Tapioca dextrin is not terrible for you. It’s an alternative to flour that’s technically gluten-free, nut-free and grain-free—but it lacks significant nutrients and some toxicity has been reported. If you’re not limited by food allergies or gluten sensitivities, there are healthier alternatives available.
Dextrin is a hydrolyzed starch made from tapioca or other various starches, including potato, corn, rice, arrowroot or wheat. Also referred to as tapioca starch or tapioca flour, tapioca dextrin provides numerous cooking benefits, as it helps make the dough more cohesive and adds crispness to baked goods and snacks. It’s also mostly tasteless and odorless, so it won’t alter the flavor of recipes.
In recent years, tapioca dextrin has become a popular alternative to wheat flours for those with gluten allergies or sensitivities. But is it a worthy substitute? Or could tapioca dextrin be bad for you?
First, it’s important to understand where tapioca dextrin comes from. It’s actually a starch extract that is derived from the cassava plant or yuca root. If that sounds unfamiliar, it’s probably because it’s mostly grown in parts of Africa, Asia and South America. Although uncommon to us in the West, the cassava is a staple in these other nations, providing their people with a significant portion of their daily calories.
But while the cassava plant itself provides significant nutritional benefits, tapioca dextrin loses out on most of that during manufacturing. When processed as flour, this dextrin ends up with around 100 calories per serving, along with 26 grams of carbohydrates and zero proteins, fats, fibers or other significant vitamins and minerals. By comparison, cassava flour is a similar, less-processed flour—but it delivers a gram of fiber plus up to 17 percent of your daily vitamin C requirements.
In addition to being low in essential nutrients, tapioca dextrin might also be dangerous. If processed incorrectly, the cassava plant can become toxic as it naturally produces cyanide. Although rare, it’s important to note that the Center for Food Safety in Hong Kong has reported cases of this in the past.
So it tapioca dextrin worth the risk? That depends... if you have a lot of food allergies, it might be difficult to find any other suitable substitute for flour. Tapioca dextrin can usually be safely consumed by those with sensitive digestive systems that limit their selection of flours. In this case we recommend going with an organic variety from a trusted brand, such as Anthony's. However, it’s important not to rely on it for nutritional value—supplement your recipes with coconut or almond flour and antioxidant-rich additives like chia seeds, berries or flax seed.
Consult your physician before adding tapioca dextrin to your diet.
Possible short-term side effects
Possible long-term side effects
- chronic cyanide intoxication
Ingredients to be aware of
- tasteless and odorless
- good for cooking