Tangyuan (food)

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"Yuanxiao" redirects here. For the Chinese Festival during which this food is traditionally eaten, see Lantern Festival.
Pumpkin tangyuan (汤圆) with red bean baste and black sesame fillings.jpg
Tangyuan (汤圆) skin made from pumpkin flesh, filled with ground black sesame (芝麻) seeds mixed with sugar
Alternative names yuanxiao
Place of origin China
Main ingredients Glutinous rice flour
Variations Regional variants differing in ingredients and method
Other information Traditionally consumed during Yuanxiao (Lantern Festival)
Cookbook:Tangyuan  Tangyuan
Tangyuan (food)
Traditional Chinese 湯圓 or 湯團
Simplified Chinese 汤圆 or 汤团
Hanyu Pinyin tāngyuán or tāngtuán
Chinese 元宵
Hanyu Pinyin yuán xiāo
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 圓仔 or 米圓
Simplified Chinese 圆仔 or 米圆
Hanyu Pinyin yuánzǐ or mǐyuán

Tangyuan or tang yuan (simplified Chinese: 汤圆; traditional Chinese: 湯圓; pinyin: tāngyuán) is a Chinese food made from glutinous rice flour mixed with a small amount of water to form balls and is then cooked and served in boiling water. Tangyuan can be either small or large, and filled or unfilled. They are traditionally eaten during Yuanxiao or the Lantern Festival,[1] but also served as a dessert on Chinese wedding day, Winter Solstice Festival (Chinese: 冬至; pinyin: Dōngzhì), and any occasions such as family re-union, because of a homophone for union (simplified Chinese: 团圆; traditional Chinese: 團圓; pinyin: tuányuán)

Historical development[edit]


Historically, a number of different names were used to refer to tangyuan. During the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty, the name was officially settled as yuanxiao (derived from the Yuanxiao Festival), which is used in northern China. This name literally means "first evening", being the first full moon after Chinese New Year, which is always a new moon.[citation needed]

In southern China, however, they are called tangyuan or tangtuan.[1] Legend has it that during Yuan Shikai's rule from 1912 to 1916, he disliked the name yuanxiao (元宵) because it sounded identical to "remove Yuan" (袁消), and so he gave orders to change the name to tangyuan.[2] This new moniker literally means "round balls in soup". Tangtuan similarly means "round dumplings in soup". In the two major Chinese dialects of far southern China, Hakka and Cantonese, "tangyuan" is pronounced as tong rhen and tong jyun respectively. The term "tangtuan" (Hakka: tong ton, Cantonese: tong tyun) is not as commonly used in these dialects as tangyuan.

Geographical Differences[edit]

Northern Chinese tend to eat yuanxiao while Southern Chinese eat tangyuan. Both yuanxiao and tangyuan are in the form of a small round dumpling ball made of glutinous rice flour. However, the preference for taste could be different between Northern and Southern Chinese. Sweet fillings, preferred by Southern Chinese, often consist of sugar, sesame, osmanthus flowers, sweet bean paste and sweetened tangerine peel, to name but a few. As for the salty fillings preferred by Northern Chinese, minced meat and vegetables are usually the ingredients.[3] Despite the fact that Yuan Shikai changed the name “yuanxiao,” which people originally consume at Lantern Festival, to “tangyuan” in ancient times, as cited by Yu (2002), they are indeed quite different from each other in the way of preparation.[4] According to Hao (2009), Northern Chinese makes yuanxiao by pinching the fillings into even paste, then placing them into the basket filled with glutinous rice flour, and continuously sprinkling water on the rice flour until the round shape is formed.[5] On the contrary, Hao (2009) also suggested that Southern Chinese make tangyuan by shaping the dough of rice flour into balls with some filling inside.[6]

Cultural significance[edit]

For many Chinese families in mainland China as well as overseas, tangyuan is usually eaten together with family. The round shape of the balls and the bowls where they are served, come to symbolise the family togetherness.[1]


Nowadays, tangyuan (汤圆) often come in rainbow-like colors, and filled with many flavors such as fruit preserves

While tangyuan was originally a food that people would destroy during festivals, it has become a dessert consumed year-round rather than simply a festival food. For instance, tangyuan is traditionally in white color. Yet, in order to cater to consumers’ needs and changing tastes, dessert specialty shops create new flavors or colors of tangyuan by substituting the traditional filling with chocolate, mashed potato and pumpkin paste. Thus, tangyuan has already evolved into a dessert that is consumed by Chinese from time to time throughout the year and is no longer limited to festivals. In both filled and unfilled tangyuan, the main ingredient is glutinous rice flour. For filled tangyuan, the filling can be either sweet or savoury. Northern variations mix sesame, peanuts, sweet bean paste and place them into bamboo baskets with rice flour, sprinkle water continuously on the rice flour to form the fillings and form round balls. Southern variations are typically larger, and are made by wrapping the filling into sticky rice flour wrapping and scrunching them into balls.[1]

Sweet fillings can be:


Tangyuan are first cooked in boiling water. Once cooked, savoury filled tangyuan are served in a clear soup broth, whilst sweet filled tangyuan are served in a ginger infused syrup.

Unfilled tangyuan are served as part of a sweet dessert soup (known in Cantonese cuisine as tong sui, which literally means "sugar water"). Common types include:


The most notable[why?] varieties come from Ningbo and Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province. However, they are traditionally eaten throughout China.

Tangyuan have also come to be associated with the Winter Solstice and Chinese New Year in various regions. Today, the food is eaten all year round. Mass-produced tangyuan are commonly found in the frozen food section of Asian supermarkets in China and overseas.

Related dishes[edit]

In southern Vietnam, a similar dish, called chè xôi nước, is served in a mild, sweet liquid flavoured with grated ginger root. In northern Vietnam, bánh trôi (also called bánh trôi nước) and bánh chay are also very similar, with the latter being served with coconut milk.

In the Philippines, ginataang bilo-bilò is also served in coconut milk, and sometimes local produce such as plantains (sabà), tapioca, and/or sweet potatoes are cooked in.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Gong, Wen (2007). Lifestyle in China. Journey into China. 五洲传播出版社. p. 13. ISBN 978-7-5085-1102-3. 
  2. ^ "因“元宵”与“袁消”谐音袁世凯下令改叫“汤圆”". 半岛网-城市信报. 2010-02-22. 
  3. ^ China Culture Organization. (2003). Yuanxiao. Retrieved from: http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_chinaway/2004-01/21/content_45732.htm
  4. ^ Yu, L. (21 February, 2002). Lantern Time. Retrieved from: http://app1.chinadaily.com.cn/star/2002/0221/cu18-1.html
  5. ^ Hao, T. (15 April, 2009). Yuanxiao. Retrieved from: http://www.chinese-food-recipes.net/troditional_chinese_food/tangyuan_yuanxiao.html
  6. ^ Hao, T. (15 April, 2009). Yuanxiao. Retrieved from: http://www.chinese-food-recipes.net/troditional_chinese_food/tangyuan_yuanxiao.html