Can You Eat Tapioca If You're Gluten-Free?

How to Know if Tapioca Is Safe for a Gluten-Free Diet

Tapioca

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Tapioca is gluten-free. Since it's not a grain (gluten only occurs in the grains wheat, barley, and rye), tapioca is naturally gluten-free in its pure form. However, not all brands and products with tapioca as an ingredient are safe on the gluten-free diet.

Must-Know Facts

Tapioca is not a grain at all. Instead, tapioca flour and tapioca starch are produced from the peeled roots of the tropical cassava plant, native to South America. Cassava is an important source of starch and calories for people in both South America and Africa, and is a staple food in many countries on those continents. Cuisines in southeast Asia also use pearl tapioca.

To make tapioca, food processors grind the cassava root, boil it, and then process it to extract the starch from the ground-up root. The little pearls of tapioca you find in tapioca pudding and in bubble tea are the result of this process. Tapioca starch and tapioca flour generally are the same product, they just have different names.

You cannot assume that every brand of tapioca you can buy in the store is automatically gluten-free. Companies that grind and mill tapioca also frequently grind and mill wheat, barley, and rye on the same equipment, which poses a significant risk of gluten cross-contamination for your tapioca.

Tapioca Flour and Tapioca

Tapioca flour and tapioca starch are ingredients used in many gluten-free products. You can feel confident that as an ingredient in those products, it's safe for someone who has celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Manufacturers of products labeled as gluten-free take extra steps to make sure that gluten-free ingredients like tapioca are protected. This means they're generally not processed in the same facility or on the same lines as wheat, barley, or rye grains and flours.

However, other manufacturers may not take precautions to protect those with allergies. It can be difficult to be certain what precautions they do take by reading their packaging. Many manufacturers in Asia can be offenders, although they are not the only ones.

Therefore, when buying tapioca flour or tapioca starch, you should take care to stick with companies that specifically call out their products as "gluten-free." You will find that these products are generally more expensive than the generic tapioca you may find at your local Asian market. However, your health is worth this extra measure of safety.

Brands You Can Trust

Here's a list of companies that produce gluten-free tapioca flour or starch:

  • Big River Grains: When you need baking ingredients, turn first to Big River Grains. It is a family farm in Oregon that processes only gluten-free and oat-free products. They are extraordinarily careful to keep out any trace gluten. Big River Grains offers both tapioca starch and cassava flour.
  • Bob's Red Mill: This is one of the most readily available sources of gluten-free tapioca flour you'll find. Bob's tapioca flour is tested to ensure it contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten. If you react to gluten-free oats, you should be aware that Bob's gluten-free baking products (including the tapioca flour) are processed on the same lines as the company's gluten-free oats.
  • Ener-G: Ener-G may be better known for its tapioca-based gluten-free bread products, but the company also sells pure tapioca starch. Ener-G tests its products to ensure they fall below detectable gluten levels, currently 5 parts per million (lower numbers are always better).
  • LivingNOW: NOW is best-known for its supplements. Yet, its baking ingredients—including tapioca flour—are certified gluten-free (tested to below 10 parts per million). They are produced in an allergen-free, gluten-free facility.
  • Nuts.com: Yes, Nuts.com sells nuts, but the company also sells a variety of other gluten-free products, including bulk tapioca starch in several sizes. Nuts.com is certified gluten-free, which means the tapioca starch and the retailer's other products must test below 10 parts per million of gluten.
  • Shiloh Farms: This retailer is certified gluten-free as well. Shiloh Farms sells one-pound bags of ground tapioca starch that's sourced in Thailand and processed in a gluten-free facility.

Tapioca Gluten-Free Products

Many products made with tapioca are gluten-free.

For example, Kozy Shack Tapioca Pudding, found in the refrigerated sections of most larger supermarkets, are labeled "gluten-free." Ener-G Foods makes a gluten-free tapioca bread loaf.

Gluten-free Chebe bread mixes are based on tapioca starch. Chebe's popular Original Cheese Bread was inspired by a unique Brazilian bread called pao de queijo.

However, not all products that include tapioca as an ingredient are gluten-free. Tapioca is used as an ingredient in a wide variety of gluten-containing food items, including snack foods, ice cream, and baked goods. If you see tapioca starch or tapioca flour on a label, don't assume the item is gluten-free, since many times it is not.

A Word from Verywell

Tapioca makes gluten-free baked goods moist and tastier. Many all-purpose gluten-free mixes contain tapioca, as do many ready-to-eat gluten-free bread products. Tapioca is a valuable ingredient in gluten-free baking, and it's easy to make your own delicious tapioca pudding.

You can make tapioca pearls by placing tapioca starch in a bowl and slowly adding boiling water. Form the resulting mush into balls and allow them to dry for several hours. Once you have tapioca pearls, you can make your own tapioca pudding and bubble tea.

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