Corner Café

August 20, 2008

Taro Cubes & Sweetpotato Cubes 芋圓與地瓜圓

Filed under: Syrupy Snacks — SeaDragon @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , ,

As sweetpotatoes and taros are in season and plentiful at the moment, I decided to buy some and experiment on the chewy balls or cubes which are a specialty of Taiwan. They are known as yuyuan (芋圓) which is made with taro, or diguayuan (地瓜圓 or 蕃薯圓) which is sweetpotato.
As I have never tasted the real thing myself, it was really a blind experiment for me to start with. These chewy balls are always described as having a ‘Q’ texture, a Chinese Hokkien term for bouncy texture. I assume the chewiness would be something similar to the chewy pearl balls served in bubble tea that was very popular a few years ago. However I have always queried about the texture of the bubble tea too, unless the only one time I tried it, I had a bad one and I didn’t like it at all. To me the texture of the chewy pearl balls was way too bouncy or rubbery to be described as ‘Q’. To me, ‘Q’ texture is one that is soft and bouncy but still very easy to chew in half such as the texture of a firm agar-agar jelly. However those pearl balls were such that I don’t think they can be referred to as ‘Q’ texture anymore, more like rubbery. I would say they went way over the ‘Q’ factor and into the chewy, ‘jun’ territory. ‘Jun’ (韌) is a Chinese Hokkien term which means so bouncy that it is extremely hard to chew in half, imagining trying to chew a small soft rubber ball, or a tough piece of beef. So is this the type of chewiness that the Taiwanese called very ‘QQ’ and really what the texture of the chewy cubes should be? I really don’t know, but I went ahead with the experiments anyway.

Purple Taro.

I started with the taro version first and using sweetpotato starch (also called sweetpotato flour) which is granular in texture.

Sweetpotato Starch.

I steamed the sliced taro for about 30 minutes until soft, then added quickly into the sweet potato starch in a mixing bowl. Then immediately mashed the taro into the starch, adding a little sugar to taste and formed into a dough. The dough was quite dry and just managed to form into a dough without any more water.

The purple taro dough.

The purple taro cubes before cooking.

Then rolled the dough into a long sausage, cut into cubes and tossed in more sweetpotato starch to prevent them sticking together. I then boiled the cubes until they floated to the surface. These taro balls were soft and slightly ‘Q’ in texture.

Purple Sweetpotato.

Next I tried the purple sweetpotato, doing the same thing as the taro version. This time the steamed purple sweetpotato was more juicy than the taro. So the dough was softer with more liquid content in the sweetpotato.

The purple sweetpotato dough.

The purple sweetpoatto cubes before cooking.

The result, the cubes were still soft but with a bit more bite to it, more ‘Q’ in texture.

Orange Sweetpotato.

For the orange sweetpotato version, I decided to try a different tact by using tapioca starch instead of the sweetpotato starch. I also didn’t add any sugar since I thought the orange sweetpotato was usually quite sweet in itself already. However, after steaming the sweetpotato, there was quite a bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl and I added it all to the 40g tapioca starch. This excess liquid made the dough very sticky, so I had to add almost another 50 to 60g of the tapioca starch to just form it into a non-sticky dough. After cubing and boiling the cubes, they tasted way too bouncy and chewy. They were more ‘jun’ than ‘Q’ in my opinion. But I wondered if this was actually the texture these Taiwanese chewy balls should be after all. I also wondered if the change in the starch also affected the result.
All the three different types were softer when hot, but increase in chewiness when cooled. Personally I liked the purple sweetpotato version the best, soft and ‘Q’, chewy but still easy to bite through.

Makes approx. 1 cup cubes

100g peeled taro or sweetpotato, sliced
40g sweetpotato starch, or tapioca stach
1 tablespoon caster sugar, or to taste
1. Place the sliced taro or sweetpotato in a shallow bowl and put into a boiling steamer.
2. Steam for 20-30 minutes, or until soft.
3. Put the sweetpotato starch in a big mixing bowl.
4. When the taro or sweetpotato is cooked, remove from the steamer and immediately tip into the mixing bowl containing the starch
5. With a fork, immediately start mashing the taro or sweetpotato into the starch. Add sugar and knead until it forms into a dough. If the dough is too dry and crumbly and cannot form into a dough, add 1 to 2 tablespoons boiling water. If it is too sticky, add more starch.
6. Roll the dough out into a long sausage about 1cm in diameter. Use a knife to cut into 1cm thick cubes. Toss the cubes in extra sweetpotato starch to prevent sticking. Shake off extra starch and set aside.
7. Boil a pot of water. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the cubes. Stir immediately to prevent them sticking together.
8. When the cubes float to the surface, boil another minute, then drain. Serve hot or cold in syrup.

Taste: Chewy & bouncy
Consume: Serve hot or cold with syrup
Storage: Uncooked dough cubes can be frozen
Recipe Reference: ‘九份芋圓&地瓜圓’ recipe by Taiwanese cookery teacher 蔡季芳 老師


  1. seadragon….I had been trying to make these and was aiming to have taro balls that are soft and yet QQ….followed quite a few recipes…finally got a cookbook from Taiwan recently but have not tried the recipes yet….and to my surprise tonight, I am reading this method of yours which is exactly like that in the cookbook….I can’t recall the amount for the different ingredients now but this is very encouraging, I will definitely try this method this week. As usual, thank you for the nice write-up and recipes!

    Comment by Asan — September 4, 2008 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  2. Asan,
    Would love to have your feedback to see if the texture is correct since you have eaten them. Just a note though, if water/juice from steaming is added with more starch added, it will increase the chewiness. So if there’s liquid after steaming, don’t add them first and see if the texture is right. If too soft, then add the liquid next time.

    Comment by SeaDragon — September 6, 2008 @ 10:11 am | Reply

  3. seadragon, I was told by Taiwanese that different street vendors serve balls with different degree of Q/softness…it is really individual preference…I actually only tasted taro balls made by parents in my sons’ chinese school..they sell them at school functions for fund raising…I could not find anyone who would teach me…hence the search thru blogs, books I ordered online, requested relatives to buy for me in HK or Taiwan…finally, I think this book from Taiwan really hits the nail (it teaches how to make all these different balls)…their recipe uses steamed taro, sweet potato flour, potato flour and sugar….same method as yours…do you want me to scan a few vital pages for you? They came with pictures.

    Comment by asan — September 6, 2008 @ 10:58 am | Reply

    • Dear Asan,

      do you mind sending me the scanned recipe pages via email too.
      I would greatly appreciate it.
      Thank you.

      Comment by yuni — December 28, 2011 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  4. asan,
    That would be great if it’s not too much trouble. Maybe just PM them to me thru my forum. Thanks.
    I guess you are right about different degrees of Q-ness and softness depending on preferences, but they would be really good served cold on a hot summer day.

    Comment by SeaDragon — September 7, 2008 @ 8:43 am | Reply

  5. hi seadragon,
    I am itching to try this bouncy ball recipe too.I myself don’t care for anything chewy that is not fried but my husband love that kind of sweet stuff.he likes them with a bite, so should I use the sweet potato starch, potato starch or tapioca starch?
    all these Asian starches are very confusing to me,I can only relied on what the packaging say because the only starch I use was corn starch up till about 1 1/2 years ago when I discover food blogs. I enjoy your step by step photos very much thanks!!

    Comment by diane — September 13, 2008 @ 2:23 am | Reply

  6. hi SeaDragon,
    I just check my pantry to see if I have all the ingredients without going to the store.I have this one package of starch made in Taiwan.on the top it say tapioca starch and one the bottom it say sweet potato starch?? chinese word say tai ba fun.ingredient:potato. is that it? thanks.

    Comment by diane — September 13, 2008 @ 6:49 am | Reply

  7. diane,
    I know, sometimes labeling is so confusing. But I would say what you have is potato starch, since the ingredient listed is potato. Tai bai fen is usually potato starch if it is labeled correctly.

    You can try with potato starch if you already have that at home. I have only tried with sweet potato starch and tapioca starch so far, so not too sure how the potato starch would turn out like.

    Comment by SeaDragon — September 13, 2008 @ 9:50 am | Reply

  8. Hi SeaDragon,

    I experimented with this after I had it in Taiwan – I made it as I would with tangyuan, I just added taro to it to make it taro balls instead, and it tasted exactly like the taro balls I had in Taiwan. The problem is that it only retains its chewy texture for two day max, and hardens thereafter. Following your recipe, how long would the taro and sweetpotato cubes last?


    Comment by ethel — December 5, 2008 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  9. ethel,
    You mean you used glutinous rice flour to make them?

    I can’t remember how many days I kept them, but it would be most likely to be 3-4 days. They kept their chewiness, but did become dryer the longer they were kept. I think the best is to make small amount the day you want to eat them since they are easy to make.

    Comment by SeaDragon — December 6, 2008 @ 11:58 am | Reply

  10. Can’t miss this dessert for every of my visit to Taiwan. Those available here in HK is just so and so. I’ve save it under ‘must try’ list, thanks a lot for great recipe.

    Comment by chumpman — March 8, 2009 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

  11. […] It took a bit of sleuthing to hit the right search terms, but here are a couple that I found: one English and one Chinese. I also scoured up a three-part YouTube video of a (apparently) well-known chef […]

    Pingback by Meet Fresh Sweets Shop Copycat Attempt: Taiwanese Grass Jelly and Taro Ball Shaved Ice « lansia does blog — April 13, 2010 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  12. hey SeaDragon, i try making it with glutinous flour, but cant achieve the “Q” and chewy texture, is it replacing glutinous flour with tapioca flour will do?? N is it tapioca flour can be buy at everywhere?? Thanks… Celine

    Comment by celine — April 15, 2011 @ 12:16 am | Reply

    • Hmm, what sort of ‘Q’ texture are you referring to. Is it more soft chewy type texture? If so, try replacing some of the tapioca starch with glutinous rice flour, but not all. Glutinous rice flour will give you the chewiness, tapioca starch will give you the ‘rubberiness’. but I haven’t try it myself so don’t know if it will work.

      Yes, tapioca starch is very common, have a look at the picture of the packaging in Flours and Starches page in the sidebar.

      Comment by SeaDragon — April 15, 2011 @ 9:05 am | Reply

  13. may i know where can i find a supplier to supply this taro cubes?

    Comment by cashine — May 4, 2011 @ 6:39 pm | Reply

  14. Hi… I’m Eric Ng from Penang, Malaysian. Basically now i looking for suppliers of ‘九份芋圓&地瓜圓’ . Can i know who can suppliers or any company that can recommend to me. My email : mobile no. +60125574399 Eric Ng



    Eric Ng

    Comment by Eric Ng — December 31, 2011 @ 5:20 pm | Reply

  15. SeaDragon! This looks great! What would you recommend for the syrup to rest these taro balls? Im thinking of putting them in a regular sugar water syrup. But I’m not sure

    Comment by eric — March 24, 2012 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

    • A simple sugar syrup would be fine. You can also add coconut milk, or add the taro balls to any tong shui for its chewy texture, or add it to ice kacang with shaved ice and sweetened condensed milk. It is up to you what your taste is like, really.

      Comment by SeaDragon — March 25, 2012 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

  16. Many thanks for the recipe. I have made the orange sweet potato version it is absolutely delicious. Its a bit less chewy than the cube balls from ZenQ shop but i can taste the sweet potato…

    Comment by Lily — June 23, 2012 @ 10:44 pm | Reply

  17. Hah! I’ve made a failed attempt using rice flour. Thanks for sharing your info and recipe. Will make a second attempt soon!

    Comment by H — July 13, 2012 @ 2:00 am | Reply

  18. Hi, Seadragon….this is asan…I had not been reading blogs for a while and was surprised to see that this thread is still active. I had just come back from a trip to Taiwan which include a visit to 九城 where we enjoyed the taro, sweet potato etc balls ! They were to die for! Anyway, there are indeed QQ and yet soft even when served with ice. The ones I used to make at home were QQ but would harden when served cold. They must have a secret ingrdient.
    I like my taro balls with more taro taste so I use more mashed taro than flours and after boiling them, I serve them with a little sugar syrup.
    My proportions are 300 gms steamed, mashed taro, 120 gms sweet potato flour, 30 gm tapioca starch, 2 tbsp sugar and about 120 ml water. Cornstarch may be used if tapioca flour is not available. As the water is added gradually into the paste, the amount depends on how wet the steamed taro is. Techniques is as described by you.
    Sugar syrup: 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 2 cups water.

    Comment by Asan — August 6, 2012 @ 6:38 am | Reply

    • Oh, yeah…I forgot….I had made them with as much as 600 gms of taro to 150 gms flours…..very tasty but not as QQ.

      Comment by Asan — August 6, 2012 @ 6:41 am | Reply

      • Error…九份 not 九城

        Comment by Asan — August 6, 2012 @ 6:50 am | Reply

        • Hi Asan,
          Hope you had a enjoyable trip to Taiwan. You must also have a wonderful time browsing all the Taiwanese cookbooks over there?

          LOL, I know what you mean, those commercial ones used a lot of additives and other stuff like taro essence rather than the real thing to make them Q and soft. But nevermind, homemade ones we can make them using authentic ingredients and healthier.

          Comment by SeaDragon — August 6, 2012 @ 8:50 pm | Reply

      • Hi Asan, would you mind to send me the scanned page you had back then in 2008 (about taro balls) to if possible? and also, the brown sugar that you use in the sugar syrup, is it normal brown sugar or the asian black sugar? I wonder if this will produce the same taste as the one in Taiwanese dessert shop? such as MeetFresh, etc

        Comment by Albert — August 25, 2012 @ 10:03 pm | Reply

    • Hi Asan!

      Keen to try what you have suggested. Is this the recipe from the book you got way back in 2008? is it possible to send me a copy of that recipe @ Much appreciated!

      Comment by Mo — August 26, 2012 @ 9:00 pm | Reply

  19. Hi !! I’m LIN from Malaysia .. Can I know where can supplies the 九份芉圓n地瓜圓粉料??how abount in Malaysia ….?? Or other places ?? Thanks for your inform . This is my email . Weiwei6966@ . My phone number is 006-016-8130896 .. Thanks so must ….

    Comment by Eling — December 30, 2012 @ 3:07 pm | Reply

    • Sorry, don’t have a clue, I only blog about food, not for commercial purposes.

      Comment by SeaDragon — December 30, 2012 @ 4:51 pm | Reply

  20. I tired doing it but it ended out becoming too hard .. I use ready make sweet potato paste (is that the reason )??

    Comment by Low Wei Leong — March 14, 2013 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

    • Depending on what the sweet potato paste is, is it pure? I would suspect it has other additives or starch in there, so it is no pure anymore, so the proportion is out.

      Comment by SeaDragon — March 15, 2013 @ 7:04 pm | Reply

  21. I made the taro with the kitchen aid, and can’t make a ball.
    However, the sweet potatoes turned out to be very good, combine 30 gr potatoes starch + 10 gr tapioca powder + 1 tbsp sugar.

    Comment by Kalani — April 10, 2013 @ 11:50 am | Reply

  22. it looks fine when its still a dough however its too soft and slimmy then chewy, why is dat so ?

    Comment by Zendra Han — April 22, 2014 @ 8:12 pm | Reply

    • Hmm, your question is not very clear. Are you talking about the texture after you cooked them?

      Comment by SeaDragon — April 24, 2014 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

  23. Thanks for this recipe! I love it! Reduced the tapioca powder portion by about half so there’s more taro bite. My kids love it too! Say it’s just like the bubble tea shops outside!

    Comment by Nicole — September 22, 2019 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

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