Black Tapioca Pearls

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Black Tapioca Pearls made from scratch naturally with no food coloring or cocoa powder.

This article will mainly cover how to make actual black tapioca pearls from scratch and what they are. This will cover how it can be done in a natural way, instead of using food coloring or cocoa powder. It will teach you step-by-step how to make your tapioca pearls black for traditional tapioca, and how to add darker more beautiful colors to tapioca pearls made from scratch.

Black tapioca pearls are the main tapioca pearls used to make bubble tea, even though the original color of tapioca pearls is actually white from the tapioca starch. White tapioca pearls are pretty much the same thing as black pearls, except they don’t have brown sugar or any colorings added to them.

Many companies that sell black tapioca pearls do not use black food coloring to make their tapioca pearls from scratch. This is known, because black food coloring isn’t listed on the food label of various purchasable boba pearls from these companies. One ingredient that is listed on all the brands that were checked for black tapioca pearls however, is caramel.

Even though caramel is an ingredient in industrially produced black tapioca pearls, tapioca pearls that are cooked from these companies don’t taste like caramel. They are actually bland. That means that lesser amounts of caramel are added to the ingredients in black tapioca pearls to effect the overall color of the pearls (aesthetics) after they are cooked, not the flavor.

Caramel coloring is an ingredient found in many foods and drinks (like soda for example) that is used to add color and beauty to both. Here we will show you how to make caramel coloring for your tapioca pearls so you can make black tapioca pearls just like the real manufacturers do. Caramel coloring is really just a fancy food name for extra heated sugar.

There are some things to note when adding caramel coloring to tapioca pearls. The tapioca pearls must be made from scratch, and the caramel coloring has to be added to the ingredients in order to make the real black tapioca pearls. Trying to soak them in caramel coloring is not a good idea, as it has a very bitter taste that lingers with a slight caramel undertone.

Also, adding too much caramel coloring will make the tapioca pearls have a strong flavor. This flavor isn’t pleasant, even though the caramel coloring is sugar. It will make the tapioca pearls taste bitter, and similar (but not the same) to the flavor of coffee. I tested this by adding a lot of caramel color to the tapioca dough, so I know (only use this as a prank).

How To Make Tapioca Pearls Black

To make the tapioca pearls black, we will add this homemade caramel coloring to the ingredients when cooking the tapioca pearls from scratch. It is important to make your own caramel coloring, as industrial caramel coloring may have additional ingredients used in the process of creating the caramel coloring to speed it up. These could include additional things that you may not want in your body.

The caramel coloring that we are making will be an easy to do cooking process that only needs two ingredients:

  • Granulated sugar (white sugar).
  • Water.

No extra acids or anything will be used to speed up the process of making the caramel coloring. The only equipment needed is:

  • Stove top.
  • Pot or pan (preferably non-stick).
  • A small bottle or container.
    • This is if you want to save some of the caramel color for other foods and drinks.
  • A heat resistant spatula.

This cooking process that we are doing is called caramelization, but don’t let the word fool you, we are just heating up sugar. Make sure that you have good ventilation when making this. The last part will give off a lot of smoke from the cooking.

Once the caramel coloring is made, it can be added to foods, drinks, and tapioca pearls to give them an authentic black tapioca pearls color.

1. Take the pan and heat it on the stove at high temperature. Put 1/4 cup of granulated sugar into the pan.

Granulated sugar in a pan (1/4 cup).

Add a little water to the bottom of the pan to keep it from burning if necessary. Only add a little water, as the sugar itself needs to be in high heat to start caramelizing.

2. Let the sugar cook in the pan.

Sugar caramelizing.

Over time the sugar will appear to melt and form a brown liquid. This is the sugar in the pan. The sugar doesn’t need to be stirred, it just needs to be cooked. The sugar pile will begin to slide after it caramelizes. Eventually the whole thing will turn into a brown bubbling liquid.

White sugar cooking.
White sugar cooking.

3. Add a little water into the pan once it completely turns brown, or let it keep cooking. Keep heating the sugar until it turns really dark.

Sugar getting darker as it cooks.
Sugar darkening as it cooks.

The goal is to continue to cook the sugar until to becomes really dark. It will give off a pleasant caramel smell at first, then it will burn and turn darker in color. The smell will be caramel and a burning smell at the same time at this point.

The color of the sugar will determine how dark your tapioca pearls will be, so cook the sugar until it is really dark. Eventually the sugar will give off a lot of smoke if cooked long enough. Once the sugar is done, do not make the mistake of taking it off the heat. Instead, add water to the pan in small amounts. I did 1/4 cup of water at a time, then stirred it into the caramelized sugar.

Water added to the caramelized sugar.

If you happened to turn it off for some reason without adding water, this is what you will get:

This sugar has crystallized (hardened) after cooling off in the pan. It will be stuck to the pan/pot. To fix this, just heat it back up and immediately add in some water (about 1/4 cup) and mix it in. The water will make it easy for the hardened caramel color to lift off of the pan. Keep putting in water (2 to 3 times) until it all becomes a liquid again and is thoroughly mixed.

Caramel coloring finished and made.

4. Take it off the heat, pour it into a container or a bottle.

This will be more than enough caramel coloring for your boba pearls. It only takes a small amount to turn the tapioca pearls black or make them darker. If you cooked the caramel coloring long enough, then this will be the case.

Now this caramel coloring can be added to the tapioca dough before it has been made by adding it to the tapioca starch mixture in the pan before it has finished cooking.

Tapioca starch mixed with brown sugar and water before it is heated.

The normal process of making tapioca pearls from scratch always starts with water, then brown sugar, then adding a small amount of tapioca starch after the water and brown sugar has been mixed together.

I usually do 1.5 ounces of water, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and a little less than half of the amount as tapioca starch, after the water and sugar is mixed together, for making my black tapioca pearls from scratch.

This is more than enough usually for making a small batch for one bubble tea or milk tea drink. If more is needed, just double or multiply these proportion accordingly.

From here, the whole thing is heated in the pan on the stove at medium-low heat, and continously stirred until it thickens into a sticky thick paste. The caramel coloring would be added before the tapioca starch mixture is heated and continously stirred.

Caramel coloring added to the tapioca mix before it has fully heated to make black tapioca pearls.

The picture above only shows when to add the caramel coloring. Do not add this much caramel coloring to a small amount of tapioca starch mix. As mentioned, it will make authentic black tapioca pearls, but the flavor will be too rich to try to balance it out with sugar. The tapioca pearls will taste like strong unsweetened bad coffee.

I took a teaspoon of the caramel coloring and placed it in 1/4 cup of water and mixed it. It was tasted, and it only had a slight bitter taste, but it could easily be overpowered with a sweetener like sugar. 1 tablespoon of sugar was added to the caramel coloring with the water and the bitterness was completely gone with no aftertaste. The flavor reminded me of Coca-Cola without the fizz.

How To Make Black Tapioca Pearls

From here, the tapioca starch mixture can be heated as usual in the pan, after the caramel coloring has been mixed in. If you need any additional help making the tapioca dough later, then please refer to the guide to fixing tapioca dough.

How to make black tapioca pearls.
Tapioca starch mixed with caramel coloring.

As the mixture is heated with the starch in it, it will be begin to thicken until it is ready for more starch. It will be constantly stirred, and kept near the center of the pan with a heat resistant spatula. It will be stirred constantly on medium-low heat until it thickens to a sticky thick paste.

Black tapioca sticky paste.

It may look black because of the lighting, but when it is up against a brighter light, it is actually a dark brown red color.

Once the paste is nice and thick, then more tapioca starch can be kneaded into the paste to make the dough. Add in tapioca starch into the pan around the same amount as the paste.

Tapioca starch added to the sticky paste.

Set the paste on top of the starch and knead it into the paste using the spatula by flattening and folding the tapioca starch into it.

Once it can’t hold anymore starch, it will be ready to take out of the pan.

Tapioca starch kneaded into the sticky paste.

The paste should no longer be sticky. Add more tapioca starch as needed to make sure the dough is kneaded full of starch.

Once done, it can be removed from the pan and placed on a flat surface to be hand kneaded. It needs to be hand kneaded until all the starch has been kneaded in. If it is still sticky, then more starch needs to be kneaded into it until the dough is slightly grainy. If the dough isn’t kneaded with enough tapioca starch, then the black tapioca pearls will morph and stick easily when they are cooked. They may also come out mushy after they cook, instead of “qq” bouncy.

Finished dough, ready for black tapioca pearls to be formed.

After this, the final step is to form the tapioca pearls. Take a piece of the dough and form a tapioca pearl by rolling it in the palm of your hands to make a small ball. Measure it up against a boba straw to make sure it is big enough, but still small enough to fit in a boba straw. Make all the rest of the black tapioca pearls the same size. Once done, roll them gently in light tapioca starch so they don’t stick to each other.

Uncooked authentic black tapioca pearls made from scratch.
Hand rolled black tapioca pearls lightly rolled in tapioca starch after forming them.

They should look very similar to the same black tapioca pearls bought from actual tapioca pearl brands.

Leaving the tapioca pearls out to air dry for some hours before cooking them helps to make them easier to deal with when it is time to cook them. These tapioca pearls cook at the same times as the traditional tapioca pearls bought in sealed bags and packs (30 minutes boiling, and 30 minutes simmering).

Homemade black tapioca pearls. No food dye or cocoa powder.

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