Tropical Tapioca Pudding, the Best ‘Peasant Food’

This tapioca dessert is deceptively filling.  (Image: Flickr)
This tapioca dessert is deceptively filling. (Image: Flickr)

For a snack that satisfies, you can’t go by a sweet and creamy tapioca pudding. This recipe combines the fortifying quality of jel-like tapioca pearls with the aromatic flavor of star anise, and other tropical delights—coconut and banana—to create an unctuous dessert with a distinctive tropical appeal.

Tapioca, a peasant food savoured by young and old

Tapioca pearls are made from the Cassava root, which originally came from South America. Spanish explorers took them back to Europe, where they continued to spread throughout the West Indies, India, Africa, and Asia.

Cassava roots, straight from the ground (Image:wikimedia.commons)

Cassava roots, straight from the ground (Image:wikimedia.commons)

Today, cassava and processed tapioca are a readily available food used throughout developing nations due to their high energy, low cost, and their ability to grow well in poor, low nutrient soils. When you look at their history and attributes, they really are the perfect peasant food.

Tapioca pudding is a simple and hearty peasant food at it’s best; it sticks to your ribs, and satisfies your sweet craving.

Healthy benefits

The nutrients present in cooked tapioca include minerals, such as iron, manganese, copper, calcium and selenium. As well as vitamin B complex, including folate. For this reason, it is a good food for expecting and breast feeding mothers.

Being rich in carbohydrates, it’s an ideal food for active, busy, and slim-built people who have trouble keeping weight on. It can be offered to undernourished people, such as those who have eating disorders, or working in physically demanding roles, such as athletes. Those who are at the opposite end of the weight spectrum can enjoy tapioca in smaller amounts.

Processed, uncooked tapioca pearls (Image:jshontz/Flickr)

Processed, uncooked tapioca pearls. (Image: jshontz/Flickr)

In Ayurvedic medicine, Tapioca is recognized for building muscle and bone strength and flexibility, as it contains protein, vitamin K, and calcium.

The gel balls in your pearl tea is tapioca (Image:Flickr)

The gel balls in your pearl tea is tapioca. (Image: Flickr)

Seen as a very nourishing food, tapioca helps to combat fatigue and build a persons strength after illness.

Tapioca, or Subudana, is a staple in Indian cuisine. More health benefits are discussed in this video.

Tropical pudding recipe

In keeping with the theme of cassava, which in it’s long life has traveled through much of the tropics, this recipe uses coconut and banana to combine both the creaminess with the texture of roast coconut and sesame. Like imitation banana, the turmeric gives the pudding a yellow hue.


  • 3/4 cup tapioca pearls
  • 1 large pot containing 1/2 cup water and 1 cup coconut milk, milk, or milk substitute, to cook tapioca pearls in.
  • half cup water in small saucepan for spices and sugar
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar or honey
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • 1 cup coconut milk, milk, or milk substitute
  • 3 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 3 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder (with a pinch of black pepper)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 2 whole bananas mashed


  • Bring half cup water and 1 cup of milk to a boil in a large pot. Add tapioca and stir occasionally to prevent sticking—stirring too vigorously will break up the pearls. Cook approximately 15 mins, until pearls are completely clear, and no white remains. Add more water or milk if the mixture becomes too thick.
  • Once cooked, add coconut oil, mashed banana, or other fruit of your fancy.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup of water in small saucepan. Add star anise, other spices, and sugar, until dissolved. Simmer gently for 10 minutes until liquid becomes syrupy.
  • Pour sugar syrup into pot containing tapioca, and mix well. Check the sweetness, adding more sugar according to your taste.
  • Divide mixture into 4 small bowls, put into the fridge to set.
  • Before serving, place sesame and desiccated coconut into a warm pan and gently roast until it is golden brown. Sprinkle over cool pudding—it will crackle softly. Enjoy.

You can adapt this recipe to use other fruits such as mango, berries, apple, and sultana, or apricot. Why not make it for a school or work snack, instead of yogurt?

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