At first glance, boba pearl and tapioca appear to be very different. Tapioca has a long history in old-fashioned desserts, but boba pearl is the new trend for specialty beverages. In fact, they both come from the same source: cassava root.
Tapioca is made of finely ground or pearled cassava root. The tapioca is dried and used in desserts such as pudding, or as a thickener for soups and stews.
Boba pearl is added to sweet milk tea or fruit-flavored beverages for an added texture similar to gummy bears. Boba pearl tea originated in Taiwan and is also called bubble tea or pearl tea.
Boba pearls are the size of marbles and are tan in color, while tapioca is the size of pearls and white before cooked. Both are high in calories and carbohydrates.
Tan in color, boba pearls do not develop their characteristic black color until after cooking. Many cultures use tapioca in fritters or savory dishes, not just sweet desserts.
Raw cassava root contains a form of cyanide toxin. However, processing the cassava root into tapioca and boba pearl removes this toxin.
References and ResourcesNutrition Data: Tapioca, pearl, dry
"Seattle Post intelligencer"; Bubble tea is creating quite a buzz; August 1, 2003
Ohio State University: Cassava roots source of tapioca
ResourcesBoba Tea Shop: How to prepare Tapioca Pearls for Boba Tea
New YorkTimes; "The Way We Eat; Mini-Pearl"; April 17, 2005