Thursday, 28 May 2020

Lemon Tapioca Pearl Pudding with Creme Fraiche Lemon Curd Topping

Tapioca and Sago have the ability to beautifully set a cold pudding without any gelatine, what  winners of grains. I really wanted to call this pudding Lemon Sago pudding as that is what the recipe originally was, and the only thing that has changed is that I had to use tapioca this time as sago is unobtainable at the moment where I live.

Sago and tapioca are distinctly different in their botanical origin but now are used interchangeably. Sago comes from the middle part of the trunk of the sago palm, and tapioca comes from the tuber of cassava or manioc which grows in tropical climates. It's not easy to find sago now in supermarkets,
and  "LION" a Western Australian firm packages "Tapioca pearls" which have captured the business in our supermarkets. "LION" states on the packet that Tapioca and Sago are both starch extracts from plants, Tapioca from the tuber of the cassava plant and Sago from the pith of Sago palm stems. "Tapioca and Sago are traditionally used in both sweet and savoury dishes throughout the world and can often be used interchangeably in recipes". Lemon sago is an old fashioned dessert, which my Mum often cooked for us when we lived at home, however back then I didn't appreciate it as much as I do now. Possibly because back then we ate some kind of "healthy" pudding most nights. Sago used to be the main grain commonly used in the kitchen along with rice and barley, before the super grains like quinoa, chia seeds, linseed, and many others erupted on the culinary scene as super grains and became quite trendy. What I have written isn't in any way an advertisement for Lion.I thought that  seeing a photo of the packet might help you to find it at the supermarket near the jellies if you are interested. It was on the bottom shelf  when I was looking.

 Sago was being used in British home cooking during the 18th century when presumably it arrived aboard British ships trading in South East Asia. Old cookery books from this era talk about recipes for sweet sago puddings made from milk, cream, eggs, spices and lemons, all the good things. Mrs. Beeton was a 19th century cookery icon who in her Book of Household Management, 1861, p. 79, described the sago making process:

"In order to procure it, the tree (palm tree) is felled and sawn into pieces. The pith is then taken out, and put in receptacles of cold water, where it is stirred until the flour separates from the filaments, and sinks to the bottom, where it is suffered to remain until the water is poured off, when it is taken out and spread on wicker frames to dry. To give it the round granular form in which we find it comes to this country, it is passed through a colander, then rubbed into balls, and dried."  
During Mrs. Beetons era, the 19th century, Singapore was the centre for sago processing with this industry employing many people.

Lately sago and tapioca have both been used for all kinds of tropical pudding variations using coconut milk and tropical fruits, or red grapes in the Barossa Valley, where they make "rote grutze" as a signature dessert.  I will be into the tropical varieties next Summer when mangoes are back in season, but for now it's citrus season and I have more bush lemons, so I made Lemon Sago, oops Tapioca,  last night and we both loved it. Lemon brings a tangy sour edge to the sweetness of this pudding which tantalizes the taste buds. Any lemons will work for this pudding, but I think the bush lemons have a rather unique lemon flavour if you can get them. Layer it in a serving glass  for a special treat with this creme fraiche lemon curd topping and it is delicious. I used my homemade lemon curd but lemon curd is available for purchase. For my  Lemon curd recipe please click here.

A bowl of lemon tapioca/sago
 Here's the recipe :-

Lemon Tapioca "Sago" Pudding
4 serves

1/2 cup tapioca or sago (100 gr.)
3/4 cup  Raw Sugar ( use caster sugar if you like but I prefer the flavour of the raw sugar)
grated rind of 3 lemons
3 cups of water
1/2 cup of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of golden syrup

Let's Cook:
  1. Wash tapioca (sago); soak for 2 hours in 300 ml of water.  (Don't omit this step, or you will be stirring the mixture for what seems like hours.)
  2. Rinse tapioca.
  3. Combine tapioca, sugar, lemon rind, and water in a saucepan.
  4. Bring to a gentle simmer. Stir regularly over a low to medium heat for 20 mins. or until sago is translucent, soft and thick.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and golden syrup and cool for 30 minutes
This is  nice served in dessert glasses with the creme fraiche lemon topping for a special occasion.

Creme Fraiche Lemon Topping
  4 serves

200 g creme fraiche
4-5 tablespoons lemon curd (depending on your taste and the curd)
1 tablespoon thinly sliced mint
3 tablespoons toasted coconut flakes
Finely grated lime zest from 1-2 limes
  1. Gently mix the lemon curd into the creme fraiche in a small bowl
  2. Layer the creme fraiche evenly over the surface of each lemon pudding
  3. Top with some freshly shredded mint. Scatter with the coconut flakes and lime zest and serve.
When I cooked this pudding, Mr. HRK who ate much more lemon sago as a child than I did from what he says, so is somewhat of an expert says it is the same as he ate at home, which presumably was the authentic sago. Were Tapioca Pearls even around back then? I am still coming to grips with this sago v tapioca debate my friends so if you can shed any light on the topic I would love to hear from you, and I will keep looking for sago. Whilst this story probably sounds like an ode to sago, I have made this pudding from tapioca pearls and there doesn't seem to be any difference in the final result. It's all in the name. However I would like to know if sago can in fact still be purchased at all. I'm sure packets of it are tucked away on shelves in Indian or Asian supermarkets in the cities, or even health food shops.

Thanks for dropping by and I hope you find some beautiful sunshine to enjoy this weekend.


An original recipe by Pauline @ Happy Retirees Kitchen.


  1. Such a pretty and delicious dessert! I haven't had sago desserts in like years! This has me crave some badly!

    1. Thanks Angie, I hope you can make some, it is very easy and so delicious.

  2. We use sago in Sri Lanka to make desserts and porridge.

    I don’t remember seeing sago at the stores here. Last year I bought some from home. I have to see if I have any left. 😊

    1. It's a very versatile grain isn't it Nil.Interesting that it is used in Sri Lanka to make porridge. It is a filling grain when cooked so that would be great for brekkie I imagine. Thanks for your comment, Pauline

  3. I had forgotten how much I loved lemon sago as a child. I think I remember my grandmother making a passionfruit version as well. Cheers

    1. Ooh passion fruit lemon sago would be nice. If I can find some nice passion fruit I'll give it ago. Thanks for the idea Bernie. Hope you are well.

  4. hi pauline
    ah this brings back the memories. i think mum used tapioca for her puddings. mmm the memory of those squidgy little balls ... we had it with just plain milk and sugar i think. very old-fashioned isn't it? i think your version with lemon and golden syrup and creme fraiche sounds very tasty though:-)

    1. Honestly Sherry I know it's old fashioned but I am amazed at how much we are enjoying it, with cream as well. Quite palate cleansing as well. I made a double batch last time so we will be eating it for a while, ha, ha. Best wishes, Pauline

  5. I love the texture of these little pearls! Thank you for the comprehensive post Pauline! :D

    1. Thanks Lorraine, the little pearls are such a lovely transformation aren't they?

  6. What an interesting story. I don't know if I've had sago, I must now find and determine. A lovely sounding dessert.

    1. I hope you can find it Ron as it is a very comforting and delicious style of dessert. I can only find sago here in Indian and Asian wholesalers, however tapioca is more mainstream it seems. I think the sago pearls are larger when cooked. Thanks for your interest Ron, hope you are well and enjoying the start of Summer.

  7. Really interesting post. I've heard of sago, but don't think I've ever had it. I'm a sucker for lemon, so I should hunt some down so I can make this. Or just substitute tapioca. :-) Good recipe -- thanks.

    1. Thanks KR. I found sago this week where I live in the Indian and Asian/Italian supermarkets, but not in Woollies or Coles. It's strange as sago was definitely available in shops in the 60's and 70's here more than tapioca. Both delicious anyway.


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