Tapioca syrup, also known as tapioca starch syrup, is a natural sweetener that is commonly used as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup. Tapioca syrup is derived from the cassava plant and contains mostly sucrose, glucose and maltose. There has been some debate around whether tapioca syrup has a high glycemic index and thus spikes blood sugar levels. In this comprehensive article, we will examine the glycemic impact of tapioca syrup and how it compares to other sweeteners.
What is the glycemic index?
The glycemic index (GI) is a measurement that ranks foods based on how they impact blood sugar levels. It uses a scale of 0-100, with pure glucose set at 100. Foods are classified as:
- Low GI (55 or less) – Digested, absorbed and metabolized slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar.
- Medium GI (56-69) – Digested, absorbed and metabolized moderately, leading to medium fluctuations in blood sugar.
- High GI (70 or more) – Digested, absorbed and metabolized quickly, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar.
Foods with a high GI are known to increase risks of chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, there is a growing interest in identifying sweeteners that have a low glycemic impact.
The glycemic index of tapioca syrup
Pure tapioca syrup has a glycemic index of 65, putting it in the medium GI category.1 However, the GI can vary based on the ratio of glucose to maltose in the syrup. Syrups with higher maltose content tend to have a lower GI.
One study found that tapioca syrup with 75% maltose content had a GI of 54, while syrup with 8% maltose had a GI of 98.2 Another study that tested four commercial tapioca syrups found a range of GI values from 88 down to 61 based on their glucose-to-maltose ratios.3
Based on these studies, tapioca syrup would be classified as low to medium glycemic depending on the specific formulation. Syrups with higher maltose percentages tend to digest more slowly and have less impact on blood sugar.
Tapioca syrup vs. common sweeteners
Here is how tapioca syrup compares to some other popular sweeteners in terms of glycemic impact:
Sucrose, also known as table sugar, has a high GI of 65.
High fructose corn syrup
High fructose corn syrup has a very high GI of 87.
Honey has a GI of 55, putting it in the low glycemic category.
Agave nectar has a GI of 15, which is extremely low.
Maple syrup has a GI of 54, classifying it as low glycemic.
In comparison to sugar and high fructose corn syrup, tapioca syrup generally has a lower GI value. However, it is not as low glycemic as options like agave nectar and maple syrup. The maltose content has a significant impact on tapioca syrup’s ranking.
Factors impacting tapioca syrup’s glycemic index
Several factors can influence the GI value of tapioca syrup, including:
As mentioned, tapioca syrups with higher maltose percentages tend to have lower GIs. Maltose is a disaccharide sugar made up of two glucose molecules bonded together. It takes longer to break down during digestion than glucose, leading to a more gradual blood sugar rise.
How the tapioca syrup is processed and purified can alter its GI. Processes that remove more impurities tend to increase the glucose concentration and GI.
The measured GI is based on a fixed serving size. Consuming larger amounts will increase the glycemic impact.
When tapioca syrup is consumed as part of a mixed meal, particularly with protein, fiber or fat, it can help slow digestion and lower the GI.
There is individual variability in glycemic response based on age, body composition, microbiome health and other factors. Those with impaired glucose metabolism may see higher spikes.
These nuances make it difficult to pin down the precise GI of a sweetener. However, the evidence indicates tapioca syrup is moderately glycemic at worst and potentially low glycemic if made properly.
Is tapioca syrup keto-friendly?
The ketogenic or “keto” diet restricts carbohydrate intake to induce a metabolic state called ketosis. For most people, that means limiting net carbs to 20-50 grams per day.
With about 76% carbohydrates by weight, tapioca syrup is not keto-friendly in large amounts. However, small servings may be able to fit within a well-formulated keto diet.
For example, 1 tablespoon (21 grams) of tapioca syrup contains approximately:
- Total carbs: 16 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Net carbs: 16 grams
This represents a significant portion of the daily carb limit on keto, so intake should be minimized. Many keto followers avoid tapioca syrup altogether since more carb-restricted options like stevia and monk fruit are available.
Benefits of tapioca syrup
Here are some of the potential benefits of tapioca syrup:
Low on the glycemic index
Compared to sugar and corn syrup, tapioca syrup has a lower GI, especially when made properly. This makes it less likely to cause unhealthy blood sugar spikes.
Tapioca syrup does not contain fructose, the sugar molecule linked to fatty liver disease and other metabolic problems when overconsumed.
Less refined tapioca syrups can provide prebiotic fiber that supports digestive health by feeding beneficial gut bacteria.
Tapioca is naturally high in calcium, phosphorus and iron important for bone formation.
Tapioca syrup is a gluten-free alternative to wheat-based sweeteners.
Most tapioca syrups are derived from non-GMO cassava root.
Tapioca cultivation has a relatively low environmental impact compared to corn and sugarcane farming.
Risks and considerations
While tapioca syrup has some benefits, there are also some important risks and considerations:
Like all concentrated sweeteners, tapioca syrup is very high in calories with little nutritional value. It should be used sparingly.
The natural sugars in tapioca syrup can promote cavities and dental caries when consumed excessively.
Some people experience bloating, gas or diarrhea from the cassava root fibers in tapioca syrup.
Tapioca can cause allergic reactions in some people, especially those sensitive to latex.
Replacing sugars with equivalent amounts of tapioca syrup may not reduce the risks from overconsumption of sweets.
There are often purity and quality issues with some tapioca syrup products.
For most people, tapioca syrup is likely safe in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet. However, it may need to be restricted for certain medical conditions.
Tips for using tapioca syrup
Here are some tips for incorporating tapioca syrup as a sweetener:
- Start slowly – Introduce small amounts to assess tolerance.
- Read labels – Seek organic brands with higher maltose content.
- Limit intake – Use sparingly just like any sweetener.
- Avoid overheating – High heat deteriorates the quality.
- Store properly – Keep in a cool, dry place and avoid mold.
- Use in moderation – Drizzle on oatmeal or stir into dressings.
- Substitute carefully – It won’t mimic sugar cup for cup.
- Watch teeth – Rinse with water after consuming.
Recipes with tapioca syrup
Here are some healthy recipes that use tapioca syrup:
Baked Falafel Bites
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons tapioca flour
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons tapioca syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- In a food processor, pulse chickpeas, onion, tapioca flour, garlic, tapioca syrup, cumin, salt and pepper until well combined but still chunky.
- Roll mixture into 1-inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 minutes until browned and crispy. Serve with yogurt sauce.
Sweet Potato Brownies
- 1 cup mashed sweet potato
- 1/4 cup tapioca syrup
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a bowl, mix together sweet potato, tapioca syrup, coconut oil and vanilla.
- Stir in almond flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.
- Transfer batter to an 8×8 baking dish lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Let cool before cutting into squares.
Ginger Peach Glaze
- 3 peaches, peeled and diced
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons tapioca syrup
- 1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- In a small pot, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened to a glaze consistency.
- Let cool slightly before serving over protein, oats or yogurt.
The bottom line
Tapioca syrup has a moderately low glycemic impact, especially when produced properly with higher maltose content. It provides a non-fructose, gluten-free sweetener option for those looking for alternatives to sugar and corn syrup.
However, tapioca syrup is still high in carbohydrates and calories, so intake should be limited. It is unsuitable for very low-carb diets like keto.
When used occasionally in place of other added sweeteners, tapioca syrup can be part of a healthy diet for most people.