Tapioca an Alternative to Wheat Flour
See full article by Dr Axe
With the rise in popularity of gluten-free baking in recent years, tapioca flour has become a staple for many people. Because cassava roots, from which tapioca is derived, are naturally very high in carbohydrates, tapioca starch is able to be extracted and made into gluten-free flour or “pearls.” These are used as a thickening agent in various kinds of foods or recipes — everything from pizza dough to pie filling.
Tapioca tastes mild and slightly sweet and is one of the purest forms of starch there is. Besides carbs/starch, it’s very low in other macronutrients or micronutrients (like protein, fats, and most vitamins and minerals). However, it’s totally gluten-free, low in calories and free from sugar — so it’s still overall useful in healthy, gluten-free cooking or baking, much like cassava flour.
Tapioca Flour Nutrition Facts and Benefits
Tapioca is a type of starch extract that’s derived from the starchy vegetable called cassava root (Manihot esculenta). Today cassava, also sometimes called yuca root, is mostly grown in parts of Africa, Asia and South America, and the entire cassava plant is considered an important staple crop that supplies millions of people with a significant portion of their daily calories. (1)
So what does the nutritional makeup of tapioca flour look like? A quarter cup serving of tapioca flour has about: (2)
26 grams of carbohydrates
close to zero sugar, fat and protein
Tapioca is made up of almost all carbohydrates and is very low in all types of fats, sugar, fiber, protein, sodium, and essential vitamins or minerals. You might be wondering, then why use it?
While tapioca flour, pearls or other products won’t provide you with many essential nutrients, using tapioca makes it possible to recreate recipes like mouses, puddings, yogurts, jello, sauces, crock-pot recipes and more without the use of regular all-purpose flour or other highly processed ingredients (like high fructose corn syrup). In some parts of the world, tapioca flour is even used to make flatbread, crusts, cakes, cookies, chips, tortillas, and a milky-white liquid that’s similar to coconut or dairy milk.
If you have an allergy to nuts, coconut, other gluten-free grains, and you follow a low FODMAP diet or gluten-free diet, then you’ll discover that tapioca really comes in handy.
Some of the benefits of using tapioca flour or other forms when cooking or baking include:
1. It’s Gluten-Free, Grain-Free and Nut-Free
There’s a reason people following the paleo diet, FODMAP diet or autoimmune protocol diet love using tapioca: It’s totally grain-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegan, seed-free, gluten-free and practically sugar-free! Products made from cassava are easy to digest and often recommended for people with digestive issues like celiac disease, gluten intolerance, nut or seed allergies, diverticulitis, IBS, or IBD.
Tapioca flour is an alternative to traditional wheat flours, all-purpose flour or even nut-based flours like almond meal. It has a variety of uses in healthy baking, without adding unwanted gluten or other ingredients. Tapioca can usually be consumed by people with sensitive digestive systems or those who have a hard time eating other flours. It’s even safe for those following a moderate form of the autoimmune protocol diet, which limits many sources of carbohydrates (like some fruits and most grains and dairy).
2. Low in Calories, Sugar and Fat
Tapioca has more carbohydrates and water proportionally than many other gluten-free flours, including buckwheat, teff, rice, corn, garbanzo, almond and coconut flour. (4) Because it has very little protein, sugar or fat, it’s low in calories and can be used in many healthy recipes if you’re watching your weight.
Using tapioca in recipes can be a great way to reduce the use of butter, oil, cream or dairy. It’s suitable for people on a low-calorie diet, those with diabetes, high blood pressure symptoms, high cholesterol, allergies and digestive issues.
3. Binds and Thickens Recipes
Compared to many other flours, tapioca absorbs and retains a higher water content, which means it does a great job of binding, thickening and moistening recipes. While gluten-free baking can sometimes be hard without the sticky and bouncy quality of gluten protein (found in wheat, rye and barley flours), adding some tapioca flour can help keep recipes from crumbling and getting too dry. It won’t rise like yeast, which means it’s not always a success when using it to make breads or cakes, but it tends to help hold recipes together better than almond, garbanzo or coconut flour.