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! I am using brown sugar as the coloring of today’s boba pearls, so it is also brown sugar 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.

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

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.

boba pearls |chinasichuanfood.com

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 balls 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.

golden boba |chinasichuanfood.com

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 or cornstarch. However, tapioca starch is the most popular because it creates a softer and chewier boba pearl than other starches. There are also milk tea ingredients using taro or sweet potato and it is called taro balls. Check our taro balls instructions to make some at home.

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 bubble milk tea, they will absorb the flavor from the syrup and milk in 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 them is to make bubble 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 pretty 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.

Cook’s Note

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.

Ingredients

Our brown sugar 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

boba pearls |chinasichuanfood.com

How long can it keep

The cooked pearls should be used within hours. If you want to use it next time, freeze them after the shaping.

Other Flavored Boba Pears

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.

colored boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

Examples:

These boba drinks will not only look great but also taste delicious. Once this recipe succeeded, try to make them more interesting.

Even with the same ingredients, if the brown sugar is reduced. You will get lovely golden boba pearls, much lighter than regular brown sugar boba.

golden boba |chinasichuanfood.com
homemade golden boba pearls with black boba pearls

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.

Instructions

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 1/2 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.

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

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. 

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com
the dough of a boba pearls

Divide the dough into four parts and then shape one portion into a thin and long log. Cut into small cubes.

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

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.

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

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.

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

How to cook 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). 

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

Drain and mix with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar syrup or honey to avoid sticky together.

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

How to make a brown sugar boba drink| in a small pot, melt 1 slice of brown sugar slab and 1 cup of brown sugar with 100ml water in a small pot. Simmer until melted. Set aside to cool down.

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

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.

boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com
boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com
boba pearls|chinasichuanfood.com

How to Make Boba Pearls at Home

Homemade boba pearls
5 from 40 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Howto
Cuisine: Chinese
Prep Time: 1 day 40 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 393kcal

Ingredients

For boba pearls

Brown sugar syrup

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 brown sugar slab , around 70g (can be replaced by brown sugar too)
  • 100 ml water 1/3 cup + 1.5 tbsp.

Instructions

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 1/2 of the tapioca starch in and mix quickly (Count 6 to 7seconds). Turn off the fire or remove from fire and add the remaining 1/2 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.

Sugar Syrup

  • 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!

Video

Notes

Recipe firstly published in 2019 and updated with video in 2020. 

Nutrition

Calories: 393kcal | Carbohydrates: 75g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 24mg | Sodium: 120mg | Potassium: 384mg | Sugar: 58g | Vitamin A: 395IU | Calcium: 314mg | Iron: 0.6mg

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153 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Great video and directions. We made this and the boba turned out great but when it was in the pot, it was really liquid then got hard fast so I transferred to board but it wasn’t in dough form. More flat. I kneaded it and it got harder but when I cut to form into balls, some were dry and crumbly. Overall, it worked but seems some boba balls would just crumble in my hand. What could have gone wrong. So we were able to use about 90% of the dough but wondering how I could make it look smooth like yours next time! Thank you!

    1. MJ,
      If the pearls turns flat, meaning that the starch is a little bit overheated. Use a pot with lower heat storage next time and speed up the mixing process. It is ok if it becomes dry at the very end, you can get your family to help shaping the balls or wet your hand firstly before shaping into balls.

  2. I’ve tried this 4 times now and keep getting non-newtonian fluid, I have no idea what I’m doing wrong, but it always seems like I have too much liquid once I add the remaining starch and not like your video.

    1. It is not the problem of the water amount. The reason is your pot. Change a pot with lower heat storage and speed up the mixing time. If the starch is over-heated, then you get the fluid, no shape at all.

  3. Hello!
    Thank you for your recipe. I realised after my two attempts that I had the stove/pot too hot. The dough was a bit crumbly, but manageable enough to roll them into balls. However, when boiling them they become smaller and smaller, until they are completely dissolved. Some of the smaaal ones left over after 30 minutes are still the same color as the dough was, and not see-through. The water is a bit murky/brown but not any thicker or anything. Is this for the same reasons?
    Thank you!

  4. Hi there! I made this 3 times. First 2 times turned out really well. However when i made it the 3rd time, my boba gets into shape but the core of the boba is still hard even after boiling 45min. Would you know why? Could it be because i used a small pot and not enough water to boil the boba?

    Thanks

  5. i tried making this and from reading the commenfs i realized i was probably using a wrong pot. what kinds of pots have low heat storage?

    1. Sara,
      I suggest a stainless steel or enamel pot with thin bottom. By the way, if you use electric stove, remember to remove from the fire.

  6. 5 stars
    I followed the instructions exactly as written and as shown in the video and the boba came out beautifully!! This was my first attempt at making boba ever and they were delicious! I used Bob’s Red Mill Tapioca Flour. Thank you for this amazing recipe!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Antia!!! I am so happy to know it turns out so perfect for you. I can imagine how happy when the result turns out good. Happy cooking!

  7. I live alone and cannot eat all the tapioca myself. Do I store them in a airtight container before or after I boil the tapioca pearls?