tapioca comes from the native Tupi people of Northern Brazil which called the process of detoxification: tipi'oka. Yes the root of the cassava plant is toxic if consumed directly from the ground. It has to go through a process called tipi'oka where the root is ground into a pulp, water is added and the mixture sets allowing the water to evaporate leaving behind a tapioca powder. This powder is further processed into many different forms for cooking. The pearls my family loved in good old pudding form are created from this powder. This process makes the starch edible and as the plant left its region of origin (Central and South America) the word took on more applications and explained more uses in different dishes.
Now, to take a look at my tapioca experience in Brazil I have to head back to the city square and the fair. These tapioca vendors take the moistened tapioca and strain it to make a coarse flour. They sprinkle this flour onto a hot griddle where it fuses together into a tortilla of sorts. Either doces (sweet) or salgados (salty) ingredients are added to the tortilla and it is folded over like a taco. My first taste of this form of tapioca was filled with chicken. The tapioca tortilla is quite white and looks kind of bland. I bite into the fluffy white food and I have to say it would not have a lot of flavor without the spices and chicken that fill it. Since I love sweets, I had to follow it with a second tortilla filled with cinnamon and banana. I was more impressed with this "tapioca" but I think the tortilla was made with a little butter and the banana and cinnamon made it so good. I now have a new meaning for tapioca and know not to expect that wonderful tapioca pudding when I order it in Brazil. All this talk about tapioca makes me hungry for that delicious pearl filled pudding.. YUM! I cannot wait!