Bubble tea has been a well-known dessert drink in Asia for some time and this trend has recently spread to Europe. When German researchers published that the tapioca balls, which originated from Taiwan, contains carcinogenic chemicals; they were inadvertently accusing Taiwan of not testing their products for quality. However, it has been tested independently by Taiwan and Singapore’s AVA with results that the pearls were safe for consumption. So, would you still drink bubble tea knowing all these facts? Does bubble tea cause cancer?
So, does bubble tea cause cancer?
Germany decided to adopt the Southeast Asian craze for drinks with small black tapioca balls (commonly called bubbles). It has gained such popularity that these bubbles were even incorporated into the Germany’s newly revamped McCafe menu. However, when the “bubbles” imported from Taiwan were tested; many health warnings were issued telling the public not to drink these “bubble drinks.”
Chemicals that should not be in food
The Huffington Post reports that German researchers, at the University Hospital Aachen, claimed that they found traces of cancer-causing chemicals in the tapioca balls. Scientists have been quoted as having found, “polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs such as styrene, acetophenone, and brominated substances, chemicals that shouldn’t be in food at all.”
The tapioca pearls were taken from an unnamed chain in Germany. It is not clear if this is an isolated incident or if all pearls from Taiwan contains PCBs.
The Huffington Post also mentions that PCB’s– usually found in transformers, fluorescent lights etc– have been known to cause cancer and cause many other health effects to the immune system, reproductive system and nervous system just to name a few.
This report comes at the heels of another health warning issued not long ago regarding the choking hazard that these pearls pose, especially to younger kids.
Dangers of consuming PCBs
As mentioned earlier, PCBs is the cancer causing chemical in the tapioca pearls. There are many health hazards from consuming PCBs. According to University of Queensland, PCBs have an adverse effect on asthma patients.
Women exposed to PCB before or during pregnancy can give birth to children with significant problems, including a lower-than-normal IQ and poor memory. Children born with exposure to PCB also had a lower weight at birth than other babies. These babies also have a smaller head circumference. PCBs have the most effect on children; children, who have been exposed to them early in life, may have a reduced response to immunisation injections.
Prolonged exposure from PCBs can cause accumulation in the body and are stored in the body fat. Unlike water-soluble chemicals, PCBs do not leave the body. More alarming is the fact that PCBs can be transferred from mother to child through breastfeeding.
So, bubble tea = cancer. Or is it?
A Taiwanese “bubble” manufacturer made public that the ingredients used in the manufacturing process meet Germany’s health regulations and standards, making it safe for consumption. This refutes the claim of cancer causing chemicals.
The report published by the Huffington Post had specifically said that the pearls tested were imported from Taiwan. This kind of bad publicity has led to a loss of business in bubble tea shops in Berlin, for example, BoBoQ, a Berlin headquartered tea shop which imports ingredients from Taiwan.
Also, Taiwan’s representative office in Germany issued a statement on Aug. 31, clarifying that its products are tested before exporting. The statement also emphasises that the checks are regularly done to ensure it meets standards for importing countries.
Response in Singapore
AVA (Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority) in Singapore says in a report published by Channel News Asia on the 13th of October 2012 during its latest test is that tapioca pearls are “well within international food safety limits”. It also emphasises that foods that do not pass the quality test is not sold in Singapore.
Tapioca pearls is surprisingly fattening
The tapioca itself does not contain fat, but the empty calories and starch in pearls is linked to gaining weight if you do not burn off the calories. Only one ounce of pearl has 100 calories. If you add the calories of the pearl and the calories of the drink mix with it, it becomes one big fatty drink. By indulging in just one drink with an ounce of pearl you would have to jog for 12 minutes or cycle for 40 minutes.