tapioca carioca

Hello, Cutie.

Put on your best bib, grab a spoon, and dig into some homemade tapioca pudding. 🙂

by Bill Batcher
I like even the word "tapioca."
It sounds like the name of a Latin dance,
the beat of the Samba underscoring
the ritual movements of some Amazonian tribe.
"Come, let's do the Tapioca."
Or it could be the local indigenous name
of a tributary of the congo
the newsman Stanley hoped would
bring him closer to Dr. Livingstone.
"This is the Tapioca, I presume."
Or even a tropical insect,
whose bite transmits a lethal disease,
while its genes contain the secret
to conquering the riddle of aging.
"Tapioca face cream, $26.59 a jar."
Yet tapioca is more than these:
A confection that puts a spring
in my step, takes my spirit
to worlds unknown, and renews my youth,
when I loved those gelatinous pearls --
even when told they were frog eyes -- the bigger, the better.

Where is it from? There's the mystery,
unlike the rice pudding they try to pawn off
on me instead.

You may remember that we are big pudding lovers in our house. Len continues to eat it with the smallest spoon he can find. He doesn’t care if it’s a doll’s spoon or a souvenir spoon from Omaha. He just wants his smooth, sweet treat to last as long as possible, tiny blob by tiny blob.

Though we’ve been known to dally with plain vanilla and chocolate pudding from time to time, tapioca remains our all time favorite. There’s just something about those bumps. And we’re happy to eat it no matter the prep method — totally from scratch using tapioca pearls (requires pre-soaking), with Minute Tapioca, or even using Jell-O™ Cook and Serve powdered mix (just add milk). Yes, it’s all good.

Since these are definitely times that try men’s souls, what better way to cope than with comfort foods — the dishes our mothers and grandmothers made that evoke fond childhood memories, making us feel safe and loved.

I admit that when my mom first made us tapioca, I was very suspicious of those “frog eyes” Batcher mentions in his poem. I soon got over that, though, and like him, have always liked the word ‘tapioca,’ since it’s fun to play with possible meanings (the word actually comes from “tipi-óka,” which translates as ‘sediment’ or ‘coagulant’ in Tupí, the language spoken by natives when the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil back in 1500).

You probably know tapioca is a starch extracted from the roots of the cassava plant, which is native to Brazil, but widely used throughout South America, the West Indies, Africa and Asia. It’s available as flour, flakes, or pearls, and though it’s mainly carbs with low nutritional value, it’s quite versatile as an ingredient in breads, snacks, bubble tea, or as a thickener in soups or desserts.

But back to the pudding. Yes, please! We must have some now. Do you like Minute Tapioca? I only learned recently that a Boston housewife invented it.

Susan Stavers, who was also a landlady, apparently served some tapioca pudding to a sailor who complained about it. He didn’t like her coarse, lumpy version, proclaiming South Seas pudding far superior.

Well, Susan wasn’t going to stand for that. Intent on a smoother, tastier pudding, in 1883 she decided to put some cassava root through her coffee grinder, producing small, translucent nodules. Her neighbors liked the pudding it made, so Susan began selling the ground stuff door-to-door in brown paper bags.

Minute Tapioca Company (Orange, Massachusetts)

In 1894, she sold the rights to her process to John Whitman, a publisher and grocer from Orange, Massachusetts. He began producing the ground cassava in an old shoe factory, first selling it as Tapioca Superlative before renaming it Minute Tapioca. He also went on to publish a book of tapioca recipes, eventually selling his Minute Tapioca business to Postum Cereal (1926), which became General Foods several years later.

Part of what makes tapioca (or any cooked pudding, for that matter), a coveted dessert is that it takes time and patience to make it on the stove — that continual stirring on medium heat till the mixture comes to a full boil, being careful not to burn the bottom. Oh, the anticipation! And if you prefer your pudding chilled, you have to refrigerate it until it’s set.

Now, after learning all about Minute Tapioca, I was all set to make some. But I couldn’t find any. Very strange, since it had always been easy to get from almost any grocery store.

Thinking it was temporarily out of stock due to the pandemic, I waited awhile. Well, after six months, still no luck — none could be found in the stores or online (unless you wanted to pay some ridiculous jacked up price).

Seems there’s a Minute Tapioca shortage right now due to a drought and yes, the pandemic, which is slowing down production.

What to do? Resourceful Mr Cornlieus suggested we try another brand — Let’s Do Organic, available at Whole Foods and several online places.

So we used the organic granules in our favorite tapioca recipe — and voilà! Delicious results!

Whether you’re able to find Minute Tapioca or not, just know that Let’s Do Organic is just as good, if not better (but don’t tell Susan Stavers or John Whitman). 😀

Don’t be surprised if after making this, you find yourself Latin dancing around the kitchen or channeling Henry Morton Stanley. Your family will love hearing you say, “This is the tapioca, I presume,” before gobbling it all up — unless like Len, they prefer to eat it with teensy spoons. 🙂

Tapioca Pudding

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print


  • 2-3/4 cups 2% reduced fat milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Minute Tapioca
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla



  1. Mix milk, sugar, tapioca and egg in medium saucepan. Let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Cook on medium heat until mixture comes to full boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, Stir in vanilla. Cool 20 minutes, stir. Serve warm or chilled (pudding thickens as it cools). For creamier pudding, place plastic wrap on surface of pudding while cooling. Stir before serving.
  3. *


    Mix milk, sugar, tapioca and egg in bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Microwave on high 10-12 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes. Stir in vanilla and cool.

~ from My Food and Family/Kraft Heinz



The wonderful and talented Buffy Silverman is hosting the Roundup at her blog. Take her a dish of pudding, dance the Carioca with her, then check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. As always, stay safe, keep strong and healthy, wear your mask, and enjoy the weekend. 🙂


*Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

33 thoughts on “tapioca carioca

  1. Oh, yes, I grew up eating this Minute Tapioca and served it occasionally to my kids, Jama, but they didn’t like it. I do keep some on hand for a few recipes that call for it for thickening. Now you’ve made me curious to see if there’s any at the store? I love hearing all the history & seeing those old ads from print sources. Happy Friday & the weekend to you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Do you think your grand girls would like it? Some are turned off by the bumpy texture. Grocery stores in our area don’t have it in stock. Places like Target or Walmart occasionally have it, but it sells out quickly (and we’re not willing to make a special trip there to get it).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve never made it for them, but they like Kozy Shack Rice & Tapioca pudding in the little cups. I think it’s good, too. Will look for the Minute Tapioca in my stores! : )


  2. What a wonderful look back into the past of childhood and tapioca pudding! I always enjoy your history backstories and what not, Jama. This is a yummy post today. I did not know that tapioca can be a thickening ingredient. I will try to find a box in my store. I am working on the first segment of my Abundant Autumn Gallery and am placing the Apple Orchard artwork and a fall picture with your lovable characters thanks to you in the gallery walk.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Looking forward to your Autumn Gallery, Carol. Yes, tapioca can be used as a thickener in place of flour or cornstarch. I’ve used it to thicken peach pie filling and it works well. 🙂


  3. You are always teaching me something new about food, Jama. And poetry! Being one who flails around my how on the regular, I really like Batcher’s line, “”Come, let’s do the Tapioca.”
    I have a funny story about tapioca – I never tried it until I met my Joe when we were teenagers. It was his favorite dessert, but my parents never served it in our house growing up. After one bite I was in love…on two levels. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow! What a rich and dreamy post, Jama. I’m not a huge fan of tapioca, except in bubble tea. (Shh… there is a make your own bubble tea kit for my kid’s holiday surprise — now I want to do some digging and find out exactly what kind of tapioca beads are in there.)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Is it possible that the lack of a spring in my step is due to never having had tapioca pudding?! At least not in my memory… and now I think I need to rectify that. Thanks for sharing all things tapioca–gonna get me some frog eyes! (But lest you think I had a deprived childhood, one of my favorite memories is stirring chocolate pudding as a special lunchtime treat, back in the day when we went bicycled home from school for a long lunch break.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Love chocolate pudding too! I’m sure you’re just imagining that lack of spring in your step — but just to be sure, do try some tapioca pudding. If you kick up your heels at its deliciousness, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t know if I ever had tapioca pudding, but now I have to try. I love rice pudding, but don’t indulge very often. Thanks for the idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You and Himself are in the same comfy foods basket – he likes this stuff hot, even. My mother ate both tapioca and rice pudding growing up, but somehow communicated the love of neither to her children, so I first tried tapioca as a grown-up married person. I like the powdered, because just having HEARD the phrase “frog eyes,” I just… could not. But, the powdered, at least, is very tasty and comforting, especially hot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL. Yes, hot/warm pudding is good too. Len loves rice pudding (something which strangely I do not like — the thought of mixing rice with milk seems to go against my Asian DNA). Glad you can tolerate the powdered — but even that has little bumps in it, doesn’t it?


    1. If you like pudding in general (esp. vanilla), you will probably like tapioca. If you’ve had bubble tea, you’ve had tapioca pearls. No flavor of its own, just texture.


  8. Wow, it has been so many years since I’ve had tapioca, but this post brings it all back. We used to have it frequently in boarding school. Of course we called it frogs’ eggs.
    Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice memory, Ruth (didn’t know you went to boarding school). It’s better not to think about frogs at all while eating tapioca pudding. 😀


  9. A nostalgia-filled post Jama! Orange Massachusetts is my hometown. My schoolbus drove past the Minute Tapioca plant every day! Tapioca was served often on our table, even though the plant had already moved to Delaware. I guess recipes persist longer than manufacturing! My mother served it warm with canned, drained mandarin oranges on top. I preferred to crush Oreos into mine for chocolatey crunch to counteract the squeaky bubbles. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that’s cool — didn’t realize Orange was your hometown. I’ll have to try the mandarin oranges on top and also crushed Oreos (like the thought of chocolate in my pudding but I kind of like chewing those squeaky bubbles).

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh, those final two photos….I have the same green glass. Well, I have two pieces of that green glass that belonged to my great-grandmother. They are special to me because they belonged to her. I accidently sold one in a yard sale and my father went to the antiques dealer that bought it and bought it back. HA! Your whole post took me back to that time and event and now I need to go write more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad your dad was able to buy it back! Mine are not antique, but they do remind me of the white milk glass bubbly dishes my grandmother used to have. You are lucky to have those heirlooms from your great-grandmother.


  11. Jama, this is absolutely my favorite pudding, maybe even dessert! I used to make Minute Tapioca with my grandmother. I didn’t know it was cassava. It was delicious, made with beaten egg white to lighten it. Thanks for this reminder to buy the organic brand,


    1. Hi Mary! Glad this post brought back a fond memory. There’s something so nostalgic about eating pudding out of a glass dish. 🙂


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