Traditional recipes

Bubble Tea's Tapioca Pearls May Cause Cancer

Bubble Tea's Tapioca Pearls May Cause Cancer

Yikes: not only are the 'bubbles' a choking hazard, new research shows they contain carcinogens

Would you like a dash of polychlorinated biphenyls in your bubble tea? Yikes — that's what German researchers are saying is in there, warning bubble tea lovers that the tapioca balls at the bottom of your drink may contain carcinogens.

Researchers from the University Hospital Aachen in Germany analyzed those "bubbles," or the tapioca balls (called pearls) found in bubble tea, reports the New York Post. And the list of chemicals they found in the pearls is a mile long, and kind of disturbing: polychlorinated biphenyls (called PCB's), acetophenone, and brominated substances. None of these should be in food, say the researchers; and those PCB substances? They're a known carcinogen, as defined by the EPA, the Environmental Working Group, and other public health advocates.

There's been no word which bubble tea chain the tapioca pearls came from, except that they were made in Taiwan. We think our love affair of bubble tea may have burst.


Bubble Tea Tapioca Pearls May Contain Cancer-Causing Chemicals, German Study Claims

Bad news for fans of the colorful novelty drink called tapioca tea, or boba tea: The sugary specialty beverage, generally milk-based and filled with chewy balls of tapioca, may also include cancer-causing chemicals known aspolychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, the Daily News reports.

German researchers from the University Hospital Aachen have reportedly found traces of the carcinogenic chemical in tapioca ball samples. The tapioca was taken from an unnamed chain in northwest Germany and originated in Taiwan, according to the Daily News.

"[What we found] includes in particular styrene, acetophenone, and brominated substances that shouldn't be in food at all," scientist Manfred Möller, of the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital Aachen, told German newspaper The Local, notes the AFP.

According to the EPA, PCBs belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals manufactured between 1929 and 1979. The chemicals still exist in the environment despite their U.S. manufacturing ban. Ranging in toxicity, PCBs have been shown to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system, the government site continues.

The cancer concerns were compounded by another public health warning, released earlier in August by the country's German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. German authorities warned that the beverage's hallmark gummy balls, may pose a choking risk.

"Especially with children aged up to four years, there is a risk of foreign objects accidentally entering the lungs," said Dr. Andreas Hensel in a press release on the Institute's website. "And that is precisely what can happen when the bubbles are sucked up through a straw."

UPDATE: According to Taiwan's Central News Agency, a leading manufacturer of bubble tea drink ingredients has since disputed the researchers' claims. Wang Chun-feng, chairman of the Possmei Corp., held a press conference Tuesday from his offices in New Taipei, to defend the safety of his products. Meanwhile, an official from Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration also refuted the German safety warnings, calling into question the authenticity of the test results.


Severely Constipated Girl Turned Out To Have More Than 100 Undigested Boba Pearls In Her Belly

If Google Trends is anything to go by, American’s thirst for bubble tea (aka milk tea, aka boba tea) is at an all-time high. Fans of the beverage may be glad to know that "research" linking the drink's tapioca pearls to cancer has been found faulty, but – as with most things in life – moderation is a good idea. As one poor teen found out.

According to an article published in The Paper, a 14-year-old girl from Zhejiang Province in China was admitted to hospital with an upset tummy and constipation. She told doctors she had not had a bowel movement for five days straight and so, without any obvious explanation as to why medics booked her in for a CT scan to identify the cause of the problem.

The image that came back showed dozens and dozens of round high-density shadows, stretching from the patient's stomach all the way to the rear end. In total, there were over a hundred of these strange circular spots.

Screenshot from Weibo

The medic in charge asked the patient what food she had been eating before she started feeling her symptoms – and she mentioned having had a bubble tea five days ago. As the doctor explained in an interview with The Paper, a single bubble tea is not enough to cause so many undigested pearls (or boba). The girl must have been drinking a lot over an extended period of time. He suggested she may have been scared to admit to her parents just how much she had been drinking, worried she might be punished.

"So many undigested 'pearls' are not accumulated [from] a cup of milk tea," Dr Zhang Louzhen told AsiaOne. "It would be caused by drinking for a while."

These "pearls" tend to be made from tapioca, a starchy substance found in the storage roots of the cassava plant. (We say "tend" because many places also offer pearls made from substances like jellies and fruit juices.) However, some manufacturers add thickeners and preservatives that may not be particularly gut-friendly.

Still, it goes without saying but that was an extremely, extremely rare case and fans of bubble tea don’t need to be too worried. As for the girl involved – according to AsiaWire, she was given laxatives to aid her constipation and relieve her symptoms.


Can drinking bubble tea lead to constipation?

According to Dr. Lina Felipez, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami who wasn’t involved in the case, consuming too many tapioca pearls can lead to constipation. However, she clarified that in such cases, tapioca, by itself, isn’t to blame. Tapioca pearls are made from the cassava root, a very starchy ingredient. This means that tapioca pearls are mostly made of carbohydrates. By itself, tapioca would not cause digestive problems.

The link between bubble tea and constipation, she added, lies with the additives that the balls contain. Guar gum – the primary ingredient that makes the pearls sticky – is a fiber and additive found in many processed foods like cheese, ice cream and sauces. Guar gum can also be used to treat constipation and diarrhea in some cases. As an additive, it expands upon contact with water. This helps give cooked tapioca pearls their soft and squishy texture. According to Dr. Felipez, guar gum could induce constipation. In high doses, guar gum could even cause serious problems like a blocked esophagus, a blocked intestine and even death.

On the other hand, Dr. Ryan Marino of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reminds people that dehydration plays a role in constipation.

“If you are drinking something with sugar it is probably not hydrating,” he said.

The doctors who examined the 14-year-old girl were baffled with the successful detection of the tapioca pearls. In the U.S., tapioca and guar gum are ingredients typically used in bubble tea, and they are not supposed to show up on a CT scan because they do not block the radiation used in X-rays. This led doctors to speculate that perhaps a different additive was used in place of guar gum.

While the fate of the 14-year-old girl may have been extreme, this doesn’t mean that boba (the bubbles in bubble tea) consumption is completely healthy in normal doses either. Due to its high carbohydrate content, there is very little to no nutritional value in tapioca pearls, no thanks to the cup of sugar it swims in. Additionally, raw tapioca is highly toxic because it contains cyanide. Linamarin – a toxic compound naturally found in cassava root – is transformed into hydrogen cyanide upon entering the body. When ingested, cyanide can cause headaches, nausea and paralysis. There have even been recorded cases of cyanide poisoning in bubble tea-related deaths. This is why tapioca requires proper handling, preparation and cooking.


Founded by Nancy Yang and headquartered in Taiwan, Quickly is one of the biggest tapioca milk tea franchises on the planet. Yang first got the idea for the business from her mother’s love for iced desserts. Currently, Quickly has over 2,000 stores located all over North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.

In mid-2008, the company introduced its new-age non-fat tart frozen yogurt at the SingTao Asian Expo. Instantly, the new product penetrated the market and became available at their key locations the following week. To this day, this beverage remains a hit for Quickly’s loyal customers.


DEHP & chemicals in bubble tea

In 2011, I learned about DEHP, a chemical used to make plastics, that was found in the synthetic fruit syrups used in bubble tea.

In addition, there were multiple health news articles that stated that bubble tea pearls contained ingredients that were cancer-causing.

After learning that, I became wary of bubble tea and stayed away from it. Especially since I knew it had no nutritional value and that it could be detrimental to my health? No thanks.

The latest news I’ve come across is that fake tapioca pearls are being made with rubber tires and old leather shoes. Ew, yuck!

For something as simple as it sounds, tapioca pearls should consist of just tapioca starch and water.

Yet, even if you purchase the dried packaged tapioca pearls at the supermarket, you’ll notice that the ingredient list is filled with chemicals, preservatives, and artificial flavours.


Can bubble tea really cause cancer?

now, you might say that anything can cause cancer, but it also says that the bubble tea stores in canada were shut down by its governmental health department because of it?

anyone else knows about this? i don't drink it often. it's been like two months since i had one, so i'm pretty sure drinking it once in awhile is alright, but wtf? drinking something like this causes cancer?

please, avoid stuff like, ANYTHING CAUSES CANCER, since i don't see them shutting down fast food stores and others.

Next up, I highly doubt that this Tea can be worse for you than driving a car or smoking (dunno if you do) so if you hella worried go talk to a doctor if not just chug that shit.

Canada not having guns is a smart move if anything.

On September 15 2008 09:40 Sp1ralArch1tect wrote:
First off you should have fully disregarded the entire statement as false when you read the word "canada" usually things aren't really on the level there, they don't have any guns so they are scared of everything.

Next up, I highly doubt that this Tea can be worse for you than driving a car or smoking (dunno if you do) so if you hella worried go talk to a doctor if not just chug that shit.

And also regard if its from wikipedia? I read that stuff all the time but someone coulda just editted that. I looked up stuff about bubble tea and it says it actually reduces the chances of cancer.

anyway, i found this article, in which it says that the cyanide from tapioca is used to TREAT cancer? wtf.. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/317467.stm

On September 15 2008 09:42 IntoTheWow wrote:

Canada not having guns is a smart move if anything.

very true. it's just too bad that the US can't really get rid of guns because of all the things that would happen once guns are removed. In societies where guns have been banned for a while, the crime rates are pretty low i.e. Japan (perhaps due to how they were raised).

On September 15 2008 09:37 CapO wrote:
it's not my first time, but i just had bubble tea, and i have always wondered what these tiny purple chewy pearls were made of. i looked it up on wikipedia, and it says that drinking too much bubble tea can cause cancer?

now, you might say that anything can cause cancer, but it also says that the bubble tea stores in canada were shut down by its governmental health department because of it?

anyone else knows about this? i don't drink it often. it's been like two months since i had one, so i'm pretty sure drinking it once in awhile is alright, but wtf? drinking something like this causes cancer?

please, avoid stuff like, ANYTHING CAUSES CANCER, since i don't see them shutting down fast food stores and others.


Tapioca pearls in bubble tea contain carcinogens like polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs

German health authorities and researchers have come out swinging recently against the Taiwanese drink bubble tea, warning that the popular dessert beverage presents a choking hazard to children and may contain cancer-causing chemicals.

The warnings, released separately, come as Europe, and Germany in particular, begin to catch on to the bubble tea trend which has already swept major urban centers in North America to become a popular dessert beverage.

After analyzing the tapioca balls which make up the 'bubbles' in the drink, researchers from the University Hospital Aachen, for instance, found that the pearls contained polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs such as styrene, acetophenone, and brominated substances, chemicals that shouldn't be in food at all, researchers told German paper The Local.

Samples were taken from an unnamed chain in Mönchengladbach, in northwest Germany and the tapioca balls were made in Taiwan.

The study comes on the heels of a public health warning from the country's German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment earlier this month, which warned that the tapioca balls also present a choking risk to children.

"Especially with children aged up to four years, there is a risk of foreign objects accidentally entering the lungs," said Dr. Andreas Hensel in a statement. "And that is precisely what can happen when the bubbles are sucked up through a straw."


Bubble Tea Tapioca Pearls May Contain Cancer-Causing Chemicals, German Study Claims

Bad news for fans of the colorful novelty drink called tapioca tea, or boba tea: The sugary specialty beverage, generally milk-based and filled with chewy balls of tapioca, may also include cancer-causing chemicals known aspolychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, the Daily News reports.

German researchers from the University Hospital Aachen have reportedly found traces of the carcinogenic chemical in tapioca ball samples. The tapioca was taken from an unnamed chain in northwest Germany and originated in Taiwan, according to the Daily News.

"[What we found] includes in particular styrene, acetophenone, and brominated substances that shouldn't be in food at all," scientist Manfred Möller, of the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital Aachen, told German newspaper The Local, notes the AFP.

According to the EPA, PCBs belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals manufactured between 1929 and 1979. The chemicals still exist in the environment despite their U.S. manufacturing ban. Ranging in toxicity, PCBs have been shown to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system, the government site continues.

The cancer concerns were compounded by another public health warning, released earlier in August by the country's German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. German authorities warned that the beverage's hallmark gummy balls, may pose a choking risk.

"Especially with children aged up to four years, there is a risk of foreign objects accidentally entering the lungs," said Dr. Andreas Hensel in a press release on the Institute's website. "And that is precisely what can happen when the bubbles are sucked up through a straw."

UPDATE: According to Taiwan's Central News Agency, a leading manufacturer of bubble tea drink ingredients has since disputed the researchers' claims. Wang Chun-feng, chairman of the Possmei Corp., held a press conference Tuesday from his offices in New Taipei, to defend the safety of his products. Meanwhile, an official from Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration also refuted the German safety warnings, calling into question the authenticity of the test results.


Disadvantages of Tapioca

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, consuming poorly prepared cassava may lead to cyanide poisoning. This concern mainly affects people in developing countries.

There are few reported side effects of tapioca. However, many researchers agree that more research is needed.

One of the disadvantages of tapioca is that it consists mainly of carbohydrates. This means that people with diabetes should limit their consumption of foods containing tapioca.

It is also a concentrated source of calories. This may hinder some people's weight loss and fitness goals since it is high in calories yet low in nutrients.

Though there are some benefits of tapioca, you may want to consider both the benefits and risks before consuming products like bubble tea, tapioca pudding or cassava chips.