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Tangyuan (food)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tangyuan made from glutinous rice flour, filled with black sesame (黑芝麻) paste
Alternative namesYuanxiao
Place of originChina
Region or stateEast Asia
Main ingredientsGlutinous rice flour
VariationsRegional variants differing in ingredients and method
Other informationTraditionally consumed during Yuanxiao (Lantern Festival)
Traditional Chinese湯圓
Simplified Chinese汤圆
Literal meaningsoup ball
Hokkien name
Traditional Chinese圓仔/米圓
Simplified Chinese圆仔/米圆
Wu Chinese name
Traditional Chinese湯團/湯糰
Simplified Chinese汤团

Tangyuan are a traditional Chinese dessert made of glutinous rice shaped into balls that are served in a hot broth or syrup. They come in varying sizes, anything between a marble to a ping pong ball,[1] and are sometimes stuffed with filling. Tangyuan are traditionally eaten during the Lantern Festival,[2] but because the name is a homophone for union (traditional Chinese: 團圓; simplified Chinese: 团圆; pinyin: tuányuán) and symbolizes togetherness and completeness, this dish is also served at weddings, family reunions, Chinese New Year, and the Dōngzhì (winter solstice) festival.[3]


Tangyuan are traditionally eaten during the Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the first month of a lunar new year, which is the first full moon. The festival falls each year on a day in February in the Gregorian calendar.[1] People eat tangyuan for good luck and hopes of filling their life with sweetness and joy.[1]

The traditional filling for tangyuan is made from sesame, peanuts, sugar, and animal fat. The Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road enabled the exchange of goods and ideas. Sesame was imported from Central Asia during the Han dynasty (202-220BC), and peanuts entered the country through trade with Filipino merchants from the Philippines during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

The practice of eating tangyuan has been around for over 2,000 years, and has had several names over the years.[1] During the Yongle era of the Ming dynasty, it was called yuanxiao in northern China. This name translates to 'first night', where yuan () means 'first' and xiao () means 'night'.

People in southern China call the dish tangyuan or tangtuan. In the Hakka and Cantonese varieties of Chinese, tangyuan is pronounced as tong1 yan2 or tong1 jyun4-2, and the term tangtuan is not commonly used.[2] Legend has it that during Yuan Shikai's rule from 1912 to 1916, he disliked the name yuanxiao because it sounded identical to "remove Yuan" (Chinese: 袁消; pinyin: yuán xiāo); thus he gave orders to change the name to tangyuan.[4] This new moniker directly translates to 'round balls in soup' or 'round dumplings in soup'. Nowadays, tangyuan refers to the southern style, whereas yuanxiao refers to the northern style. The two are primarily differentiated by their method of preparation.[5]

Geographical differences[edit]

Tangyuan originate from southern China, whereas people in the north call the dish yuanxiao. Like tangyuan, yuanxiao are glutinous rice balls stuffed with filling that are eaten during the Lantern Festival and other important gatherings. Although they look alike, they are two separate things. The fundamental difference lies in their making, fillings, cooking, and storage.[5]

Yuanxiao have sweet and solid fillings and are served in a thick broth. The surface tends to be dry and soft, and they have a short shelf life.[5] The process of making the dish begins with preparing the solid fillings that are then cut into small pieces. The filling is dipped into water then the dry glutinous rice flour repeatedly, until a round shape is achieved.[5]

Tangyuan can be stuffed with a variety of soft filling that are either sweet or salty, and are served in a thinner soup. The texture is smooth and glutinous, and they can be stored frozen for a long time.[5] Tangyuan are made by wrapping the soft filling in a glutinous rice "dough" and shaping it into a ball.[5] The southern variation is served in a broth that changes depending on the filling. Daikon radish and fish cake broth are used for savory fillings, tong sui for sweeter options.[6]

Cultural significance[edit]

For many Chinese families in mainland China as well as overseas, tangyuan are traditionally eaten during the Lantern Festival, Chinese New Year, and gatherings with family to celebrate. Their round shape and the bowls in which they are served hold cultural and symbolic significance, symbolizing togetherness, unity, and reunion.[2]


Rainbow-like tangyuan, it can be filled with flavors such as fruit preserves
Traditional tangyuan with sweet sesame filling

Tangyuan is a versatile dessert with a delicate taste and soft, chewy texture. While it can be served in its simplest form as a plain white ball of glutinous rice, it can also be stuffed with either black sesame or other fillings, for example, crushed peanuts, colored, fried, and boiled.[7] Tangyuan is made by wrapping the glutinous rice around the filling that is filled with lard oil and shaping it into a ball by hand.[7] Tangyuan can be sweet or savory, using more traditional fillings like black sesame. Sweet Tangyuan can be served in ginger-infused syrup, whereas savory Tangyuan are served in a clear soup broth. Unfilled Tangyuan are served as part of a sweet dessert soup known in Cantonese cuisine as tong sui (literally: "sugar water").

Common soup bases[edit]

While Tangyuan began as a traditional delicacy eaten during festivals, it has now evolved into a dessert that is consumed year-round. As it became more widespread, different renditions are introduced to the traditional Chinese Tangyuan to cater to consumers. New fillings, shapes, and coloring of the glutinous rice are introduced; chocolate and custard fillings are substituting traditional approaches.[8]

Sweet fillings[edit]

Savory fillings[edit]

  • Crushed peanuts
  • Minced meat
  • Mushroom
  • Cabbage


The most renowned varieties come from Ningbo in Zhejiang Province.[9] However, they are traditionally eaten throughout China.[citation needed]

Tangyuan has also come to be associated with the Winter Solstice and Chinese New Year in various regions.[9] Today, the food is eaten all year round. Mass-produced tangyuan is commonly found in the frozen food section of Asian supermarkets in China and overseas.[citation needed]


As the Chinese dessert spread to other regions of Asia, a variety of renditions emerged from different cultures.


Jiandui, or sesame balls, are a variation of tangyuan. They are made with glutinous rice flour that is fried and coated with sesame seeds to achieve a crisp, chewy texture. The insides of the dessert are stuffed with lotus paste, black sesame, or red bean paste.[10]


Japanese daifuku-mochi are similar to tangyuan. They were initially introduced from Southeast Asia during the Heian period,.[11] This traditional Japanese dessert is mochi (glutinous rice) stuffed with sweet filling like anko, which is a sweetened red bean paste made from azuki beans.[12] While daifuku-mochi are similar to tangyuan, the preparation process is different. A process called wet milling is used to achieve a chewy texture that is less soft than their Chinese counterpart.[11]


In Indonesia, an adapted version called wedang ronde (Javanese: ꦮꦺꦢꦁ ꦫꦺꦴꦤ꧀ꦝꦺ, romanized: wédang rondhé, lit.'round ball beverage') is a popular food eaten during cold temperatures. The round colored balls of glutinous rice can be filled with crushed peanuts and sugar, or left plain, and are served in a sweetened, mild ginger broth often boiled in fragrant pandan leaves. Crushed, toasted peanuts, tapioca pearls, and slices of coconut can also be added.


In Malaysia, buah Melaka (lit.'Malacca fruit') or "onde-onde" is a dessert mainly made of glutinous rice flour which is popular among Malay Malaysians. The green pandan-colored ball is sprinkled with dry coconut shavings and filled with semi-liquefied sweet gula Melaka (lit.'Malacca sugar'), a type of molasses made from palm nectar.[13] It is enjoyed throughout the tropical summer year and usually sold by Malay street hawkers and the Melaka straits-born Chinese community. It is usually enjoyed during teatime and breakfast. A common accompaniment is hot Darjeeling tea. Buah Melaka most likely originated from Straits-born Chinese Baba–Nyonya in Malacca, hence the name.[14]

Myanmar (Burma)[edit]

Mont lone yay paw, served with shredded coconut, is a popular festive dish served in Myanmar during Thingyan.

In Myanmar, mont lone yay baw (မုန့်လုံးရေပေါ်) is a traditional festive dish, served during Thingyan, and filled with pieces of jaggery and served with coconut shavings.


In the Philippines, traditional Chinese tangyuan is called chiōng-uân-îⁿ (Chinese: 狀元圓; lit. 'zhuangyuan ball') or siōng-guân-îⁿ (Chinese: 上元圓; lit. 'Lantern Festival ball') in Philippine Hokkien by Chinese Filipinos.


In Thailand, bua loi (บัวลอย) is a sweet glutinous rice flour balls in the coconut milk or ginger syrup.


In southern Vietnam, a similar dish called chè trôi nước, is served in a mild, sweet liquid flavored with grated ginger root. In northern Vietnam, bánh trôi (also called bánh trôi nước) and bánh chay are analogous, with the latter being served with coconut milk. The Hmong people in northern Vietnam also have a similar dessert called thắng dền, made with glutinous rice for the balls, mung beans, coconut meat, or sesame for the filling, served in hot grated ginger root soup, sometimes with roasted peanuts.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Belittle not the humble glutinous rice ball - Opinion - Chinadaily.com.cn". www.chinadaily.com.cn. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  2. ^ a b c Gong, Wen (2007). Lifestyle in China. Journey into China. 五洲传播出版社. p. 13. ISBN 978-7-5085-1102-3.
  3. ^ Everington, Keoni (2017-12-22). "Today is Dongzhi, time to eat tangyuan!". Taiwan News. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  4. ^ "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. Archived from the original on 2011-02-21. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Do you know the Differences between Yuanxiao and Tangyuan". China Educational Tours. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  6. ^ "Tang Yuan: The Chinese Soup Balls of Family Unity". Dinner By Dennis. 2020-03-19. Retrieved 2022-03-24.
  7. ^ a b "Why this Chinese dessert is so important during Lunar New Year". KCRW. 2018-02-12. Retrieved 2022-04-25.
  8. ^ "Chinese Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Jie - 元宵节)". The Woks of Life. 2022-02-09. Retrieved 2022-04-25.
  9. ^ a b "Why Lunar New Year wouldn't be complete without glutinous rice balls". South China Morning Post. 2023-02-04. Retrieved 2024-02-08.
  10. ^ "Chinese ingredients: glutinous rice - All about China | Radio86.com". 2011-07-15. Archived from the original on 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  11. ^ a b "Mochi (餅)". Food in Japan. 2021-09-21. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  12. ^ "Why do we eat tang yuan during Chinese New Year? – SidmartinBio". www.sidmartinbio.org. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  13. ^ "Buah Melaka, Kuih Paling Mudah Buat & Sedap". RASA (in Malay). 26 February 2020. Retrieved 15 November 2022.
  14. ^ "MalaysiaTravelpedia A Virtually Virtual Travel Guide : Onde-Onde Malaysia". www.malaysiatravelpedia.com. Retrieved 15 November 2022.
  15. ^ Nguyen, Hannah (February 24, 2021). "Recipe Banh Troi nuoc (Vietnamese glutinous rice ball) - Cold Food Festival sweet desserts". Retrieved 2023-07-05.