What Is the Difference Between Rice & Tapioca Pudding?

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Pudding is a sweet, thick dessert that has a number of variations, including the distinctly textured rice and tapioca puddings. Although they have a similar look, the starch -- rice and tapioca -- used to make the pudding creates a different texture and taste. Both, however, make a sweet ending to any meal.


Rice Vs. Tapioca

Rice is a grain with a long history that's used in a variety of dishes, both sweet and savory. Many cultures use the rice grain to make a pudding, including the Middle Eastern firni and the Indian kheer. Tapioca comes from the root vegetable cassava. Unlike rice, the cassava must be processed to create the signature pearls of tapioca.

How the Puddings are Made

While recipes may vary, both rice and tapioca pudding can be prepared the same way, using milk, sugar and the grain or starch. Some recipes also use eggs. Both the rice and tapioca act as thickening agents to create the signature pudding mouthfeel.



Most stores sell only quick-cooking tapioca. If you're using the traditional pearled tapioca, Joy of Cooking suggests you soak the starch before cooking.


Traditional pearled tapioca looses its thickening power after a few months and there's no way to know if your pudding will thicken until cooked.

Taste and Texture

Pudding taste and texture may vary between the two types of puddings. Rice has a slight nutty flavor that lends itself to the pudding. Depending on the type of rice you use, short grain or long grain, adds bite to the pudding.

Tapioca, on the other hand, is flavorless and takes on the taste of the ingredients added to the pudding. The small, circular, almost slippery pearls of tapioca create a slightly different mouthfeel than the rice pudding.



While both rice and tapioca pudding make delicious desserts by themselves, you can add ingredients to the puddings to vary flavor and texture.

  • Spice it up with cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves
  • Add dried fruit for natural sweetness: raisins, currants, dried cranberries or dried cherries
  • Stir in fresh fruit, such as chopped apples, peaches or strawberries for crunch
  • Mix in zest of lemon or orange
  • Cut sweetness with chopped nuts: walnuts, almonds or pecans