Crystal boba is all the rage nowadays in trendy bubble tea stores across the US and UK. Its translucent white appearance and soft jelly texture are a contrast to black tapioca pearls. This delicious boba topping is easy and fun to make at home!
Do you want to stop spending so much money on buying these tasty treats in the shops? Or do you just want to customize the boba to your liking and create your own crazy concoctions? Whatever your culinary inclination, this article has everything you need to know about these extraordinary pearls.
Our top-grade recipe, specialized for the home cook, is simple and easy to follow. Even those without any drink-making experience can enjoy this Asian beverage phenomenon from the comfort of their own kitchens.
What is Crystal Boba?
Also called white pearls, this esoteric-sounding name refers to a specific type of bubble tea pearls. Bubble tea is so named because of the gelatinous, chewy balls added to the drink for textural purposes.
White pearls are made with the konjac plant, a tropical flower found in Southeast Asia. They have a milky, iridescent white colour that is unique and rarely seen in tea shops in the West. However, since most widely available starches are also white, this kind of topping is extremely easy to make at home.
What is the difference between crystal boba and regular boba?
Both tapioca and white pearls are used in a variety of preparations in Asia. In contrast, their use in the West is mostly limited to tea drinks. Thus, the differences between these two boba types are extremely well-documented and they each have a specific use.
The usual bubble tea topping found in the US and UK are made of the starch of tapioca. White pearls are made with the konjac plant instead.
Tapioca pearls have a neutral taste and are chewy and spongy in texture. The ones used in boba drinks are usually smaller and slightly softer compared to traditional tapioca pearls. Crystal boba, on the other hand, is very soft and jelly-like. They also have a subtle citrus flavour thanks to the plant used to make them.
In addition, white pearls retain their flavour upon storage or when added to a drink. In contrast, tapioca pearls firm up and begin to impart their flavour to the surrounding ingredients. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on what you as the cook intended to happen!
Regular boba are a deep, opaque black colour thanks to the caramel added during preparation. White pearls, of course, are white and are thus distinctive and immediately recognizable. They are not as ubiquitous thanks to their conspicuousness. When crystal boba are added to a dish, they tend to capture its focus. Thus, its use is confined to teas and a few other sparse desserts.
Are They Vegan-friendly?
Tapioca pearls are traditionally vegan since no gelatin is used - the tapioca starch itself is used to set the tiny balls. Western manufacturers might use gelatin for the sake of cost-effectiveness, so be wary, vegans!
White pearls are usually set with agar or konjac starch. However, this cannot be guaranteed with Western manufacturers (although using gelatin is extremely rare). Overall, white pearls are much more likely to be vegan than regular boba.
Are They Healthy?
Generally, all boba is unhealthy, since they are essentially textured vessels of syrup in your drink. White pearls, however, are considerably healthier than other varieties of boba.
100 grams of white pearls contain 70 calories of carbohydrates and no fat. Tapioca pearls contain 358 calories for the same amount.
Can you buy crystal boba?
Yes, you can find white pearls to order online! If you live in an area to which the manufacturer ships to that is. Most companies do not produce them dry but instead pack them in flavoured syrup. This makes it impossible to customize them to a certain extent.
Thus, if you want to experience white pearls in their pure, unadulterated form, making it at home is recommended. This is where our white agar agar pearl recipe comes in!
Homemade white pearls also have the added advantage of being easier to store and not costing nearly as much. They are also guaranteed not to contain allergens, artificial flavourings, or preservatives. We highly recommend making your own pearls if you have the time or inclination!
Most crystal boba recipes contain a myriad of additives and simple ingredients which are suited to industrial manufacturing environments. However, for the home cook, our recipe uses materials that can be ordered online or bought at various grocery stores.
Because konjac gum is extremely difficult to find, our home recipe uses coconut water to replicate that tropical, slightly sour taste.
White sugar is of course traditional to preserve the shiny white colour. Brown sugar is used in the usual brown pearls, so the taste might be preferable for you. We, however, recommend white sugar on this occasion, or your crystal boba might end up looking like, well, normal boba. Or worse, dirty balls!
We use regular fruit jelly you can find from Asian supermarkets. This keeps the pearls entirely vegan as well as adds a bit of chew to the texture. If you cannot find this, try using unflavoured gelatin instead.
This is the main gelatinizing agent for crystal white pearls. Agar has a different texture to gelatin - it is firmer and less jiggly. The variety we used is here;
LIVING JIN Agar Agar Powder for Crystal Boba (4 oz)
Nothing much to say about this one. It’s water!
This cools the mixture and helps it set.
This prevents the mixtures from sticking.
These ingredients are similar, but not exactly like, the ingredients to make other types of boba. Try to select the highest quality ingredients to ensure you make the best agar agar white pearls!
Crystal Boba | Agar Agar White Pearls
- 12 g agar powder
- 10 g jelly powder
- 1 kg coconut water
- 100 g sugar
- 80 ml vegetable oil neutral flavoured
- 2 kg water
- 2 trays ice
- Add coconut water to a pot on low heat.
- Mix the agar and jelly powder thoroughly together, and add them to the pot. Dissolve the powder in the water and let it rest for ten minutes.
- Simmer on low heat for five minutes while constantly stirring. After five minutes, turn off the heat, but continue stirring for another five minutes.
- In a large bowl, mix water, ice, and oil.
- Add the mixture to a squeeze bottle. Squeeze the mixture into the bowl, drop by drop.
- Once the pearls have set, they sink to the bottom. Strain and wash the crystal boba.
- If you don’t have a squeeze bottle, use a spoon to add the agar agar pearl mixture to the bowl, drop by drop.
- If the mixture thickens before all the pearls have been made, heat it. This can be done in the microwave or by submerging the bottle in hot water.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
How to store
Similar to other jelly desserts, agar agar pearls can last for up to 7 days refrigerated. However, we recommend you consuming these as soon as possible before the flavour starts to fade.
Blue Crystal Boba
This adds 2-3 tablespoons of butterfly pea powder (or pea flower water) to the recipe. Its flavour is slightly floral with a sweet aftertaste.
Taro Crystal Boba
This variation incorporates 1 tablespoon of taro paste or taro milk powder into the recipe. For a stronger purple colour, you can either mix butterfly pea water with lemon juice; or use food colouring.
And that’s a wrap! This article contains everything you need to know about crystal boba, and we hope we have converted you to liking it more than traditional boba.
White pearls are one of the many, many traditional Asian dishes which are gaining more recognition in the West. Hopefully, articles like this one will help to change this trend. Bon appetit and keep cooking!