What should be the Specification of Sabudana in India ?

What  should be the Specification of “Tapioca Sago”
Commonly Known as “Sago” or “Sabudana” in India ?

-By Gopal Sabu, Salem
28th May 2017
Tapioca Sago industry in India emerged only before 50 to 60 years in and around Salem district of Tamilnadu State. At the beginning there were very small tiny units, which were all developed and made indigenous locally. Currently there are about 350 units (small & big) around Salem and nearby districts & about 26 units in and around Samalkot district of Andhra Pradesh. Both areas have their own problems in the industry, but regarding quality, I can say firmly that Quality of Tapioca Sago has deteriorated heavily even after good modernisation and huge Investments in the Industry. The best period for Quality Tapioca Sago can be marked between 1975 to 1990. Currently, there is difference of  about Rs.2500 per bag of 90 Kg in Salem market and about Rs.1000 to Rs.1500 per bag of 90 Kg in Samalkot Market, which already proves that quality has been deteriorated drastically. The main reason of this deterioration is over competition to cut selling rates by some greedy manufacturers, who are using instead of Tapioca Root other materials like Maize starch etc. . Also, some manufacturers are not peeling or half-peeling the skin of Tapioca Root and add some chemicals to make the product white, which cost lesser than fully peeled Tapioca Root.
Sadly, In our country, still we are not able, even after so many years of research, in NABL accredited Labs, the exact starch adulteration in manufacturing of Sago. There is no single authentic scientific test method to find out the exact adulteration of raw material like maize with Tapioca and the miscreants are taking advantage of this loop hole.

Various Different Perspectives:

1. Of a common person, who doesn’t know more about Sago:             It should be white round balls made from Cassava Roots and rich of carbohydrate, not suitable for calorie-conscious peoples.
2. Of a  Food Safety Officer:             It should be pure, manufactured & Sold under clean environment, should be made from skin-peeled Tapioca Roots only and should be as per rules and specifications set by FSSAI.
3. Of a Manufacturer:             It should be more & more white & good looking, so, can fetch highest rate in Market. Also, it should pass in Lab Test.
4. Of a Wholesale Merchant:             It should be as per FSSAI norms and of even size, moisture free, bright (not grey or yellow in the name sake of purity),  good water retention capacity of globules, of good taste, so can get good margin on reselling.
5. Of a Retail Merchant:              It should be of guaranteed and consistent quality, so buyers will purchase from me without any complaint. and also should be in competitive  rates.
6. Of an End Consumer:             It should be purely made from “Tapioca Root (cassava)” without any other additive as it is mostly used on fasting days believing that it is made purely from a root which is grown under the soil. It should be having good water observing capacity to cook various Indian dishes in perfect manner i.e. after cooking it should not be HARD nor STICKY or MESHY. The sizes of the globules should be mostly-even and round in shape. It should look clean white, not in bad colours like grey or yellow as it may contain more ash contents or dust or may have moisture. It should be free from any obnoxious smell and of light-sweet in taste. It should not contain any foreign materials like broom stick piece or hair particles or cement pieces.


Standards as per The Ministry of Health and Welfare, Food Safety and Authority of India -regulations for SAGO under Section 2.4.14:2 in Food Safety and Standards (Food product standards and Food Additives) regulation, 2011)

[SAGO shall mean small hard globules or pearls made from either the starch of the sago palm or the tubers of tapioca (manihot utilissima) and shall be free from any extraneous matter [including natural colours].

[It shall conform to the following standards, namely-
(i) total ash (on dry basis)                                                               shall not be more than 0.4 percent;
(ii) ash insoluble in dilute hydrochloric acid (on dry basis)            shall not exceed 0.1 per cent.]

The FSSAI has proposed amendment to the standards for hydrocyanic acid in sago through a notification dated 17 August 2016. The FSSAI has asked for comments and suggestions from stakeholders and WTO- SPS member countries within a period of 60 days from the date of the notification.

The amendments have been proposed in the Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011, under regulations relating to “Crop contaminants and naturally occurring toxic substances” in the category of “Naturally occurring toxic substances.”

The FSSAI has added a new entry for Hydrocyanic acid, which says that in Sago, Cassava flour, Tapioca flour, Manihot flour and their products the maximum limit of hydrocyanic acid will be 10ppm.

Hydrocyanic acid, also known as prussic acid, is a naturally occurring toxin that is mostly found in the pits of fruit such as apricots, peaches, nectarines, bitter almonds and cherries. Car exhaust, and the smoke from wood, tobacco and certain plastics also release amounts of prussic acid. If the natural chemical Hydrocyanic acid is consumed in limits above those recommended it could cause toxicity especially when consumed in high amounts.

Following Specifications for “Tapioca Sago’  as per Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture & Cooperation, has been revised & fixed in the year 2007:

Tapioca Sago shall be manufactured from the starch obtained from the tubers of Tapioca.
Tapioca Sago shall be:

  • Hard, Clean, wholesome, globules or pearls of uniform colour, shape and size;
  • Free from insect infestations, live insect, dead insects, insect fragments, mould/mites,larvae etc;
  • Free from fermented and musty odour;
  • Free from dirt, extraneous matter including added colouring matter;
  • Free from bleaching, whitening agent or optical whiteners, sweetening agents or any other adulterant;
  • Free from any fungal or bacteria contamination


Tapioca Sago Shall comply with the residual level of poisonous Metals (rule 57), crop contaminants (rule 57-A), naturally occurring toxic substances (rule 57-B), insecticides and pesticides residues (rule 65) and other food safety requirements as laid down under the provisions of Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955.
Special Characteristics Minimum Maximum
Moisture Percent by Mass (Maximum) 11 12
Total Ash Percent by Mass on Dry Basis (Maximum) 0.30 0.40
Acid Insoluble Ash Percent by Mass on Dry Basis (Maximum) 0.10 0.10
Starch Percent By Mass on Dry Basis (Minimum) 98.0 96.0
Protein Percent By Mass on Dry Basis (Maximum) 0.30 0.30
Crude Fibre Percent By Mass on Dry Basis (Maximum) 15 20
pH of Aqueous Extract (Between) 4.5 to 7 4.5 to 7
Colour of gelatinised alkaline paste in the porcelain cuvetta on the lovibond scale not deeper than 0.2R + 1.0Y 0.4R + 1.5Y
Sulphur dioxide content in PPM. (Maximum) 100 100
HCN (Hydrocyanic acid) Test  Negative  Negative


As per food-safety, the current specifications are enough to test the quality of Tapioca Sago. The need is to mark and publicise relevant authentic test methods which should be simple and any one can test it at any NABL accredited laboratory to get authentic report. Unless the rules are not clear and simple, Culprits and law-breakers will take the benefit of loop-holes.

For example, as per FSSAI section 2.4.14:2 Sago should be made from tubers of tapioca (manihot utilissima) and shall be free from any extraneous matter, but till now there is not a single authentic test report came out of Maize starch adulteration in public. Officers may get complaint or even taken steps on eye-witness at manufacturing point, but how can it be tested in a guranteed authentic way to test the final product sample taken from open market ? When, Govt. Panel has no clear method, how can Govt. anticipate it from middlemans like wholesellers, retailers, traders to check the quality before purchasing the adulterated Sago.

The author, Gopal sabu, is managing director of M/s. Sabu Trade Private Limited, Salem. He is in the “Sago” business of Salem and Samalkot since 1975. He has many feathers in his cap as ‘first in India’ such as getting AGMARK gradation certificate by Ministry of Rural Development, Govt. of India in 1993 for the Trade Brand Labels ‘CHAKRA’ and ‘SACHAMOTI’, creating, launched and dedicated in the year 1999 a website http://www.sabuindia.com to develop and exchange the knowledge across the Globe, Specifically about Sago. Also, in 1993 exported “Sago” in containers in bulk from Salem (The Sago producing center of India) to UAE directly. Since 1990, he is Publishing “Sabudana Recipe Booklet” and  distributing free to develop knowledge and interest in ‘Sago’ all over India. He has supported always Co-operative movement and in 1981-82 helped in formation of “The Sagoserve, Salem”.  He organised many Sago Recipe contests all over the country for propagating and popularising use of Sago by common citizen. In 1997, he created and published a SAVOSA TEST FORM to find out the quality ranking of Sago,(As per taste of Indian Consumers) by simple Visual and Oral tests without any Lab assistance, which is relevant even today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *