Instant tapioca, also known as quick or minute tapioca, is an excellent thickening agent to use in fruit pie fillings and cobblers. But, if you don't have any in your pantry, one of these substitutes can take its place.
- arrowroot starch, tapioca flour, tapioca pearls, ClearJel, cornstarch or wheat flour
Best Substitute for Instant Tapioca: Arrowroot Starch or Tapioca Flour
Replace the instant tapioca in a pie or cobbler recipe with an equal amount of arrowroot starch. This will thicken up the filling just as well as the tapioca, and it'll give the fruit a beautiful, glossy sheen. Arrowroot contains the same kind of starch as tapioca, so it's an excellent substitute, if you happen to have it on hand. Neither require boiling temperatures to thicken.
Have tapioca starch/flour in your pantry, or tapioca pearls? Use half as much tapioca starch/flour in place of the instant tapioca called for. Tapioca pearls can also be ground into tapioca flour and used as a substitute.
Also Good: Instant ClearJel
ClearJel is an excellent stand in for tapioca. It stands up beautifully to both high temps and freezing temps, and it delivers a pie filling that's just as clear and shiny as what you'd expect to get from tapioca. Replace the instant tapioca called for in your recipe with half as much ClearJel.
This isn't a product that you're likely to find at the grocery store, or to have in your pantry (unless you're an avid baker). But it is one that's worth adding. Consider ordering some online, so it'll be available the next time you need to make pie filling.
Still Good: Cornstarch
Replace the instant tapioca called for in your recipe with an equal amount of cornstarch. Your pie filling won't come out quite as thick and glossy as it would with tapioca, but it'll still taste great. To avoid lumps, mix the cornstarch with the sugar that's supposed to go into your pie filling. Then, add this mixture to your filling. Cornstarch thickens best at high temperatures.
If you plan to freeze your pie, this isn't a good substitute because pie filling made with cornstarch tend to get spongy when it's frozen. Arrowroot or ClearJel are better options, if you'll be freezing the finished product.
In a Pinch: Wheat Flour
Wheat flour can replace instant tapioca measure for measure. It thickens when it's exposed to boiling temperatures for several minutes, so it works fine in heated fillings. Expect some small differences in taste, since the flour will contribute its own flavor to the recipe.
One drawback of wheat flour is that it tends to make the filling cloudy. If this is a concern, you may want to use cornstarch instead. Since wheat flour contains gluten, it's also isn't a good substitute, if you're trying to make a gluten-free pie.
Pies thickened with flour tend to separate when frozen. Use Arrowroot of ClearJel instead, if you plan to freeze your pie.
Note: These substitution ratios apply specifically to instant tapioca. If your recipe calls for tapioca starch (also known as tapioca flour) you'll need to adjust the ratios. Use one tablespoon of arrowroot, cornstarch or flour for every 1-1/2 teaspoons of tapioca starch called for. Bare in mind, these substitutes may not be gluten-free.
These substitutes are intended to replace the tapioca in pie fillings, cobblers and similar dishes. Do not use them as a substitute for the tapioca in tapioca pudding, bubble tea or any other recipe that calls for pearl tapioca. They won't give you the desired consistency.
What Is Instant Tapioca Anyway?
Instant tapioca is a product that's made from a root vegetable, called cassava. It's ground into fine granules that dissolve easily when added to pie filling, and is prized for its thickening abilities. Because it's so finely ground, you don't get the little soft, chewy pearls that are associated with tapioca pudding and bubble tea, and that's a good thing, if you're making pie. To get those, you have to buy pearl tapioca.
More Thickener Substitutes
Need more help sorting out what each thickener is used for, and when it's okay to swap one for the other? Here's more advice around this tricky topic: