls? When do you add flavoring and in what form, liquid, powder?
Do you mean add flavors to the pearl itself? Sure you can use flavored liquid like passion fruit or grape etc. I recommend trying liquid rather than powder.
This recipe sounds like it will certainly bring success.
I have tried many times boiling the dried pearls purchased at market and they never turn out well. Some turn to total mush while the others - in the same batch of boiling water, from the same bag of pearls, at the same time - have a dry poof of powder on the inside -ugh!
It is not difficult to make boba pearls at home. But you may need some time for shaping. Go ahead and try it. You can start with a smaller batch which will not use too much time.
This is great! Any tips on how you know the pearls are done cooking? 20-30 mins is a wide range and I have trouble telling sometimes.
The pearls should be cooked for at least 20 minutes when they are almost transparent and chewable. You can take one out and watch. Then turn off the fire and cover to rest until they are totally cooked. If the pearls are in larger shape, then you may need to cook them for 30 minutes. I hope I get myself well explained. Happy cooking!
Pls clarify starch/water ratio for 1x recipe. Starch 135gm to 6tbsp water? Seems too much starch for quantity of water. 2x is same 135 starch/12 water. 3x is same 135 gm starch to 18 ml water. Watched video & water/starch ratio looks balanced. Please provide correct starch measurements
Your response would be greatly appreciated. My grandkids would luv this. Intrigued w/ your take on natural flavoring. Will also try these. Kindly provide measurement accdg to your base recipe.
Can I dry these instead of freeze?
This did not work for me the two times i tried to make it. Whenever I got to the part of combining the tapioca flour, it once turned into oobleck and then at another point it was just runny.
You re-heat it on a stove, Amanda. The temperature is not high enough.