Tangyuan (food)

"Yuanxiao" redirects here. For the Chinese Festival during which this food is traditionally eaten, see Lantern Festival.

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  Media: Tangyuan
Traditional Chinese 湯圓 or 湯團
Simplified Chinese 汤圆 or 汤团
Hanyu Pinyin tāngyuán or tāngyuán
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 reunion, because of a homophone for union (simplified Chinese: 团圆; traditional Chinese: 團圓; pinyin: tuányuán)

Historical development


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.

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 Hakka and Cantonese varieties of Chinese, "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 varieties as tangyuan.

Geographical differences

This type of glutinous rice flour dumpling is eaten in both northern and southern China, but the name "tangyuan" is more common in the south while the older name "yuanxiao" is still used in the north. The fillings differ regionally: in the south, sweet fillings such as sugar, sesame, osmanthus flowers, sweet bean paste and sweetened tangerine peel are used, while in the north, salty fillings are preferred, including minced meat and vegetables.[3]

The method of preparation also differs. According to Hao (2009), yuanxiao are made by placing balls of filling into a basket filled with glutinous rice flour, and then shaking the basket while sprinking water over it so the flour becomes a coating. Tangyuan, on the other hand, are made by starting with balls of rice flour dough and inserting the filling into these.[4]

Cultural significance

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
Traditional tangyuan with sweet sesame filling

While tangyuan was originally a food eaten 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 tang shui, which literally means "sugar water"). Common types include:


The most notable 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.

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 cook in.

In Indonesia, an adapted version, called Wedang Ronde (Wedang in Javanese means Beverages, and Ronde means round ball), is one of the most popular comfort food during chill temperature that's been served in mild crushed and thin sliced ginger root soup with palm sugar, frequently added fragrant pandan leaves, crushed grounded peanuts, and the glutinous rice ball itself that usually red, green, or white coloured and filled with crushed grounded peanuts and sugar. In a way, Wedang Ronde is Javanese traditional beverage Wedang Jahe served with glutinous rice balls.

See also


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tangyuan.
  1. 1 2 3 4 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. Hao, T. (15 April 2009). Yuanxiao. Retrieved from: http://www.chinese-food-recipes.net/troditional_chinese_food/tangyuan_yuanxiao.html
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