Sweet Basil Seed and Tapioca Pudding

This image courtesy of Marcus Nilsson

This Southeast Asian-inspired dessert was always a best-seller in a Vietnamese restaurant I used to own in New York City. It’s fantastic, flavorwise, with the rich, coconut-infused pudding accented with a piquant zing from pomegranate molasses. The mix of chewy tapioca and creamy pudding can be complemented by juicy, crunchy pomegranate seeds, as well as the pliant pearls of tapioca, and crunchy, gelatinous basil seeds. Sweet basil seeds are literally seeds that would grow into a basil plant. Texturally fascinating, they are a great vehicle for flavor, as they absorb flavored liquids while developing a gelatinous covering. This recipe requires an overnight rest, so plan accordingly. Both the pearl tapioca and the sweet basil seeds can be purchased online (see Notes).


Total Timea day or more

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe CourseDessert

Dietary ConsiderationEgg-free, Gluten-free, Halal, Kosher, Peanut Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free, Vegan, Vegetarian


Type of DishDessert, Pudding


  • 1 tablespoon sweet basil seeds (see Notes) (9 grams)
  • 1/3 cup water (preferably uncarbonated mineral water) (2.8 ounces, 78.7 grams)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1½ teaspoons medium-flavored honey such as orange blossom or clover (10.8 grams)
  • 1 cup pearl tapioca (see Notes) (6 ounces, 170 grams)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cream of coconut (see Notes) (427 grams)
  • 1 (13.5-ounce) can sweetened coconut milk (384 grams)
  • 2/3 cup sugar (5 ounces, 143 grams)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (4 grams)
  • Large pinch of salt
  • Pomegranate molasses, for serving (see Notes)
  • Pomegranate seeds, for serving
  • Zester
  • 6 shallow bowls, for serving


  1. For the Garnish: Place the basil seeds in a bowl. In a saucepan, bring the mineral water to a boil. Add the orange zest and honey, stir to melt the honey, and pour over the basil seeds. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

  2. For the Tapioca: Place the pearls in a large bowl with water to cover. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

  3. The next day, drain the tapioca. In a medium-size heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the soaked pearls with the coconut cream and milk, sugar, vanilla bean seeds and pod, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, stirring constantly, and simmer for 4 minutes. Let cool, then transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.

  4. To Serve: Serve the tapioca in shallow bowls. Scatter a ring of basil seeds along the outside edge of each bowl. Garnish with banana slices and pistachios. Drizzle with a little pomegranate molasses and garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired.


Sweet basil seed is an exotic ingredient that is very usual in appearance but that can be used to transmit flavors without adding extra fat. Although fat is the best transmitter of flavors, the basil seed absorbs the flavors surrounding it and allows them to linger on the tongue for prolonged enjoyment. The silky texture is refreshing, and the seeds can be stored in the fridge for weeks in a closed container with citrus rinds, vanilla beans, and herbs.


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