Fun Kitchen Chemistry for Kids: How to Make Popping Pearls

How to make popping pearls
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Every parent knows, there’s no substitute for iced tea with popping pearls. Sure there’s boring boba tea with its boring tapioca pearls… but if you’ve got a popping pearl fan in the family, you’ve probably had to make more than one journey to a far off distant shopping centre to get that child a fix.

Who knew it was remarkably easy to make boba popping pearls at home? And they work out surprisingly well!

Adding a popping drop of science

Making popping pearls is pretty easy and we had excellent success from the start. But, we found that adding more agar agar, different oil temperatures and dropping the pearls from different heights all changed the size and shape of the pearls. So, we turned it into a bit of a science experiment to find the best combination for Miss A’s preference in popping pearl dimensions. You too could do this to turn this popping pearls recipe an afternoon activity into a kitchen chemistry activity.

Agar Agar

The key ingredient in popping pears is Agar Agar. This is widely known as “vegan gelatin” (it’s derived from seaweed) and is used most commonly in Thai and South East Asian cooking. It’s a flavourless powder that looks and acts like “weak gelatin” but doesn’t have the same properties as gelatin in different temperatures. That’s key.

You may be able to substitute gelatin in a pinch, if you cannot get to your local Asian food mart or health food store (or buy it MUCH CHEAPER online here: but you may end up with little rubber balls instead of gently popping fruity bliss.)

How to make popping pearls at home

Equipment:

How to make popping pearls

  • 1 medium pot
  • 1 fairly fine colander or sieve (don’t use the plastic kind with big holes – trust me, the washing up will ruin your whole day)
  • 1 freezer proof glass or mug (ideally long and skinny if you can, if not a regular glass will do)
  • 1 syringe or eye dropper (the type that comes with children’s paracetamol is perfect)
  • 2 medium plastic bowls

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups juice (we used mango but you can do it with any flavour or you can use soft drinks if your child prefers)
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Agar Agar
  • 200 mls cooking oil (any kind will do)
  • Iced tea to serve (or cold tea mixed with home made syrup if you’re super keen)

Method:

How to make popping pearls

Place cooking oil in a freezer proof mug and freeze until “nearly solid” (up to 24 hours). If the oil solidifies, take it from the freezer and let it “warm” until liquid again. Oil should be in the freezer for a minimum of three hours.

Bring juice, agar agar and sugar to a gentle boil ensuring all sugar is dissolved

Set aside for 30 minutes until the mixture is tepid to warm

Using an eye dropper or syringe, add drops of the mixture to the cold oil

Experiment dropping from different heights as this can impact the size of the balls

The mixture will solidify instantly and drop to the bottom of the oil

Repeat until the glass is full then sieve off the oil (retaining it)

If the oil has warmed, place back in the freezer for thirty minutes before continuing with the next round of popping pearls. If the oil is still nice and cold, press on!

Gently rinse the popping pearls in the sieve and then transfer them to a bowl of cold water stirring gently to remove any remaining oil.

Pour yourself a glass of iced tea, add your popping pearls, and enjoy!

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