Tender sweet potatoes, juicy jackfruit, and plump bilo bilo pearls swirling in a sweet and nutty coconut sauce–ginataang bilo bilo is a dessert from the Philippines that’s amazing served warm or chilled.
What’s great about ginataang bilo bilo is that it has a variety of ingredients but you can customize by adding only what you like, such as sweet potatoes, jackfruit, saba bananas, sago pearls, and rice balls. This recipe will give you bilo bilo made of purple sweet potato and pandan leaves to make it even more colorful!
In Tagalog, ginataan means “cooked in coconut milk” and is derived from the word gata (“coconut milk”). Bilo bilo comes from the Tagalog word “bilog,” which means “round.” Ginataang bilo bilo translates to rice balls cooked in coconut milk.
There are many different variations of this sweet coconut soup, whether it’s Filipino or even Vietnamese cuisine, like chè Thái or chè chuối. It’s also worth noting that there are savory ginataan stews, too.
In Cebu, we have a similar dish called binignit that is a similar concept of saba bananas, taro, and pearls cooked in a coconut milk sauce. It’s eaten during holy week on Good Friday to avoid eating meat.
Bilo bilo (chewy rice balls)
In addition to having mini sago or white tapioca pearls in ginataang bilo bilo, there are also other starchy balls. Bilo bilo are the handmade rice balls traditionally made of water and glutinous rice flour. It’s a very similar process to making handmade tapioca pearls.
For this recipe, I made two types of bilo bilo from purple sweet potato and pandan leaves. In my opinion, you can’t really taste the flavor profiles of purple sweet potato or pandan, but the color really makes the ginataang bilo bilo pop and make it more aesthetically pleasing.
- Colored bilo bilo! You can make traditional bilo bilo, which is made from water and glutinous rice flour, but I like to add natural colors to mine by using purple sweet potato and pandan water.
- Cook the mini sago or white tapioca pearls ahead of time in a separate pot of water. Previously, I cooked the pearls in the coconut milk, but I ended up having to cook the ginataang bilo bilo too long and the starch in the pearls turned the coconut milk too thick. By precooking the pearls in a pot of boiling water, it helped the consistency of my ginataang bilo bilo.
- Use different types of roots for variety. In the past, I’ve used taro, cassava, ube, and different sweet potatoes for this dish. These roots and starches are easily interchangeable and tasty!
- Cut the roots into similar sizes to make sure everything cooks evenly and on time. The root is one of the main ingredients that take longer to cook, so cutting them into ½ inch even pieces will reduce cooking time.
- Ginataang bilo bilo will get thicker as it cools and the pearls will also get slightly larger. If you want a thicker consistency, try not to overcook the coconut milk because it will get thicker as it cools on the counter.
Serving and storage
I like to cool the ginataang bilo bilo on the counter for about 10 minutes before serving to prevent anyone from burning their mouths! Serve when it’s warm, but you can also chill it in the fridge for those that prefer eating it cold. This recipe can keep in the fridge for up to 4-5 days.
Ginataang Bilo Bilo
Sweet potato bilo bilo
- ⅛ lb (56.7 g) purple / orange sweet potato ½ inch cubes
- filtered water for boiling
- ¼ c sweet potato water leftover water from boiling
- 8 tbsp glutinous rice flour plus more as needed for rolling
Pandan bilo bilo
- ¼ c pandan water
- 9 tbsp glutinous rice flour plus more as needed for rolling
- ½ c mini sago or white tapioca pearls
- 8 c filtered water
- 28 oz coconut milk (2 cans)
- 1 c filtered water
- 1 c white granulated sugar
- ½ lb purple sweet potato or ube ½ inch cubes
- ½ lb orange sweet potato ½ inch cubes
- ¼ lb jackfruit cut into thin strips
- ½ lb saba banana ½ inch cubes
Purple bilo bilo
- In a pot over high heat, bring water to a boil. Peel and cut sweet potatoes, add to the pot of boiling water and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook for about 5 minutes or until tender.
- Transfer potatoes to a strainer and run under cold water to stop the cooking, reserving the cooking water.
- Add the cooked potatoes into a blender and add ¼ cup of water from the pot they cooked in. Blend until smooth.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the sweet potato paste and glutinous rice flour.
- Use your hands to form the dough into a ball. The texture should feel slightly sticky.
- Roll out the bilo bilo to your preferred size, but keep in mind they grow to about 20% more in the coconut milk. Pinch 1 teaspoon worth of dough into your hand and roll the dough in between your palms to form a smaller ball. Repeat with all the dough. This should make about 24-30 balls of dough. Set the bilo bilo on a plate until later.
Pandan bilo bilo
- In a mixing bowl, combine the pandan water and glutinous rice flour until it forms a ball of dough. It should feel slightly sticky.
- Roll out the bilo bilo to your preferred size, but keep in mind they grow to about 20% more in the coconut milk. Pinch 1 teaspoon of dough into your hand and roll it in between your palms to form a small ball of dough. Repeat with all the dough until you have about 20-24 pieces. Set aside on a plate until later.
Mini sago or white tapioca pearls
- Note: This method of cooking mini sago/white tapioca pearls worked very well for the Tapioca Perle Sago brand (purchased from 99 Ranch). It’s an adjusted method of our 30 & 30 method, but since these are mini pearls we reduced the timing to 10 minutes active boiling and 10 minutes resting. I would recommend following the instructions on YOUR pearl package first. In a small pot, add the filtered water and bring to a boil. Add the mini sago or white tapioca pearls and cook for 10 minutes while stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Remove the pearls from the stove and cover with a lid for another 10 minutes.
- Strain the pearls and run under cold water to remove excess starch. Transfer the pearls to a bowl and cover with cool water. Set aside until later.
- In another pot over medium heat, combine coconut milk, filtered water, and sugar. Bring the liquid to a boil and add the purple sweet potato and orange sweet potato. Cook for about 5-8 minutes or until the roots are tender.
- Add the purple and pandan bilo bilo. Stir to prevent the bilo bilo from sticking and cook for another 3-5 minutes until the bilo bilo are soft and cooked. You can test this by taking a bilo bilo and biting into the rice ball. If it’s completely soft throughout, it’s finished.
- Add the saba banana slices, jackfruit, and mini sago/white tapioca pearls in the pot and cook for an additional 2 minutes until bananas are warmed and softened.
- Remove from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve warm or cold.