Tapioca is made from the starchy root of the cassava tree, whereas sago is made from the inner part, or pith, of the stem of the sago palm tree. They are similar, flavorless starches that are used in cooking and baking, and they can be used interchangeably in many recipes. Both tapioca and sago are used to make puddings and baked goods, and to thicken soups, stews and pie fillings.
Both tapioca and sago are almost pure carbohydrates, and are basically fat-and protein-free foods. Despite their nutritional deficiencies, they are staples in some cultures. Sago is a staple in Indonesia and Malaysia, where it is used to make white bread, noodles and fish sausage. It can also be used to make steamed puddings, pancakes and biscuits.
Tapioca originated in Brazil and is now heavily used throughout South America and Africa. Tapioca pudding, made from tapioca pearls, is popular around the world and the pearls are used in bubble, or boba, tea. Both sago and tapioca are used in Indian cooking. Because it is gluten-free, tapioca starch is widely used in gluten-free specialty foods and some chewy candies. It is used as a binder and stabilizer in foods such as chicken nuggets. Sago is also used commercially in sizing textiles.