Boba milk tea (Bubble tea), the drink that has grown increasingly popular in the United States and many parts of the world, may not be as safe as previously thought.
Different versions may include a variety of added ingredients, however, the main components are mostly kept: milk, tea, tapioca pearls and a very large dose of added sugar. And while the tapioca pearls in the drink contain vitamins, minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium that are all good for the body, the sugar content alone should make boba drinkers reconsider keeping the beverage in their diet, health experts warned.
According to a group of health and community organizers, the drink poses extreme risk of obesity and diabetes as it contains almost as much sugar as soda.
“Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, boba was very affordable. I had it every day,” Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA) program manager Scott Chan said.
The campaigners revealed that a 12-ounce serving of boba can contain about 90 grams of sugar, 7 grams of fat and 490 calories. Some flavored boba milk tea contains sugary syrups, which can contain higher amount of sugar than the plain version.
“You don’t want that much sugar in your body every single day. It has a lot of different impacts on your health,” Chan said.
In line with their findings, the coalition has launched an awareness campaign dubbed “Rethink Your Asian Drink” to inform the public of unhealthy contents of boba tea. Through the campaign, the group also aims to warn consumers the importance of understanding what they consume.
“1997 to 2011 here in L.A. County, there was a 68 percent increase in diabetes in our communities,” Chan said.
As an alternative, some shops have created drinks that uses traditional, healthier components. In Chinatown, Lassa Restaurant’s Chef Nico de Leon has concocted his own version of the boba tea.
“In my alternative drink we did a black tea, carrot juice for the color and also add some sweetness, some almond milk instead of the dairy in there so it’s actually vegan, and then instead of boba we used chia seeds,” de Leon said.
Customers, so far, have responded well to the healthier version.
“The carrot juice, it’s very sweet. It’s very light. It’s refreshing so it’s a great alternative, especially for a summer drink,” boba tea lover Whitney Chung said.
If no healthier alternative available and you just badly need your boba tea fix, health experts suggests that you may offer your own modifications when ordering the drink.
“Ask for smaller options, less options. You know a lot of these places you can ask for half sugar, quarter sugar, no sugar,” Chan said.