Posted on: June 3, 2016 at 11:21 am
Last updated: August 3, 2019 at 1:27 pm

Bubble tea is a colorful, novelty drink that was invented in Taiwan in the 1980’s and has recently experienced a surge in popularity in the U.S. and the rest of North America. The tea-based drink is most famously known for containing small tapioca balls, giving the drinker a unique mix of flavors and textures.


Although these tapioca balls are what give bubble teas its distinct taste, according to researchers in Germany, it may also be the reason that it causes cancer.

Bubble Tea Health Risks



German health authorities recently conducted a study on the health risks of bubble tea after it started gaining popularity in Germany and the rest of Europe.

Researchers from the University Hospital Aachen analyzed the tapioca “bubbles” in bubble tea. They purchased sample from an anonymous bubble tea chain in Mönchengladbach (a city in northwest Germany) that used tapioca balls made in Taiwan.


Researchers found that the small tapioca balls contained polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) such as styrene, acetophenone, and brominated substances.

These are chemicals that are commonly found in non-food products such as surface coatings, inks, adhesives, paints, flame-retardants and plasticizers. Their use has been banned in several countries due to multiple health risks it has been found to cause towards both the environment and in human beings.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has stated that there is evidence to suggest that PCBs cause cancer. They came to this conclusion after linking exposure to PCBs in the workplace to cancer, specifically liver and kidney cancer.

PCBs have also been found to cause other adverse health effects including:

  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Acne
  • Discoloring of the nails and skin
  • Numbness in the arms and/or legs
  • Weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Bronchitis

It is also suggested that people who frequently eat foods containing PCBs are at an even higher risk of experiencing these health effects than those exposed to it through other methods.

Tapioca-Free Bubble Tea


Although the best choice for your health would be to avoid bubble tea with tapioca balls, this doesn’t mean you have to stop drinking bubble tea completely. Although the drink is most popular for containing tapioca balls, there are many different varieties of bubble tea that make use of healthier options. One of the most popular tapioca alternatives is basil seeds.

Basil seeds may feel hard and dry when you first purchase them. However, when they are exposed to liquid they absorb it and begin to have a texture very similar to tapioca. This absorbency is also what gives them their health benefits.

They are similar to chia seeds in that they contain a large amount of fiber and expand when mixed with liquid, making them great for suppressing an appetite and making you feel full without overeating.

You can purchase basil seed bubble tea at many common bubble tea stores, or you can make your own in a few simple steps.

Basil Seed Bubble Tea Recipe


  • 1 teaspoon of basil seeds
  • 500 ml of tea (flavor of choice, generally fruit based work best)
  • 2 teaspoons of honey


  1. Prepare tea of choice and immediately and mix in one taplesoon of honey while it is warm, then wait for it to cool down while completing the following steps
  2. Pour the remaining teaspoon of honey in a glass that is half filled with warm water and mix until dissolved
  3. Rinse basil seeds in a strainer and then pour into honey-water
  4. Allow them to sit for around two to three minutes to fully absorb water
  5. Drain the basil seeds from the honey water and use a spoon to scoop it to the bottom of a separate glass
  6. Pour the cooled down tea into the glass with the basil seeds and serve with a straw

There you have it! An easy to make, tapioca-free bubble tea. Let us know how this recipe worked out for you in the comment section.


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