Wheatley Heights, N.Y.: Photo of Boba tea at Black Momma Tea & Café, in Wheatley Heights, New York, on December 22, 2021. The Cafe' opened in early December. (Photo by Erica Marcus/Newsday RM via Getty Images)
Is Sago The Same Thing As Boba?
By Jasmine Hanner
In the 20th century, a chilled Taiwanese "bubble" tea, colloquially called boba, swept across the U.S.. Boba tea is a chilled black tea with milk and pillowy, chewy, tapioca "pearls"; however, the tapioca that traditionally makes up boba pearls is sometimes marketed as a different starchy Southeast Asian staple called sago.
Tastylicious confirms that "boba" simply refers to the pearls in the beverage, it doesn't actually correspond — and isn't limited — to any particular substance. Boba is whatever you make boba pearls with for bubble tea, whether it’s tapioca or sago; if you use sago in a dish like spice sago or mango sago pudding, then it isn’t considered boba.
Per WebMD, tapioca is a "starch extracted from the cassava root"; traditionally, the pearls in bubble tea are made from tiny balls of tapioca, which are boiled and marinated at length in a sweet syrup. Sago is also a starch, but it comes from palm tree stems, says Healthline, and sago pearls need to be soaked longer to achieve the same chewy consistency.