Bubble tea, also lovingly known as boba, has transformed from a local Taiwanese treat to a global popularity. Central to this delicious beverage is the presence of boba pearls and other toppings.
One of the reason why bubble tea becomes extremely popular is also because of the variations of these iconic pearls. From the traditional black tapioca pearls to popping fruit boba, even grass jelly, aloe vera, almond jelly, and even Oreo cookies are now available as add-ins, in addition to tapioca balls. Let’s find out the different types of boba pearls available today in bubble tea shops.
Tapioca pearls – Regular boba pearls
Tapioca pearls are believed to be the heart and soul of classic milk teas. Plain boba pearls, also known as tapioca pearls, are round, small, chewy balls that are originally added to bubble tea, but also as topping for tarts and desserts now.
Those round pearls are from tapioca starch of cassava root. This starch is naturally gluten free and vegan friendly.
The magic of boba lies in its unique, gummy texture. It’s chewy, yet not sticky, offering a delightful contrast to the smoothness of the tea.
Types of tapioca boba pearls
Tapioca boba pearls can be flavored with lots of other ingredients like brown sugar, white sugar, mango puree, passion fruit, strawberry and matcha powder. The combined ingredients can both influence the taste and color.
White Boba Pearls , the sago pearls
At its core, boba pearls are clear because they are made from only two ingredients: tapioca starch and water. Since both are clear, the output is likewise clear. Hence we have our first variety, unflavored and clear boba pearls. The uncooked white boba pearls have a lovely white color which will disappear after cooking.
While clear boba pearls are commonly categorized as plain tapioca pearls, in the boba world, they’re usually sweetened by adding white sugar in the preparation or soaking them in sugar syrup or honey. Sometimes white boba pearls are labeled as sago pearls.
Brown Sugar Boba Pearls
Brown sugar Boba Pearls are the most popular and classic boba pearls. It is delightfully sweet and highly addictive. They start with clear boba pearls. With the addition of brown sugar to achieve the color. It’s meant as an intentional contrast to the aesthetic of bubble tea – a light brown liquid and dark brown pearls.
Sometimes dark food coloring is added to the dough and turns it black.
Mango Boba Pearls – yellow boba pearls
Mango boba pearls are made from tapioca starch, mango, sugar, and water. It has a lovely yellow color from mango. Check homemade mango boba pearls to make it at home.
Homemade boba pearls have a very strong aroma of mango and it is one of my top choice for colored boba pearls. Try it yourself.
Strawberry boba pearls
Strawberry boba pearls are made from tapioca starch, strawberry, sugar, and water. It has a lovely pink color from strawberry with a lovely faint fruit flavor. The uncooked strawberry boba pearls have a lovely pink color but cooked have a much deeper color similar to the raw strawberry.
Matcha boba pearls
Matcha boba pearls is is made from tapioca starch, matcha powder, sugar, and water. It has a lovely green color from matcha with a very faint earthy, grassy, and slightly bitter taste from matcha powder. We have a detailed guide about this type here.
Lychee boba pearls
Lychee boba pearls is is made from tapioca starch, fresh lychee, sugar, and water. It has a lovely white and transparent color with a lychee-flavored taste. Want to make some lychee boba at home when lychee is in season, check this post.
Instead of using white sugar, honey boba is a type of boba pearl that is sweetened with honey. Honey will give those boba pearls a very light yellow color.
Golden boba has a lovely golden color, which might come from brown sugar, Chinese slab sugar, or food coloring.
Passion fruit boba pearls
Passion fruit boba pearls encapsulate the tropical tanginess of the fruit itself, juxtaposed beautifully with the sweetness of the syrup.
Depending on how they’re made, some passion fruit boba pearls might contain bits of real fruit pulp, adding an element of surprise and an extra layer of texture.
While they still possess a certain chewiness, passion fruit boba pearls might be a tad softer and less gummy than traditional boba because of the fiber content.
Dragon fruit boba pearls
Unlike its dramatic appearance, dragon fruit has a comparatively mellow flavor, often described as a fusion between a kiwi and a pear. This nuanced taste translates to its boba pearls, making them perfect for those who prefer a less overpowering sweetness.
If made with real fruit pulp, dragon fruit boba pearls might surprise drinkers with tiny, crunchy seeds, echoing the texture of the fruit itself. These seeds not only provide a fun texture but also a boost in nutrients.
They are many types of bursting boba, the most common types including fruit-based ones like mango, strawberries, red beans, lychee, blueberry, passion fruit, and many others.
What’s Crystal Boba (agar boba )
Another large group is crystal boba (agar boba). Unlike regular boba pearls made from tapioca starch, crystal boba is made from agar or konjac powder.
This group of boba is translucent and less chewy than regular boba pearls, having the texture of a firm jelly. They can also be flavored like boba pearls, but the most notable feature is that they contain significantly fewer calories than tapioca pearls, making them a good option if you’re looking for healthier alternatives.
Agar crystal boba
Agar, a gelatinous substance derived from red algae or seaweed, has been a staple in many Asian kitchens for centuries. Recognized for its ability to create a gel-like consistency without any animal derivatives, agar became a fitting ingredient to introduce a new variant of boba that catered to both vegans and those looking for a slightly different mouthfeel.
Konjac crystal boba
In recent years, another ingredient has entered the crystal boba scene: Konjac powder. Extracted from the root of the konjac plant, this substance has been utilized in Asian cuisine for its gelling properties, notably in the creation of jellies and noodles. Crystal boba made from konjac offers yet another texture, much more transparent than agar crystal boba pearls.
Key features of crystal boba
1. Transparent Appearance:
Unlike the opaque black or brown tapioca pearls, crystal boba is almost see-through, sometimes with a slight golden or rosy tint depending on the syrup or flavoring used. This translucency adds a unique visual appeal to beverages, making them look more refreshing and intriguing.
2. Distinct Texture:
Crystal boba offers a firmer, crisper bite compared to the soft chewiness of traditional tapioca pearls. Whether made from agar or konjac, they provide a unique sensory experience — with konjac-based boba being slightly more elastic and bouncy.
3. Neutral Base with Versatile Flavoring:
Both agar and konjac are relatively tasteless, allowing crystal boba to be a blank canvas for various flavor infusions. While they’re typically soaked in a light syrup to add sweetness, they can also be infused with floral essences like rose or jasmine, or fruit flavors like lychee or peach, offering a burst of flavor with every sip.
For those who adhere to a vegan lifestyle, crystal boba is a boon. Both agar and konjac are plant-derived, sidestepping the ethical concerns associated with animal-derived gelatin, which is often used in jellies and other gel-based food items.
5. Lower in Calories:
While still a treat, crystal boba tends to have fewer calories than traditional tapioca pearls. The absence of starch and the lighter syrup soak can make it a slightly healthier choice for calorie-conscious consumers.
As bubble tea continues to evolve, crystal boba has seen a surge in popularity, especially in regions and among populations that appreciate its distinct texture, vegan composition, and the dual options of agar and konjac. Moreover, the aesthetic appeal of these pearls, reminiscent of crystal beads floating in a drink, has made them an Instagram favorite, further propelling their demand.
Popping Boba- bursting boba
In addition to boba pearls made with tapioca starch, there are other types of boba pearls. One group is popping boba. Also known as popping pearls, bursting boba, bursting bubbles, juice balls, or popping bubbles, popping boba is an exciting bubble tea topping that, literally, bursts in your mouth! They are liquid-filled bubbles of fruit-flavored juices that pop in your mouth when consumed and your mouth is left with fruity deliciousness.
Unlike traditional tapioca pearls or the fruit-based boba we’ve explored so far, popping boba stands apart due to its unique structure and composition. It’s essentially a small, gel-like sphere filled with flavored liquid. When bitten into, it pops, releasing a burst of flavor into your mouth.
The Making of Popping Boba:
Popping boba is crafted using a process called spherification. Here’s a brief overview:
- A flavorful liquid (like fruit juice) is mixed with a calcium solution.
- This mixture is then dripped into a bath containing sodium alginate, which causes a gel-like skin to form around the droplets, encapsulating the liquid inside.
- The result is a delicate sphere that retains the liquid until pressure is applied, causing it to burst.
Popping boba, with its innovative structure and dynamic flavor delivery, has truly revolutionized the world of culinary toppings. Its ability to inject fun and a burst of taste into every bite or sip has endeared it to both the young and the young-at-heart. If you’re seeking an elevated, playful, and memorable drinking or dining experience, popping boba promises to deliver in the most delightful way.
How to choose the type of boba pearls for your bubble drink
With the plethora of boba types available, picking the perfect one for your drink might seem like a daunting task. Whether you’re a bubble tea enthusiast aiming to craft the ultimate concoction at home or a newbie stepping into the vibrant world of this beverage, making the right choice can elevate your experience. Let’s help you navigate through this myriad of options.
1. Understand Your Flavor Profile
Before delving into the specifics, introspect on what you truly crave.
- Sweet or Subtle: If you’re seeking a sweet treat, all types fill your need.
- Fruity or Creamy: For a fruity burst, passion fruit, dragon fruit, or popping boba in fruit flavors are ideal. For a creamy drink, traditional boba might complement it best.
2. Texture Matters
The ‘mouthfeel’ or texture plays a pivotal role in the bubble tea experience.
- Chewy: If you love spending time chewing on your pearls, traditional tapioca boba is your go-to.
- Soft & Bursty: For a softer touch with a surprise element, popping boba is perfect.
- Firmer and bunchy: for a firmer, crisper and bunchy texture, choose crystal boba.
3. Visual Appeal
If you look for good looking bubble drinks, all types of crystal boba and popping boba are better then traditional tapioca boba.
4. Nutritional Considerations
If you’re health-conscious, it’s worth looking into the nutritional content. Traditional tapioca boba, especially when soaked in syrup, tends to be higher in calories. On the other hand, fruit-based bobas like crystal boba and popping boba be a tad lighter.
Crystal Boba VS Boba Pearls
So what’s the difference between the two? Well, there are a few important ones.
- Ingredients difference: the first is in their base ingredient. Regular boba pearls come from tapioca root starch while crystal boba comes from the glucomannan in the konjac plant or agar.
- Preparation needed: preparation for store-bought sinkers also differs. Regular boba pearls need cooking before immersing in a sweet syrup. Whereas ready-to-eat, crystal boba is pre-soaked in syrup and doesn’t need any cooking.
- Storage time: Reader to serve cooked boba pearls will turn hard fast while crystal boba may stay soft the whole day. Crystal boba becomes firmer and bouncier after soaking in the liquid over time. Crystal boba also retains flavor longer even when added to a drink. In contrast, tapioca pearls firm up and begin to impart their flavor to the drink.
- Taste difference: Crystal boba is softer and chewier than regular boba pearls.
- Shape difference: boba pearls are also generally spherical, whereas crystal boba may be more free-form.
Is Crystal Boba a Healthier choice
Crystal boba is considerably healthier than boba pearls and other sinkers. Compared to boba pearls, it is lower in calories.
Boba pearls are cholesterol-free, fat-free, and gluten-free but it doesn’t provide any real health benefits. Yes, that’s correct. Let’s look at the table below:
|Tapioca Pearls, dry, 100g.||Crystal Boba, 100g.|
|Calories||358 calories||70 calories|
Crystal boba is the obvious winner with lower calories and less carbohydrates than boba pearls. The lower caloric density of crystal boba is friendlier on our waistlines.
But boba pearls have lower sugar, and crystal boba weighs in at 11.2 g of sugar. But, tapioca pearls still need sugar.
In terms of weight loss, crystal boba seems far healthier than regular tapioca pearls. Furthermore, for those with severe digestive difficulties, root vegetable or latex allergies, tapioca starch may be more difficult to deal with.
For the sugar content, it is quite hard to define. Although boba pearls contain less sugar they needed to be soaked up in syrup. This will also increase the sugar level. Crystal boba is only slightly sweet and doesn’t need to soak in the syrup.
Popping Boba vs. Regular Boba Pearls
Is there a difference between regular boba pearls and popping boba? These two bubble tea sinkers are both round but that’s all that they have in common.
Ingredients difference: popping boba is mostly liquid mixed with the seaweed extract sodium alginate. Regular boba pearls are made of tapioca starch.
Size and shape difference: popping boba is smaller in size and has a different texture than boba pearls. Popping boba are translucent, gel-like spheres filled with fruit juice or flavored syrup. Boba pearls are bouncy, chewy tapioca spheres soaked in syrup.F
Flavor also differs. Popping boba comes in a variety of flavors and colors. While regular boba is typically brown or black depending on the sweetener used.
Sweetener difference: Regular boba pearls are also sweet due to the sweetener. Whereas popping boba is sweet due to fruits or sugary beverages.
Popping boba is ready to eat, while boba pearls needed to be cooked before use.
Popping Boba vs. Crystal Boba
Store-bought popping and crystal boba are both pre-soaked in sweet syrup and do not need cooking. They’re ready to be mixed in boba tea or other desserts. Both popping boba and crystal boba has lots of flavors and taste.
These two are quite similar to each other and thus you may wondering about the difference and how to distinguish them.
Crystal boba has a harder, more jelly-like chew to it.
While popping boba has a thin, gel-like outer layer that bursts open when bitten and then fills your mouth with fruity sweetness.
Popping boba has a spherical and smooth appearance. Whereas crystal boba has a more uneven form and a slightly translucent appearance.
We have covered almost everything about boba pearls in this one, from tapioca boba pearls to crystal boba and then to popping boba. Hopeful you have a better understanding of them and how to distinguish them. What’s next? Explore more ways of combing them in your homemade milk teas or be more obvious when choosing your boba drink at the store.