Is Tapioca Starch Gluten Free?
Tapioca is an ingredient made from the root of the cassava plant, tapioca is naturally gluten free. Tapioca flour, also know as tapioca starch, is often used in combination with other gluten-free flours to make baked goods.
However, you cannot assume that every brand of tapioca you can buy in the store is automatically gluten-free. As is the case with other naturally gluten-free grain and grain-replacement products, tapioca has a high risk of gluten cross-contamination. It is frequently processed on the same equipment as gluten grains.
To make tapioca, food processors grind the cassava root, boil it, and then process it to extract the starch from the ground-up root. The little pearls of tapioca you find in tapioca pudding are the result of this process. Tapioca starch and tapioca flour generally are the same product, they just have different names.
Manufacturers of products labelled as gluten-free take extra steps to make sure that gluten-free ingredients like tapioca are protected. This means they’re generally not processed in the same facility (let alone on the same lines) as wheat, barley, or rye grains and flours.
However, other manufacturers (many in Asia can be offenders, although they are not the only ones) may not take these allergen-specific precautions. It can be difficult to be certain what precautions they do take by reading their packaging.
Therefore, when buying tapioca flour or tapioca starch, you should take care to stick with companies that specifically call out their products as “gluten-free.” You will find that these products are generally more expensive than the generic tapioca you may find at your local Asian market. Yet, your health is worth this extra measure of safety.