Q. While eating at an Asian restaurant recently, I watched a dad helping his son choose from the menu of “boba” or bubble teas. Are these dangerous? I read that the tapioca bubbles have PCBs and that you can choke on the large “bubbles.” Also, why are the bubbles dark-colored? –KM
A. We’ve been drinking bubble tea occasionally for the past 15 years or so with no unfortunate events. However, the last time I had a (delicious, strawberry-banana) bubble tea, with the black tapioca pearls at the bottom, I thought about the second part of your question.
Just as one could drown in a soup bowl full of water, I imagine one also could choke on the springy tapioca pearls that form the bubbles in the tea. Very simply, don’t inhale them! Pull the bubbles only so far as your teeth, so you can chew them, which is simply the best part of bubble tea! If you are giving the tea — which is more often a creamy, smoothy type drink — to a child, instruct them carefully on the procedure, then keep an eye on them.
A little research into the PCB factor: While one European lab found PCPs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in pearls served by an unnamed bubble tea house in Northern Germany, the German consumer protection agency, Nordrhein-Westfalen, sampled 84 different bubble teas and found no PCBs. PCBs have been linked not only to cancer, but other undesirable health conditions.
Bubble tea also can be very sugary, and one might raise various other health alarms about sugar. If you’re watching your sugar intake, just order a bubble tea now and then. Remember not to inhale the bubbles; forget about PCBs.
As for the dark color — on ingredient lists for black, uncooked tapioca pearls for bubble tea, I have seen the word “caramel coloring.”