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A friend of mine went shopping in an Asian market. I asked them to bring me tapioca starch. They brought me a package of small tapioca pearls.

Is there any way to use the pearls as I would use the starch? For example, can I grind them with mortar and pestle?

If I can't use them for thickening, what are they good for, besides bubble tea?

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Tapioca pudding. The most deliciously creamy concoction in existence. gets a far off look –  Sobachatina Apr 2 '12 at 16:44

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The problem with using the non-ground pearls is that they don't always fully dissolve. Cook's Thesaurus indicates that they can be pulverized or ground in a grinder or by mortar and pestle and used similarly to the starch. However, there are pearls which are instant and those that are not. With instant tapioca you can substitute 1:1, with regular tapioca pearls, pulverized, it would be 2:1.

As for What are they good for?, they are good as a thickening agent assuming that you are okay with little gelatinous balls in whatever you are making. Rice and tapioca puddings spring to mind; there are uses of it in curries and stews for its thickening prowess; also it can be used as a gluten free thickening agent in place of flour.

If you run out of corn starch or arrow root you can also turn to the pulverized stuff. Same rules apply; slurry 1 Tbsp in cold water per 1 cup liquid to thicken. However, do not bring to a boil or you will end up over-cooking the starch.

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