Truth is you've likely had this special gluten free flour plenty of times but had no idea what it was. It's tapioca flour and tapioca is probably not what you think it is.
Before I learned about gluten-free cooking, I figured tapioca was just another form of pudding that I didn't like that much.
However, since I'm a big advocate of going gluten-free (whether you have Celiac's disease, gluten sensitivity, or none of the above) and that requires changing how you cook and bake, you need to know about gluten-free baking!
The more you learn about gluten-free baking, the more you're going to see tapioca.
So What Is Tapioca Exactly?
No long-winded explanation necessary here...
Tapioca, or tapioca flour, is nothing more than refined cassava root. Cassava is a staple in cultures across the world; we barely use it though since we rely extensively on wheat and other agents for cooking and food prep.
Cassava, which goes by many other names, is actually highly poisonous to us unless it's prepared correctly. But you can relax - refined tapioca flour is a product created from the properly cooked and prepared cassava root, which means it's 100% safe for consumption.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what tapioca is, it's time to discover why this gluten-free alternative is positively wonderful for your health.
Four Benefits Of Tapioca
Tapioca flour is commonly used to replace wheat in many recipes.
The reason tapioca flour is a great gluten-free baking alternative isn't just because it's gluten-free, but for a few other and often unknown reasons.
Before you go much further into this article, I want to be clear about something: I wouldn't consider tapioca flour to be an all-star when it comes to nutrition. You'll read elsewhere about tapioca being rich in protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins etc.
This is simply untrue.
Tapioca flour is a refined starch; it is not a "health food" per se.
However, as you'll see in a moment, it's not necessarily unhealthy either. I'm writing about tapioca flour primarily for anyone who's struggled with going gluten-free and wants a worthwhile substitute when trying to replicate their favorite foods in a gluten-free landscape.
Ok, now that you've survived my segue about tapioca, check out its benefits:
#1 - It provides tons of healthier carbs.
One of the big things I warn against is the consumption of unhealthy carbohydrates. Most Americans have an unhealthy addiction to carbohydrates, especially simple sugars like sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup and gluten-based carb sources.
People might enjoy the quick buzz they get from eating foods loaded with these carbs, but in both the short and long terms they're awful for your health. The positive benefit associated with tapioca is (although it might be rich in carbohydrates) these carbs are far better for your health and for your energy levels.
While tapioca isn't going to give you the jolt coffee provides, it's also not going to fail you like other kinds of carbohydrates do either. The carbohydrate structure found in tapioca flour is a more complex carb structure, meaning it takes longer to break down and will provide longer, more extended energy levels than what other carb sources provide.
Bear in mind it's also a very dense carbohydrate source. It's also quite low in fiber, which can present a problem for people with blood sugar regulation problems. If you're trying to go gluten-free while also keeping blood glucose levels in check, you might want to try fiber-rich flours like almond meal or coconut flour instead; these flours will help keep blood glucose levels a little flatter.
#2 - It's beneficial for heart health.
Tapioca, though highly refined (like myself), manages to hold onto some of its essential mineral content. One of the main heart-healthy minerals it contains is iron, which plays a key role in circulatory and heart health. It also possesses trace amounts of copper - both iron and copper work together to create new red blood cells, which are vital for circulatory health.
So the direct health benefits associated with consuming tapioca (particularly the increase in new red blood cells) help your heart "fire on all cylinders." New red blood cells are able to carry tons of oxygen to your peripheral organ systems and extremities, ensuring they're "fed" so you can take care of business as needed. Another thing healthy new red blood cells do is help your body grow at the cellular level, which essentially helps you heal and stay in stasis.
One other benefit associated with all that oxygen bound to your red blood cells is increased energy and added endurance for strenuous exercise.
Bear in mind, if you were to eat properly cooked and unrefined cassava, the heart-healthy nutrient profile would be much, much higher than what you see in tapioca flour; the refinement process strips it of many of the nutrients you would find in the whole plant. But of all the nutrients found in tapioca flour, copper and iron provide the best direct benefits for your body.
#3 - It's non-allergenic.
This is one of the biggest reasons to use tapioca flour. One thing we're observing in the medical world is, after we test someone for food allergies, we discover they're usually not just allergic to one kind of food type (whether that's gluten, dairy, soy, etc.) but are actually allergic to a number of different kinds.
For example, people who discover they're allergic to gluten might also discover they're allergic to something like coconut or almond. Well, the bad news for them is if they try and go gluten-free, they're going to quickly discover a fair number of recipes out there call for almond flour or coconut flour as a substitute.
This is where tapioca flour shines - a large majority of people are going to find tapioca flour presents very little problem for their bodies, which makes tapioca flour a great substitute when their gluten-free recipe uses an ingredient their body won't tolerate.
#4 - There are no known GMO versions of tapioca.
This is a benefit for people searching for products which haven't been tampered with at the cellular level.
The anti-GMO movement is quite strong right now, and large agricultural companies would do anything to squash it. The biggest reason is because they have billions and billions of dollars tied up in GMO products that billions of people use in cooking. Going gluten-free definitely means you're opening up your world to a long list of anti-GMO products, but it's still a minefield of sorts.
When you use tapioca flour, you can cook with confidence knowing your tapioca flour hasn't been split, diced, and sliced by scientists in a lab.
However, because it's often harvested in less-developed countries, I recommend going organic whenever possible. The likelihood the cassava used to create the tapioca flour was treated with unwanted chemicals is high...and you definitely don't want your food sprayed with harmful chemicals!
One of the best uses for tapioca flour is for making tortillas.
Check out this handy video showing you got to make tapioca flour tortillas.