Harish Jharia

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22 June 2012

What Is Sabudana / Tapioca / Sago (साबूदाना): Is Sabudana a Vegetarian Food?

Sabudana is a pure vegetarian food ingredient... 
साबूदाना एक शुद्ध शाकाहारी भोज्य पदार्थ है...

© Harish Jharia

What is sabudana? 
This is a question that struck in my mind in my school days during 1950s. Ever since, for over 50 years I was in search of the answer to this question, until I got it on the internet. Being a curious child I got different answers from my elders and teachers. They were “I don’t know”; “it is made of flour of water chestnut आरारोट (सिंघाड़े का आटा)”; a senior doctor went to the extant to say that “If you come to know the reality about sabudana, you would hate to eat it”.  In all, I was told by my elders that it was really a mysterious food in spite of its rampant use among Indian consumers.  

Nevertheless, the reality is quite different. In fact Sabudana / Tapioca / Sago (साबूदाना), available in the shape of granules / globules of 2 to 4 mm, is  a natural vegetarian food made out of the milk of a root resembling sweet potato (शकर कन्द).

Sabudana (साबूदाना) is called Tapioca Sago in English and Javarishi in tamil.  Sago is a produce, prepared from the milk of Tapioca Root. Its Botanical name is ‘Manihot Esculenta Crantz Syn Utilissima’. It is a highly nutritious food that contains Carbohydrates and appreciable amount of Calcium and Vitamin-C. 

There are varieties of dishes made out of sabudana including papad,  kheer, vadas and the most popular Sabudana Khichdii (साबूदाना खिचड़ी) that is used as a phalahaar (fruity food / फलाहार) and eaten as a non-cereal refreshment during Hindu religious fasting. 

This is a well-known crop that is recognized by several names in various regions across the world wherever it is consumed. It is known as Yuca, Rumu or Manioca in Latin America; Manioc In French-Speaking Africa and Madagascar; Cassava In English-Speaking Africa, Sri Lanka and Thailand; Mandioca Or Aipim In Brazil; Tapioca And In India and Malaysia And Bi Ketella Or Kaspe In Indonesia. 

Tapioca Sabudana / Sago (साबूदाना) root has a high resistance to plant disease and high tolerance to extreme tropical conditions such as drought and poor soils.

The cassava or manioc plant has its origin in South America. Amazonian Indians used cassava instead of or in addition to rice/potato/maize. Portuguese explorers introduced cassava to Africa through their trade with the African coasts and nearby islands. 

Tapioca was introduced in India during the latter part of 19th Century, Now, mainly grown in the States of Kerala, Andhra-Pradesh, & Tamilnadu. Products from Tapioca like Starch & Sago were introduced in India only in 1940s onwards. 

Tapioca plant on Seychelles 5 cents  coin

Process of making Sabudana / Sago (साबूदाना):

In India, Sago was produced first in Salem (Tamilnadu) somewhere in 1943-44.  Sago sabudana production started as a cottage industry in India by pulping the tapioca roots, extracting and filtering the milk-extract, forming globules and drying these globules in sun.
Subsequently, advanced process of mass production was developed that continues until today. 

Sago Roots, received from the farms are hygienically cleaned in water and after peeling it is crushed, for extracting its milk. The milk is then filled in tanks to settle for nearly 3 to 8 hours.  All the residual impurities float at the top of the juice settled in the tanks and the same are drained out of the settled milk. 

From this concentrated settled milk globules are prepared with the help of typically designed unique manufacturing plants consisting of very simple indigenous machines and modules. These globules or small balls are then sorted in proper sizes by passing through different sieves.  Finally, the globules are roasted on hot plates or heated in steam, depending upon the desired final product Sabudana / Sago (साबूदाना) in globular shape & than dried under direct sunlight spread over huge platforms.

Click here to read more about Sabudana: 

Sabudana Recipe: Tasty and nutritious vegetarian snack (Hindu fasting diet फलाहार)



  1. Dear Sir,
    Yes it is true that it is made of Sago / Tapoica roots but process is not exactly the same and hence it should not be considered vegetarian.
    Not at all it should be considered for fasts as many manufacturers mix aata etc in it.
    Please follow the links:

    The second link is from one of the people whose parents owned Sabudana factory. Please consider details before posting information.
    I have myself visited a few factories in Salem area and cofirmed myself that it is put in pits in the land.
    They did not diveluged anything so I just saw and came back.

  2. Thanks Kapil Jain for visiting this site and reading the content of this article. Your first link takes to WikiAnswers and not a particular article on this subject.
    The second link navigates to my this very article.
    the information given by you "it is put in pits in the land" appears to be collected from some nontechnical source and wrong.

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  7. Is saboodana made of rice ??

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hello Anonymous,
      Saboodaanaa is NOT made of rice. It is made out of juice / milk of a root called Tapioca Sago in English and Javarishi in tamil. this root resembles the different vegetables commonly used in our kitchen called sooran, aarvi, kuchaaloo, shakarkand etc.
      Saboodaanaa is a vegetarian food. don't listen to misguiding comments posted on this article.

  8. Starch,Sabudana is a vegetarian food and used during fasting by Hindus.It is hygienic in nature and all rumurs pertaining to it are false and fake.None will do such with food items.

  9. बहुत ही कम लोग या फिर पुराने वृद्ध लोग ये बात जानते है -
    साबूदाना एक पेड के तने को चीर कर उसके अन्दर से निकला जाता था | वो वास्तविक साबूदाना था | फिर जैसे जैसे साबूदाना की मांग बढ़ने लगी इसके अन्य विकल्प खोजे गये , जो कि अब हमारे सामने है | ये जो अब साबूदाना आ रहा है ये असली साबूदाने का विकल्प मात्र है |

  10. किसी को और जानकारी चाहिए हो तो कृपया sandeepiitbombay2@gmail.com पर सम्पर्क करे |

  11. Hello Sandeep,
    What is the name.of the tree from which your sabudana is extracted by breaking it's trunk?
    You have ZERO knowledge about Sabudana.
    You are not prepared to learn real facts and want to carry false beliefs.
    If your eyes are not opening after reading this article, then only God can save you from ignorance.

  12. HariKumar Lilani,
    Please watch this video: https://youtu.be/22GqFL8xEvY

  13. I understand the commercial sabudana is manufactured from the root as you mentioned, but there is a palm called the sabu tree looks someway between the coconut and the betel nut which bears sabudana as a fruit. The convent I studied had plenty of them as did my college. As the boat like shell of the fruit would crack open when done the small off white peals would scatter on the ground. They would become translucent only on long hours soaking and taste nothing like the ones we get in packets, the ones that dissolve in water when soaked nowadays.

  14. I also heard as Ms Mukherjee mentioned , but during argument with my colleague on the Sabudana , I googled and did not find any supportive document on my belief.

  15. Mou Mukherjee and Deepshikha Dutta. The procodure and raw material described in this article are true. There is no such tree in the world that produce fruit filled with sabudana pearls.
    Please learn from this article rather than teaching the writer about a product that he has written about after prolonged R&D...
    Wisit my site to bye my book Hindi novel 'Patthar Kii Ibarat': harishjharia.com

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