How to Make Popping Boba at Home Using Food Science

Last Updated On : April 2022
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Popping Boba

Boba (or bubble tea) has become a worldwide phenomenon. From its humble beginnings in Taiwan as the classic Milk Tea, boba has evolved into a drink that has some form of tea and some form of pearls that sink to the bottom of your cup.

Nowadays, there is a huge variety of boba flavors, and many kinds of boba pearls have emerged, including clear, black or flavored tapioca balls, crystal boba (made from konjac instead of tapioca), and the latest trend, popping boba!

Popping boba pearls have become popular because once you bite them they burst, releasing delicious juices, adding another dimension to your boba! They are made using a process called spherification.

It might be difficult for you to buy these if you don’t live in a large metropolitan area, so we are here to show you how to make popping boba at home.

It might sound intimidating, but it’s simpler than it seems. Plus it’s a super fun activity to do with your children or friends!


Let’s get bobbing!

What is Popping Boba?

Popping bobas are unique pearls that have a thin membrane surrounding some type of juice. When you put them in your mouth they burst, releasing heavenly flavors of fruits, such as mango, green tea, strawberry, melon (and many others).

They differ from regular boba balls in their texture (i.e. they burst), and in their ingredients. Popping boba does not contain tapioca or konjaku. Instead, they are made of water, fruit juice or syrup, sodium alginate and calcium lactate (more on that later).

They are made using a process called reverse spherification from molecular gastronomy.

How does Spherification Work?

Spherification is a technique from molecular gastronomy that takes advantage of the gelling properties of some substances. One example of such a substance is sodium alginate (a salt), which is derived from alginate, which in turn is a hydrocarbon (more specifically, a polysaccharide, a long chain of sugars found in seaweed). This type of molecule has the ability to gel a water-based liquid (like a juice) when exposed to ions (for example, calcium or potassium).

There are two main types of spherification. There is direct spherification, which is when the gelling agent is added to the flavorful liquid, and then is added drop by drop to a bath that contains calcium. This causes a membrane to form surrounding the flavourful juice of your choice.

Reverse spherification is when the bath itself contains the gelling agent, and the flavorful liquid contains the calcium.

How to Make Popping Boba at Home?

We will use the direct spherification process to make popping boba at home. Before we get started, you will need the following:

Ingredients

You will need just 4 ingredients.

  • Water (tap water should be fine, but if you’re water is overly hard you may need to use distilled water)

  • Your favorite juice (you may have issues if the pH is below 3.6. So start with a fruit that is not too acidic)

  • Powdered Sodium Alginate

  • Powdered Calcium Lactate

Equipment

As the spherification process relies on a chemical reaction, you should be fairly accurate in your proportions. We recommend the following few basic tools to ensure success!

  • Scale that can measure accurately, specially if you are preparing a small quantity of boba balls

  • Blender, electric mixer of whisk

  • A large shallow container

  • Syringe, 1/4 teaspoon, or squeeze bottle (to make the popping boba)

Recipe

  1. Mix two cups of water with two teaspoons of calcium lactate. Make sure they are evenly
    mixed. Store the calcium solution in your refrigerator in a large shallow container.


    making popping boba from scratch

  2. Select your favorite fruit juice and add sodium alginate. Just make sure the juice is not too acidic. The proportions should be 1 gram of sodium alginate per 100 g (mL) of juice. Make sure you measure! In this case, I my "juice" of choice was butterfly pea tea with honey. Not very flavorful (but next time I'll improve it), but it's really cool as you'll see below.


    Juice and sodium alginate

  3. Mix the sodium alginate and juice well. Mixing these two is much harder than blending the calcium lactate in step 1. Use a blender or an electric mixer. Alternatively, you can heat the mix, heating a substance will increase solubility. But just warm it up, don't allow it to boil.


    Mix the sodium alginate and juice well

  4. Place the sodium alginate and juice mix in the fridge for a few hours. You want to allow for some time for air bubbles to disappear (from the blending). Once both the sodium alginate solution and the calcium solution are cool and free of air, remove from the fridge.

  5. Fill your syringe, squeeze bottle or 1/4 teaspoon (used for its round shape) with the juice and sodium alginate mix.

  6. If you're using a syringe or squeeze bottle, release the droplets into the calcium lactate solution, using steady hands, and experimenting with the distance and angle. This should create the popping boba you were striving for. Make sure you don't cross contaminate between both mixes, or your juice mix will start gelling!

    Note: A squeeze bottle or syringe or the easiest way to go. However, the pearls will be quite small. So we used a 1/4 teaspoon.

    Using an eye dropper to fill your 1/4 teaspoon, place the spoon slightly above the surface, then rotate it to allow the juice mix to gently fall in the calcium lactate mix. Yes, some will look imperfect, but when you have more they will look better together!


    gently rotate spoon over surface

  7. Remove the pearls from the calcium lactate and rinse them with water.


    popping-boba-finished

Some Notes

  • Don’t expect perfection! I tried this and with much effort I got some perfectly spherical pearls. Others were not so spherical. To be fair, I don’t have the steadiest hand, and with practice, you could get better results. Just treat this as a fun activity with friends or family. Also, when you remove them from the calcium lactate solution they will look much better.

  • Leave some space between the pearls or they might stick together.

  • You could also try using the cold reverse spherification process. I have not tried this yet, but it may be easier to form a perfect sphere. In this case, you would add the calcium lactate to the fruit juice, and the sodium alginate would be the bath. Make sure the bath is cold! I would not add ice cubes, as they might melt throwing off the proportions.

  • You can also use cold oil spherification, simply adapt this recipe.

  • Finally, have fun and patience!

Why Use Butterfly Pea Flower Tea?

Admittedly, butterfly pea tea does not have the intense flavors we are looking for, but it has some interesting color changing properties due to its high anthocyanin content.

Let's see under better lighting conditions! The color changes from blue to pink depending on the angle you look at it.


blue-popping-boba
blue-purple-popping-boba

To improve the flavor, we could try to make a reduction of the tea. Or perhaps we could use purple tea (a true tea) to make the tea base of the bubble tea. Purple tea also has lots of anthocyanin; this changes the color of the drink when you change the pH of the drink.

Let us know if you have any ideas below!

The Shortcut Way

There are many products out there that can be used to help with the spherification process. One of the struggles is that it can be quite time consuming to create a good amount of pearls.

We recommend the spherificator below. You won’t need to use a syringe or dropper with shaky hands. It also comes with some of the ingredients you will need for your popping boba!

Spherificator by the Modernist Pantry

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It might be fun to make popping boba from time to time, but you may not get perfect results unless you practice a lot. Plus it’s time consuming!

The good news is that you can purchase popping boba! We recommend these popping boba by Mayde. They sell popping boba in 3 packs of different flavors. I’ve tried the tropical fruits one (kiwi, mango and passion fruit) and they were delicious! See below for more information.

Mayde Bursting Popping Boba Pearls Tropical 3-Pack

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Thanks for your support!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Types of Boba Pearls Are There?

Many! The traditional ones are tapioca boba balls, which can be infused with different flavors such as brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, just to name a few. There are also crystal boba balls which are made with konjac instead of tapioca. There are also different sizes, such as mini boba. As you can see, there is a great variety of pearls for you to choose from!

Where does Boba Come From?

Boba comes from Taiwan, introduced as the classic milk tea. There is some debate on its exact origins. Hanling Tea Room insists they came up with the idea, and Chun Shui Tang insists it was one of their employees, Lin Hsiu-hui who came up with the idea.

Popping Boba on the Beach

Bottom Line

We hope you have found our recipe useful, and at the very least, we hope you have discovered a new way of having boba or bubble tea with the help of molecular gastronomy!

Let us know in the comments how it turned out. Once I get a chance I will try reverse spherification or cold oil spherification and report back!



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