What is boba?

By Morgan Yuvienco

Boba goes by many names. Boba, tapioca pearls, tapioca balls. When you add it to a drink, the list of names expands. Boba milk tea is also known as pearl milk tea, boba tea, and bubble tea. It’s a fun, squishy, quirky addition to teas. But, what exactly is boba?

Boba is derived from the starch of the cassava root. Raw tapioca balls, if boiled perfectly, gain that chewy, gummy-like texture. The final shape is that of a very circular pearl, or just a ¼ inch ball.

The popularity of boba rose in Taiwan, where boba milk tea originated in the 1980s. The term “boba” came from a slang word meaning “large breasts,” and sounds like the word "bubble"—thus the term "boba tea" and "bubble tea" have become synonymous in America.

Boba is most famously seen in milk teas and flavored teas, though it makes appearances in slush drinks, snow fluff, and other Asian desserts. The nutritional value of boba is very low, instead contributing calories and carbohydrates. Even still, boba is a fun treat to suck out of jumbo straws, and has proven to be a mainstay in Asian culture.

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