Why is Boba Black?

by Jadeeyah Abang


A cup of freshly cooked black boba

There’s actually a sweet reason why boba is black—literally.

The dark hue of the black bobas in your beloved bubble tea is a result of the molasses in the brown sugar, an ingredient in the tapioca pearls. Black bobas are initially brown and stonelike, but turn into a darker shade once cooked or boiled, resulting in smooth, chewy, black pearls.

And actually, not all bobas are black. Some bobas in their basic form are white or clear because of what they are made of.

Wait… What is boba really made of?

Boba or tapioca pearls are made from cassava root, which makes them naturally white. Cassava is a root crop that are usually found and grown in tropical and subtropical places like Taiwan, where bubble tea was born. 

Now, you might be wondering “If it’s made of cassava, they why are the pearls not called cassava pearls?” Well, that’s because of two things: one, cassava is called tapioca in some countries and two, tapioca is also the moniker for the starch extracted from the storage root of the cassava. The starch is mixed and kneaded with water until they look like dough. After that, they are cut into small (typically white) spheres that look like, of course, pearls.

What’s the difference between black and white boba?

As mentioned, white bobas are tapioca pearls made of starch and water (and sometimes with camomile extract, depending on the maker) while black bobas are made of starch, water, and brown sugar or caramel.

Aside from their color difference, the two bobas also differ in taste. White pearls have a neutral taste and chewy texture, while black pearls are much sweeter and are a little bit stickier because of the added sugar—which is, again, the reason why black bobas are black. 

Why does black boba seem to be more popular that white?

To be fair, white pearls are quite popular too. In fact, they are used in a lot of desserts in Southeast Asia. For example, they are in tiny pearl forms used in a pudding called sago gula melaka in Malaysia, and are added to sweet drinks like sago-gulaman and taho in the Philippines.

However, as you might have noticed, black bobas are more aesthetically appealing as tea add-ons compared to white bobas. The black bobas’ dark hue are a striking contrast to the tea’s colors, making the pearls more visible and making the tea’s color pop up—especially on Instagram. 

But hey! That is not to say people only want black bobas for their looks! 

As you may remember, black bobas are sweeter than neutral-tasting white bobas. According to a study by Gary K. Beauchamp, many people (and even animals) are attracted to sweet taste. So while there’s no known survey suggesting that the majority of bubble tea lovers prefer black boba over white boba, it’s safe to say that the sweetness of black bobas is one of the reasons why people love them so much.

At Bubblish, we love both black and white bobas and as their taste complements each other perfectly, our milk tea collection has both black and white bobas!

If you’re one of the many bubble tea lovers that like black bobas, maybe you can visit our Bubblish store in Zürich! We have so many bubble tea flavors you might want to try!

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