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Tapioca Starch vs. Wheat Flour: What is the Difference?

Side by side, tapioca starch and flour look very similar but don’t let looks deceive you. There are some important differences between these two flours.

Today we are here to answer the question: what is the difference between tapioca starch and flour?

Short Answer:

Tapioca starch is a gluten-free flour made from the root of the cassava plant, while flour is made from wheat.

Since the rise of gluten-free cooking, many different flours have come onto the market. This can make it challenging to know the difference between them all.

But don’t worry, we are here to help.

In this article, we will deep dive into flour and tapioca starch to determine the difference between these white powders.

Read on to find out more.

What is Wheat Flour?

Flour is a smooth powder made by grinding the endosperm of wheat. [*]

Wheat is one of the most highly cultivated crops in the world due to the popularity and usefulness of flour.

There are several different kinds of flour, from white flour, which is made from the endosperm to wholewheat flour, which includes the germ and bran.

What makes flour special is gluten.

Gluten is a stretchy protein that gives bread, cake, and other baked items their structure.

The gluten content of the flour varies from type to type, which is where we get different flour strengths like 00, all-purpose, cake, or bread flour.

This makes flour perfect for baking, making pasta, dumplings, coatings, thickening, and so much more.

If you have a gluten allergy or Celiac disease, you will be unable to eat anything made with wheat flour.

That’s where flour alternatives like tapioca starch come in.

Learn more: Top 7 Tapioca Starch Substitutes (FOR ANY RECIPES)

What is Tapioca Starch?

Tapioca starch, also known as tapioca flour, is a flour-like substance that is created by grinding the dried tuberous root of the cassava plant. [*]

Cassava is a crop that is the staple diet in areas of South America, Africa, and South East Asia, where it originates from.

This should not be confused with cassava flour, as tapioca starch is directly extracted from the starch in the root rather than the whole root.

It is a sought-after flour alternative because it is high in carbohydrates and low in protein, just like wheat flour but without gluten.

Tapioca starch is the most popular gluten-free flour on the market. 

This is because it has the starch content to imitate the binding quality and bounce that gluten has.

Tapioca starch is commonly used for baking, crumbing, dusting, and thickening.

Common tapioca starch dishes include Brazilian cheese bread, crepes, pan de yuca, and gluten-free tortillas.

Tapioca Starch vs. Wheat Flour: What’s the Difference?

As you can see, there are some apparent similarities between tapioca starch and wheat flour.

  • Both are used as thickeners for sauces and gravies, for baking, and as a crispy coating for proteins. 
  • They are high carb and low protein.
  • White, flavorless powder.
  • Both have little to no nutritional value.

But there is also a lot that sets them apart.

So what are the critical differences between tapioca starch and flour?

  • Tapioca starch is gluten-free, while wheat flour is not.
  • Tapioca starch is made from cassava, while flour is made from wheat.
  • Tapioca starch has a ‘squeaky’ texture similar to corn flour in comparison with matte flour.
  • Flour is cheaper and easier to get hold of than tapioca starch.

Ultimately, if you are looking for gluten-free flour, then we recommend tapioca flour due to its ability to imitate gluten.

You may need to learn some new recipes, but it will be worth it when you eat the results!

FAQ

Can I use tapioca flour to replace all-purpose flour?

Although they may seem similar, you can’t substitute tapioca starch 1:1 for all-purpose flour. This is because it will give it a gummy texture.

You may also have issues with rising and baking times.

Gluten-free baking is a very precise process, so we suggest using recipes that are designed explicitly for tapioca starch and its properties.

What is the healthiest flour?

As gluten-free cooking has become more popular, a large variety of healthier flours have come on the market.

Out of all these flours, for all-purpose use, coconut flour is the healthiest. This is because it is a source of protein, fat, fiber, and mineral like potassium and iron.

In a close second, we recommend almond flour because it is high in protein, magnesium, omega-3s, and vitamin C.

Is tapioca flour keto-friendly?

When you are following a keto diet, the main aim is to be low carb and high protein[*]

Since it is made from cassava, tapioca is high in carbohydrates and low in protein, making it unsuitable for the keto diet.

Instead, why not try almond flour, coconut flour, or chia flour?

Is tapioca starch used to make tapioca pudding?

Yes! 

Tapioca starch is used to create the tapioca pearls that are used to make this classic pudding.

However, you can’t use your bag of tapioca starch to make it; it requires a specialized ingredient: tapioca pearls.

The pearls are bought dried before being rehydrated with coconut milk and other flavorings to create a pudding with a very unique texture. 

You will find these same tapioca pearls in boba tea.

Conclusion

Well, who knew there was so much to earn about flour and tapioca starch! What are the key points to take away?

  • Tapioca starch is made by grinding the dried root of the cassava plant and extracting the starch.
  • Flour is made by grinding and refining wheat.
  • Tapioca starch is suitable for those who are gluten-free.

We hope that this has broadened your horizons and encouraged you to try out different flours in the future, especially our trusty tapioca starch.

image of wheat flour vs tapioca starch

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