If you follow the latest nutritional trends, you must well be aware of what Boba is and how they have taken over the world of nutrition. Boba is tiny circular tapioca pearls that are found in a type of tea known as Boba tea or bubble tea. Chances are high that you would have seen Boba tea listed on the menu of your nearest coffee or tea shop. And if you haven’t discovered this yet, expect it to arrive soon. There are many types of Boba drinks, with the more conventional types of Boba drinks being made majorly from tapioca starch, which is a plant-based compound known to be a powerful source of carbohydrates. Since Boba tea is rapidly becoming so popular, here’s everything you want to know about what is the nutritional value of Boba.
What is Boba?
To put it simply, Boba is cassava starch or tapioca starch balls. Boba is often also referred to as tapioca pearls. They are tiny spheres that are usually dipped and simmered in brown sugar syrup, which lends them a dark black color and sweet taste. Usually, Boba is nearly tasteless, making it an easy option to pair with a wide variety of beverages.(1, 2, 3)
When people say Boba, nowadays, they are usually referring to Boba tea, which is a combination of sweetened tea with artificial or natural flavors. You will find a layer of tapioca pearls bobbing around at the bottom of your teacup. These tapioca pearls look like bubbles, especially when they pop up and down in the tea, eventually coming up through the straw.
Boba is not a new concept. In fact, this popular drink first made its appearance in Taiwan in the 1980s. It quickly became popular throughout Asia by the 1990s, and it is only recently that teashops offering Boba tea have come up all over the US and Europe.(4, 5)
Boba is also known as pearl milk tea, tapioca tea, bubble tea, pearl shake, and even ball drink. Boba drink is best served cold, adding an extra-wide straw to allow you to suck up the chewy Boba balls with your drink.
When you hear the term Boba tea, it actually encompasses a wide range of non-carbonated, sweet, and non-alcoholic drinks. Here’s what all is included in Boba tea:
- Tapioca balls
- Sweeteners like flavored syrups
- Milk or any non-dairy additive to provide a creamy base for the tea.
- Tea or brewed tea from concentrate
Jasmine, black, and green teas are usually used as the base for making Boba tea. Fruit flavors are also very popular, including strawberry, mango, passion fruit, honeydew, and kiwi. There is no one traditional recipe for Boba tea. The simplest way to make Boba tea is to create a sweetened green or black tea, add tapioca balls, and you will get Boba tea.
If you don’t like the taste of the tapioca pearls, you can even switch Boba in favor of other jellies and other types of floaters to add more texture to your drink. Apart from Boba tea, you can also find Boba fruit shakes, Boba iced coffee, and Boba smoothies.
What is the Nutritional Value of Boba?
Since there are so many different options available for Boba tea, the exact nutritional value tends to vary depending on what your drink actually contains. A Boba drink typically contains many ingredients. Here’s a look at some of them.
You might be surprised to learn that Boba pearls themselves are available in several varieties. However, the most commonly available form of Boba or conventional Boba pearls is made from tapioca starch. This starch is derived from the root of the cassava tree. Some other ingredients are also often added to the tapioca starch to lend the Boba flavor, sweetness, or color.
A ten gram serving of simple tapioca pearls (without any additives) provides 35 calories and nine grams of carbohydrates.(6)
In most cases, there is a small amount of tapioca used, so it is unlikely to provide you with any other nutrients. However, it is necessary to bear in mind that most tea-makers tend to sweeten the tapioca pearls further with sugar to add to the taste, which ends up increasing the carbohydrate levels and calories.
It is common to flavor Boba teas with sugary syrups. You may get to choose from a wide range of fruity and sweet flavors. Apart from increasing the nice taste of the tea, these syrups also add a lot of calories and sugar to your beverage, but usually, you won’t get any other nutrients from it.
For example, if you take one 490 mL (16.5 ounces) serving of tapioca pearls bubble tea with brown sugar, it is going to contain the following:
- Total Calories: 270
- Carbohydrates: 45 grams
- Fat: 7 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
If milk powder is added to this Boba tea beverage, that is what accounts for the protein content, as well as some of the calories and fat. Some additional fat is also due to the use of any non-dairy creamer, which also contains carbohydrates and increases the total calorie count. A major part of the calories and carbs contained in this Boba tea drink also comes from the brown sugar that was added to lend it a sweet taste.(7)
This Boba drink makes up for 15 percent of your daily value for calcium as well as seven percent of potassium. A shocking part here is that this drink also contains a whopping nine percent of the daily value of sodium. This translates to 211 mg of salt.
Most people prefer to have Boba tea as a sweet drink, and there is no real evidence to show that there are any potential health benefits to this. However, you can still go ahead and enjoy the chewy tapioca pearls and sweet flavor of the drink.
If you want to cut down on the sugar intake, you can ask for having a less sweet version of the drink and also skip the syrups.
Who Should Avoid Boba?
If you have an intolerance or allergy to any ingredient used in Boba drinks, such as milk, you should stay away from some of the options. People are usually not allergic to tapioca, but it might be possible.
A study from 2021 found that people who have an allergy to latex have a higher chance of also being allergic to cassava. Cassava is the root vegetable or the plant from which tapioca starch is manufactured from, so if you have a latex allergy, you should be careful about having tapioca.
Boba, Boba tea, Boba milk, pearl milk tea, bubble tea, or whatever you may want to call it, there is no doubt that this beverage tastes sweet and pleasant. However, if you think it is a nutritious drink, then the bad news here is that it does not offer much nutritional benefit. But it’s okay to have this drink in moderation or from time to time as a treat if you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. If you are looking for something that has known health benefits and is a nutritious alternative to a Boba drink, you should opt for having either black or green tea.
- Illustration of Hayley Sugg By Hayley Sugg Updated April 03, 2022, What is Boba? Allrecipes. Available at: https://www.allrecipes.com/article/what-is-boba/ [Accessed September 14, 2022].
- Thompson, K., 2019. Everything you ever needed to know about boba. Thrillist. Available at: https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/what-is-boba-bubble-tea-tapioca-balls [Accessed September 14, 2022].
- Koman, T. & LaLomia, F., 2022. Everything you need to know about Boba and bubble tea. Delish. Available at: https://www.delish.com/kitchen-tools/kitchen-secrets/a25726356/what-is-boba/ [Accessed September 14, 2022].
- Krishna, P., 2017. A brief history of boba. Food & Wine. Available at: https://www.foodandwine.com/tea/bubble-tea-taiwanese-street-drink-turned-american-addiction [Accessed September 14, 2022].
- Anon, The history of Boba tea culture. TEALEAVES. Available at: https://www.tealeaves.com/pages/bubble-tea-origins [Accessed September 14, 2022].
- Anon, Fooddata Central Search Results. FoodData Central. Available at: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2039034/nutrients [Accessed September 14, 2022].
- Anon, Fooddata Central Search Results. FoodData Central. Available at: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2170136/nutrients [Accessed September 14, 2022].