Is Bubble Tea a drink, a food, or a dessert?  Invented in Taichung, on the west central coast (where my father lives now), this wildly popular tea is a blend of tea, milk, sugar, and ‘bubbles’–little squishy sweet globes of manioc starch. Better known to Americans as tapioca, manioc starch comes from an ancient root that was domesticated more than 6,000 years ago by Native South American tribes. Manioc comes in two varieties: bitter and sweet. The bitter kind needs lots of cooking to remove toxins (useful for keeping pests at bay). The sweet kind can be found in Mexican produce sections and can be subbed for potatoes in a chicken stew.

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Manioc, like many traditional root foods, has long, complex sugars that digest slowly so that you don’t absorb many before they exit your body. Slow-release starches are a GOOD thing, as you feel full but don’t pack on carbs as quickly as say, Twinkies. My research project in Taiwan will focus on another complex starchy root–taro–which has a rich and ancient past in Southeast Asia and Polynesia (poi, anyone?) Above is a delicious combination of them both: taro-flavored bubble tea!

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