Tapioca: A healthy and versatile Brazilian delicacy


For most of the world, tapioca is simply any flour made from cassava starch, consumed as white flour, flakes, or pearls. In Brazil, it is our gluten-free “crèpe” that can have different fillings. Rich in iron, tapioca can be prepared with just butter (from the sertão/land/bottle) and/or with fresh grated coconut and/or cheese (especially curd cheese). The version of “dadinho de tapioca”, prepared with coalho cheese and fried into cubes, is served as a snack.

Healthy, light, and versatile, tapioca, as it is consumed throughout Brazilian territory, must be known around the world. Zeh Barreto is one of the spokespersons for this cause. For him, tapioca’s versatility goes far beyond, and it can be used daily in people’s homes.

One of the owners of the family company Akio, Zeh Barreto also produces internet content focused on food, with typical Brazilian dishes. The tips range from the proper way to hold a knife when slicing food to how to prepare a romantic dinner with Brazilian ingredients. It all started during the Covid-19 pandemic when he saw the need to exchange the information he had learned in his Gastronomy and Advertising courses.

“I started producing gastronomy-oriented content during the lockdown in 2021. I saw that many people were looking for information about food preparation and I started to spread this more basic knowledge with healthy and homemade foods, easy ones that can be prepared by anyone,” he explains.

Today, as director of new product development at Akio, Zeh has started the process of the company’s internationalization. The focus has turned to tapioca. Akio’s cassava starch comes hydrated and ready to prepare what in Brazil is known as tapioca: a kind of gluten-free wrap that can be filled with the most varied fillings.

Last year, Zeh took part in the export training course offered by APEX, in partnership with the National Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA). The Agro.BR project is a partnership between CNA and APEX Brasil, which facilitates international business to increase the presence of small- and medium-sized rural producers in foreign trade and diversify Brazil’s export portfolio. Soon, he began to expand his contacts abroad with great export prospects. “Just as the world knows açaí, tapioca is also a very Brazilian healthy option that deserves to be on the tables of families around the world,” says Zeh.

In January, as another step in this task, Zeh took tapioca to Gulfood, in Dubai, the largest food and beverage fair in the Middle East. The experience was the first after the training course. “The receptivity was very good, but with little knowledge about the potential for gastronomic use. We are confident and want to explore the incredible possibilities of this food,” he concludes.

Brazilian tapioca

Cassava, also known as “manioc” and “yuca,” is a Brazilian symbol. The tuberous root is native to South America and, for thousands of years, has been the basis of our diet and now its potential is crossing our borders. There are several stories about the origin of the word “tapioca,” the most common one being that the name comes from the word “tipi’óka,” which means “agglutinated.”

It is a versatile and delicious dish that can be enjoyed for breakfast, as a snack, or as a meal in itself. Here’s how to prepare tapioca the Brazilian way:

Tapioca starch/manioc flour
Salt (optional)
Intended filling

In a large mixing bowl, add tapioca starch and salt (if using it). Mix it well.
Gradually add water to the bowl while stirring the mixture with a fork or whisk. Continue adding water and stirring until the mixture is fully hydrated and becomes crumbly in texture.
Heat a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat.
Use a fine-mesh sieve to sprinkle a thin layer of the tapioca mixture evenly over the skillet or griddle, covering its surface. Make sure the layer is not too thick, or the tapioca will become chewy and hard.
Allow the tapioca to cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until the edges start to curl up and the bottom turns slightly golden.
Add the desired filling to one-half of the tapioca disc. Fold the other half over the filling and press down gently with a spatula.
Cook the tapioca for another minute or so, until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted.
Use a spatula to carefully transfer the tapioca to a plate.
Serve it hot and enjoy it!