The Battle of the Bobas!
Serving size: 4 large drinks
Ingredients for tea:
Ingredients for tapioca pearls:
Experiment: In this delicious experiment I manipulated the type of sweetener that I added to boba tea, (my all time favorite drink) and measured qualitatively the taste and sweetness of each variation. I was slightly torn with how I wanted to experiment with the sweetness index of sugar, honey and maple syrup. There were two options that made sense to me, the first was to calculate how much honey or maple syrup it would take to equal the amount of sucrose in table sugar and add that amount to the tea, and see how much it affected the taste of the boba tea. The second option was to measure exactly the same amount of sweetener across the board and test from there. I decided to go with the second option because it would more accurately compare the sweetness and taste of each sweetener. I thought that most people would find the sugar option the most familiar and appealing, causing that to affect my data. Once I figured out how to make the boba, I created a survey to commence a blind taste test ranking preference and sweetness level.
I found that honey was the best alternative to sugar because it was sweeter when added in the same quantity. This means that you can add much less honey and get the desired sweetness with less sugar content, and a healthier drink. I also found the maple syrup was a delicious option, and my peers ranked it fairly high in taste, but it had the lowest sweetness content for sure. If you want a rich tasting drink that is less sweet and more healthy, go with maple syrup! It did not alter the final texture, but it did add earthy flavours and a nice after taste. I was very surprised to find that the honey was so much sweeter when added in the same quantity because the sweetness index of sugar is technically higher. My personal preference though? Go with honey! It’s delicious, natural, and super sweet!
The Science Behind the Boba: In searching for a healthier alternative to processed sugar, I first had to look into what sugar was on the molecular level, and why table sugar had become the most popular and effective sweetening method across the globe. There are many types of sugar molecules that have different sweetness index and properties, and I will only be speaking about the three that are most common. I am referring to sucrose, glucose, and fructose. The sweetness index is a scale based around sucrose, and is measured on the basis that sucrose has a sweetness index of 1. This is similar to the scoville scale which measures spice. In comparison to sucrose, glucose has a sweetness index of .75, and fructose falls at 1.7. This means that if a sweetener is composed mostly of fructose it will be sweeter than sucrose. Sucrose is composed of both glucose and fructose, and this creates a balance chemically because of the glycosidic bond between both glucose and fructose. Honey, like table sugar, contains glucose and fructose, but there is much more glucose than fructose resulting in a sweetness index of .8 in comparison to sucrose which lies at 1. Maple syrup is primarily sweet because it is around 60% sucrose, and funnily enough that means that it has a sweetness index of .6. Although maple syrup is obviously a slightly less effective sweetener than table sugar and honey, I wanted to include it because of its health benefits. Maple syrup is packed full of healthy metals like zinc, magnesium, and potassium, and is a more complex sweetener than table sugar. It contains fiber and other beneficial things for your body to break down, and it tastes delicious too! According to Steve Smith, biologically the reason things are sweet is because of the way the shape of the molecule of the substance you are consuming sits on the taste receptor. When sucrose, fructose or glucose is dissolved, the sugar molecules fit themselves in between the water molecules, without actually breaking the molecule apart. This means that certain sugars are more grainy when added to drinks, which is why I was concerned about adding thicker sweetener to this mix. I did not want to change the consistency, or the taste, I only wanted a healthier alternative to table sugar. I theorised that the extra metals and amino acids, as well as the proteins and minerals of maple syrup would affect the texture of the drink. Although the maple syrup did affect the taste of the drink, it did not change the consistency.
Personal Commentary: The first time I encountered Boba tea I was astonished by the amazing texture and exciting experience. I was sitting in a small red booth in the center of a local japanese restaurant and ordered my favorite drink, thai iced tea. When it came to the table I was surprised to see small black orbs in the bottom of my swirly drink, and a large straw angled to slurp them up effectively. When I took my first sip I fell in love. Now, any time I go to a city or a town with boba tea I plead my parents to let me indulge there. I also make my friends occasionally join me in little dates to the local restaurant and order only this drink, surely annoying the staff (sorry). When my brother had the brilliant idea of making our own boba, right from home, and simply ordering the delicacy online I was overly excited! Since then I have been experimenting with different methods of cooking and consuming these tapioca treats. I find myself standing at the stove during the entire process watching the water boil and work it’s magic, and the excitement never fades! Please enjoy my findings and I hope it helps you make your dream drink!