Dear Barbara: I think the new boba drinks are really good. They are a flavored drink similar to a smoothie, but they have tapioca in the bottom and you suck the tapioca and liquid through a straw. My question is: What exactly is tapioca, and what is it made of? — Jared from Lodi
Dear Jared: When I was growing up, tapioca pudding was like “mystery pudding.” What are those little bead things? Well, I had to do some research on that. I knew it was a starch and a thickener for pies, etc., but that was about the extent of it!
According to Encyclopedia Britannica online, tapioca is extracted from the root of the cassava plant. The root is a tuber and is used in some parts of the world very much like we use potatoes. Tapioca is available in flour form, granules, flakes and pellets (called pearl tapioca). The flour is used for thickening pies and soups. The pearl tapioca is what is in your pudding and in the bottom of your boba drink.
Personally, I still think it is a rather mysterious little chewy bead! Boba drinks are extremely popular in Asian countries, and have become quite the new trend in the United States.
Dear Barbara: I want to make a special dessert for a holiday potluck I am going to. The recipe calls for three large eggs. I always use extra large eggs. My substitution chart in my cookbook says you can substitute 21⁄2 extra large eggs for the three large eggs. Yeah, right! How do I add half of an egg? — Jenny from Galt
Dear Jenny: A lot of people stand there scratching their head on that one! The answer is so simple you are going to laugh. Add your two extra large eggs to your recipe. Break the third egg into a small bowl and lightly beat it until well mixed. Add half of the beaten egg to your recipe, and continue baking that special dessert. I’m sure it will turn out perfect!
Dear Barbara: Can “tapas” be anything, or should they be Latin-based, like Cuban or Spanish foods? — Liz from Lodi
Dear Liz: The word “tapas” originated in Spain. The story I’ve always heard is that visitors were greeted as they arrived in their carriages, with a small glass of sherry. The carriage caused so much dust that they would cover the glass with a slice of bread or cured meat, or both.
The word tapas mean “little dishes.” Basically it can be anything, but usually is a variety of small plates such as olives, cheese, breads and meats. You can make it as fancy or as simple as you like. They are served before or between meals, like snacks. I feel sure that our appetizers probably developed over the years from tapas. Dim sum would also be a good example.
I have been to a few tapas restaurants. It is a sharing and fun experience, and you can easily make a meal from tasting all the wonderful “little dishes.”
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at email@example.com. Please include your first name and city.