Tapioca Pudding

Tapioca Pudding Recipe

If you're on the lookout for a creamy, delicious, vanilla-spiked tapioca pudding recipe, this is it. I came back from Rome and spent the following Sunday down the peninsula at my parent's house looking at old slides and playing around with various tapioca pudding recipes, ingredients, and techniques. It's no secret that I much prefer a silky smooth, chocolate pudding, but I know many of you are like my dad - big-time tapioca pudding fans. This little exercise nearly made be a convert.

My dad is known to be quite generous with his tapioca pudding - my grandma and her 90 year old friends would receive weekly deliveries up until she passed away last year. I can only imagine it makes appearances at his office on a regular basis as well. Over the years he has been known to use various recipes, mixes, and whatnot in his tapioca puddings, but I wanted to zero in on one master recipe to share with you, the quintessential tapioca pudding recipe. We looked at his approach, my aunt weighed in with her recipe, and I introduced some ideas to the mix. What we ended up with was a perfect pudding good enough to make me consider switching from silky smooth to bumps and lumps indefinitely.

Onto the basics. A great batch of tapioca requires equal parts patience, attentiveness, and top-notch ingredients. Like a risotto or polenta there is much stirring involved, and you need to watch the pudding religiously. That being said, broadly speaking, making tapioca is relatively simple. When I asked my dad to articulate the most important, top-level considerations here's what he said:

- Use your thickest-bottomed pot - this will help prevent scorching. Once you've scorched the pudding, that's it - you've ruined it. He uses his Le Crueset dutch oven pot, but surprised me when he said for extra large batches he sometimes deploys the base of his pressure cooker (!?) which is very large, and very heavy. He never pressurizes it, just uses the pot part.

- Pay attention to temperature. You need to bring the tapioca pudding mixture up slowly for a few reasons. To avoid scorching, but also this gives the tapioca balls time to cook as they are coming up to a boil.

- Stir constantly. I have to admit that I get lazy and don't stir the entire time, and if your stove isn't overly hot, this is fine. But my dad likes to stir the whole time.

- Make a double batch - one for you and one to share. The recipe below is for a single batch, but easily doubles.

Before we move onto the recipe itself, here are a few other things I noticed as we cooked our way through various batches. It is important to soak small pearl tapioca before attempting to make pudding with it, or your texture will be off. Some people soak overnight, but we found that 30 minutes or so worked with small tapioca, resulting in a lively textured tapioca with wonderful creamy, custard bridging the beads. Many recipes call for water, I loved the 100% milk version we did, we even soaked the tapioca balls in milk - whole milk for that matter - again going after rich, creaminess. We did one batch with instant tapioca - this comes in a box, and like instant oatmeal the tapioca pieces are much smaller (and in this case also pre-cooked). The universal feeling among everyone who tasted it didn't have anything to do with the actual flavor (which was decent), there was an aversion to the gelatinous texture - maybe coming from the soy lecithin additive? Not sure, but starting from scratch with the small pearl tapioca was the way to go - Bob's Red Mill All Natural Small Pearl Tapioca worked beautifully as a base ingredient. And one last note, I know many people like to do the "fluffy" version of tapioca pudding, where you beat egg whites and fold them in - it is an extra step and I like a denser pudding, so that isn't something I incorporated here.

tapioca pudding recipe

Here's an old picture I came across while looking through the old slide carousels at my parent's house. I love this photo and suspect it was shot in the California redwoods circa 1979 or 1980 likely with the camera on a tripod and my dad's old Nikon - just a guess. That is my dad, me, my mom, and my sister Heather.

Hope you enjoy the tapioca pudding. Also, before I sign off- here's another recipe my dad likes to make (and share):

- My Dad's Garlic Bread recipe

Tapioca Pudding Recipe

This tapioca pudding recipe make a classic-tasting pudding. That being said, there are endless options for variations - you can add chopped chocolate and cocoa powder to taste for a chocolate version. Next time around I'm going to do one based in coconut milk with added toasted coconut folded in at the end....lots to play around with.

3 cups organic milk, divided
1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
2 extra-large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split along the length (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Pour 3/4 cup of the milk into a medium-sized, thick-bottomed pot. Add the tapioca and soak for 60 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks, salt, sugar, and the remaining milk. Scrape the vanilla bean along its length with a knife and add that bean "paste" along with the bean itself to the pot (if you are using vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean stir it in at the very end, after the pudding is completely cooked).

Over medium heat slowly bring the mixture just barely to a boil, stirring all along - this should take about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat and let the mixture fall to a simmer - you keep it here until the tapioca is fully cooked, another 20 minutes or so. Keep in mind this time can be significantly longer (or shorter). The tapioca will tell you when it is ready if you watch carefully. The tapioca beads will swell up and become almost entirely translucent. The custardy part of pudding will thicken dramatically as well - keep tasting and assessing at this stage. It is even more critical to keep stirring at this point avoid dreaded scorching. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. This tapioca tastes its best when served warm, but is still delicious cold as well.

Serves 4-6.


I send an email roughly once a week, sharing new recipes and cooking inspiration. - xo heidi
Heidi Swanson


i voted for your blog, i visit this blog for more recipe ideas than any other...thankyou

Natalie Sztern

Thanks! I love tapioca and will have to try this. I usually use quick-cooking because I'm lazy, but this doesn't sound too much harder.

Wanted to let you know, you have an extra quote character at the end of the garlic bread link, so it 404s unless you manually remove it.


I never liked Tapioca as a child due to the texture. After reading this post I'm wondering if that's because it was the instant type?

I'm definitely going to try this recipe! You make it sound so wonderful that I just have to try it.


Your pudding looks creamily delicious. I've never made tapioca pudding before but love rice pudding. I'll have to give this one a try.

Congrats on being nominated for the best food blog! It is definitely well-deserved. Readers, here's the link to cast your vote: http://2007.weblogawards.org/polls/best-food-blog-1.php

fyi, you can vote once every 24 hrs. Good luck Heidi!


I couldn't click through, until I looked at the URL: it had "-recipe" twice. Once I deleted one, I could continue to the recipe.

Looks delicious!


Oh my,

I will have to make this and the chocolate pudding as well. My fiancee is a pudding fiend!

We don't eat sugar though, do you think agave would be an alright substitute?

Love your work!


F&F, agave nectar (light) would be my alt. sweetener of choice for this and the way I would incorporate it the first time around would be the following: start bringing the milk up to temp over heat and add a tablespoon or two at a time, stirring and tasting as you go, making sure it dissolves and incorporates before adding more so you don't over sweeten. If it does work out for you (or you do learn anything in the process) please report back, and I will give it a go on this end and update the recipe headnotes w/ that information. This was one variation I was actually set on trying, but ran out of time. My guess is that you'll want to use somewhere between 2 tablespoons and 4 tablespoons - depending on how sweet you like your pudding, but again that is just a guess.

Joy, thanks for the heads up re: the Weblog Award nomination - I had no idea! Very exciting.

And I'll fix that 404 error. Thanks. -h


When I first clicked onto your blog today I thought the picture was coffee. It flashed through my head: What kind of cappuccino microfoam is that?!? Then I processed the word Tapioca. Ah. Tapioca pudding. In any case it looks delicious, and I'm a fan of tapioca pudding, too. But I wonder, could we make a caffelatte tapioca pudding that would taste good?


Gwen Philippe

Love your site! Love the recipes...and the book!

I've never cooked tapioca before - sounds a bit intimidating - do you reckon I can make this pudding in a slow cooker? I'm wondering if using a low cooker will solve the problem of having to stir the pudding constantly since the temperature in a slow cooker is low.


Classic photo of the Swanson family!
I'm melting!
Can't wait to try this new recipe.
I love tapioca even though everyone else in my family hates it.
Maybe this will convert them???


Mmmmh that looks yummy! I loooove tapioca and I will definitely try your recipe next week! Thanks for sharing.


Now, I am scratching my head wondering what the heck the big black tapioca pearl balls would do in this. Are they the same or not? Besides they are big and black, and used in all those Asian milk tea concoctions.


The Tapioca looks scrumptious...as do all the recipes you put up...BUT...I am so curious about the saucer and Cup..they are BEAUTIFUL....I am wondering if they are family or if there is a link to where i can buy those! beautiful beautiful beautiful!!!

Kelly Vaughn

Heidi - the photo is beautiful. I fell in love with tapioca pudding last winter - its the first and, as of yet, only pudding I enjoy warm. Its a great dessert on a cold winter night.

My version is still a work in progress, but so far has been heavier on egg yolks. If ever there is a time to breakout the real vanilla beans this is going to be it - the black little flecks and the just that little more complete flavor leaves vanilla extract in the dust. Trust me - use the beans and your pudding will just be better.


I totally agree Jeremy. Maybe I should have placed more emphasis on the vanilla bean in the write up - it really took the pudding to another level. -h


It was great to see a tapioca pudding recipe as so many people think it is nursing home food. I had the whipped egg whites and a good slug of brandy to make a very adult version which is fabulous with poached fruit. I have converted my husband from a tapioca hater to a tapioca lover - but we mustn't call it tapioca - it is "special custard"


love tapioca pudding ~ love this taste

YOYO's Cooking

I love milk puddings and have been trying to convert my family to them for years. A few weeks ago, I made Nigel Slater's rice pudding - I got the recipe from the Observer newspaper but I think it's in his new book Eating For England – which had a whole pot of clotted cream in it. I thought that might tempt them but they all hated it, even my husband. I was ready to give in to their preference for chocolate and other super stodgy puds but having seen your tapioca recipe, I'm going to give the milk pudding one more try. I'll let you know how it goes...


Heidi, as usual you come up with the perfect thing. My parents are in town and this is one of my mom's favorites (though she's never made it, I wonder why?). In any case, thanks. Thanks, too, for the chocolate pudding, I've already made it several times and twice turned it into gelato (big success).


Everyone -- follow Heidi's lead and record the family recipes that exist only between the cook's ears.

After I graduated from college I realized how many family recipes existed only in my Mom's head. So I went to my parents' home on weekends -- Mom cooked and I recorded. It took years but all the family recipes were recorded, and shared with my siblings, their children, etc.

My Mom passed away last Christmas but she lives on every time I make chicken soup with fresh pasta.


Thank you, thank you for this recipe---tapioca pudding has got to be my all time favorite comfort food & your variation will take that to a next level for me!


Tapioca pudding comes out easier (no stirring) and in my opinion, better when you make it in the slow cooker.



Hmmm... Tapioca! I have never really worked with Tapioca till I found out about my Gluten allergy. And now it's a staple in my pantry.

By the way, I finally picked up your book at the store and we'll probably do your Avocado Soup as a special at the restaurant sometime this week. It looks so delicious!


I haven't had tapioca pudding in years!! I need to figure out how to veganize it...

that old photo is priceless - love it!!


Not only does your pudding look creamy and comforting, I love the way you served it in that lovely antique cup and saucer! Very nice!


I love tapioca but I'm allergic to milk (the casein). I can't wait for a coconut version.

I just discovered this site last week and want to try the chocolate pudding made with coconut milk...what a great alternative (than soy milk). I'm curious how this one will turn out using (silk brand) soy milk?

Thank you and wonderful recipes!!!

Molly B.

ok, heidi. i had just decided on a "reading" fast this week, and i see "tapioca" in my bloglines and poof. my resolved, dissolved. what a blessing!


It's so sad that I'm the only person I know that likes Tapioca - Yours has such a nice texture.

Looking at that family photograph, you and your Mother do look incredibly alike, don't you?


I love tapioca but have to admit I'm as excited by your teacup and saucer - beautiful! Is there a story there?

Flying Trapeze

This was virtually the only dessert I ate growing up...looks like I should revisit it with soy milk.


I am not usually a tapioca fan, but its chilly here and it looks so warm and inviting I can almost smell the vanilla! And frankly, anything would llook and taste wonderful in that beautiul cup and saucer!

Deborah Dowd

I love both kinds of pudding...smooth and bumpy (I like the word bumpy!). This will be on my list if I ever try tapioca pudding :)


Funny, I grew up thinking tapioca was a breakfast food, because that's what my dad would make it for. To Mom's objections, he said, hey, it's got eggs, milk, starch ... why not?

Glad to know someone else's dad loves it, too. I've been meaning to mess around with more than instant, so thanks for the recipe!

P.S. A tall chair next to the stove and a paperback make the constant stirring much easier.


Wow! This looks fantastic. The presentation is second to none. I was just gearing up to make the fig newtons (gluten free) and now something else.

Keep it coming, I love your blog.


'Tis the season for soft and cuddly, warm and inviting ricey treats! I just made a rice pudding from an 1877 recipe. Instructions were RATHER simpler than yours, Heidi: 1 cup rice to 5 cups milk, stick it in a low oven for five hrs, serve. Of course I had to jazz it up a bit with raisins and seasonings. I'll post about it later today.

I WISH I had a pretty china cup in which to serve! Looks delightful, like a child's teatime fantasy come to life.


I just love tapioca pudding, especially with vanilla! Great recipe.


Looks great and (like many commenters) it reminds me of my favorite childhood treat - I called it "happy-oca!" And, like a few of the other commenters, I'll need to figure out how to veganize the recipe. I think soy milk works fine as a milk substitute in puddings, but I'm wondering about the egg substitute - I know of plenty for baked goods, but I'm not sure how any will work for a cooked pudding. Any thoughts?

Sarah C.

that picture of your family is so cute and the pudding looks so absolutely delicious!


I can't tell you how nice it is to find dessert recipes sans nuts and chocolate--both of which I can't eat. Tapioca Pudding reminds me of growing up. That and rice pudding were two desserts my mother or her mother often made so that I could participate. A good pud is worth its weight in gold! Thanks!


I've just made it! It tastes delicious but the custardy part isn't as thick as I think it should be. Will it thicken more and more the longer you cook it?

Great recipe! Thanks!


wow, this is fabulous! Tapioca was my absolute favourite dessert as a kid and I'd still prefer this over any chocolate dessert

coeliac south africa

Nice Blog and great recipes... I'm just curious - How did you transfer your slides to digital?



Such a lovely blog, one of my favorites and a total inspiration for my own ventures into blogging!


do you have any advice on using the large pearls, I always seem to only half cook them, and get white centres with clear shell. or I over cook the pearls and get mush. my best is always when using the instant


I have only recently found your site but already am trying your recipies. The photo above is cute, too!

Anthony from London

Thanks again! I love tapioca pudding! Another wonderful gluten-free dessert! If only I could convince my husband that the texture was awesome! He doesn't like how it feels in his mouth! haha! OH well! At least I like it~!


Oh goodie Heidi!
I love tapioca pudding. In fact, it's a very common dessert at home & we all love it, especially when we add coconut cream when cooking it & ice cream when eating it!
Yours look absolutely yummy:)


For those of you who like the cup and saucer, they were borrowed from my mom. She has a wonderful little collection of them in a wide range or colors and patterns. I didn't get to take them home with me unfortunately ;)....

Michael, when you say 'large pearls" I suspect you actually mean small - not the XXL ones used in bubble tea. I promise if you soak the small ones (that I linked to, or something comparable), and slowly bring the milk up to temperature, you will have better luck.


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