In Singapore, you don’t have to go very far to buy a Bubble Tea. It is available on every street corner and it’s very common to see Singaporeans walking along sipping out of their plastic cup with the sealed lid and giant straw! What is this interesting drink with the funny little balls at the bottom of the cup?

Bubble Tea originated in Taiwan in the early 1980’s and is becoming increasingly popular throughout Asia. There are a huge variety of bubble teas available but most contain cold tea mixed either with milk or fruit, sugar syrup, often flavouring of some sort, ice and tapioca ‘pearls’.

The pearls seem to be the centrepiece of the drink and explain why the straws are so huge! They are chewy balls made of tapioca starch, flavouring and sugar, with a texture that I can only describe as ‘gummy’. It certainly adds an excitement to the otherwise ordinary sweet milky tea when a chewy, sweet, almost licorice-flavoured ball makes its way up your straw.

Is Bubble Tea nutritious?

Starting with the positives, it is a good source of calcium and would count as 1 serve of your dairy products food group (most of us should be aiming for about 3 serves per day). You could also say it contains some antioxidants from the tea it is made with but I think we are clutching at straws here!

On the other hand, Bubble Tea is a high source of calories, sugar and fat! It’s almost impossible to find accurate data on its nutrient content but rumour has it that each tapioca pearl contains about 5 calories. Now, I counted 89 pearls in my medium-sized drink, which means the pearls alone could be contributing 445 calories!

Calorie King reports that a small container of this drink contains 318 calories and a whopping 7 teaspoons of sugar. This is similar to a can of soft drink and more than your average sports drink!

When I bought my Bubble Tea at Come Buy, a Taiwanese chain, I was asked if I’d like 30% or 50% sugar. There was also a ‘no sugar’ option but when I asked about this, they looked at me blankly (as in, why would you want no sugar?) and said it wasn’t available.

So the take home message is that if you choose to drink Bubble Tea:

  • keep in mind its high calorie content and think of it as a ‘sometimes’ food
  • try not to use this drink as a thirst quencher
  • ask for the lower sugar variety
  • choose reduced fat milk if it is an option
  • try not to eat all of the tapioca pearls

It’s great to have food and drinks such as Bubble Tea occasionally but being so widely available in Singapore isn’t going to help the increasing obesity problem.

What other foods in Singapore do you think could be contributing to this problem? Let me know below.

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