This article was originally published for Curious Cuisiniere. Updated January 2021.
Chinese New Year is in our midst and that means the appearance of these delicious round rice balls, tang yuan.
Tang yuan are traditionally eaten during the Winter Solstice and during Lantern Festival, which marks the final day of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
WHAT ARE TANG YUAN?
Tang yuan (literally “soup balls”) are Chinese glutinous rice ball dumplings.
Similar to Japanese mochi, tang yuan is made with glutinous rice.
The glutinous rice gives the tang yuan its chewy and sticky texture.
These glutinous rice balls can be large or small, and also be unfilled.
DIFFERENT NAMES BUT THE SAME FOOD
In Northern China, these were known as yuanxiao during the Ming Dynasty, which literally meant “first evening,” and represented the first full moon after Chinese New Year.
However, in Southern China, they were named tang yuan, which literally means “soup” and “round,” or transliterated as “round balls in soup.”
This was due to a Chinese ruler who didn’t like the name yuanxiao and ordered the name to be changed. It is nowadays commonly known as tang yuan.
HOW AND WHEN TO EAT TANG YUAN
For the Chinese, families gather together and eat tang yuan at times such as celebrations, family reunions, or New Year’s.
The roundness of the tang yuan dumplings symbolizes unity and togetherness.
As mentioned above, tang yuan can also be savoury. This is the type of tang yuan that I grew up with.
To celebrate Winter Solstice, my grandmother would make a huge pot of savoury soup.
She’d make pork bone soup filled with lots of veggies such as cabbage, mushrooms, and add hand-rolled white plain glutinous rice balls.
We would gather around the table and sit down to a hot, piping hearty soup that would comfort us on the coldest of winter nights.
TANG YUAN FLAVOURS AND FILLINGS
Tang yuan is a versatile food that can be served plain as glutinous rice balls, or stuffed with different fillings.
Often, dessert tang yuan (plain or filled) is presented in a sweet syrup, infused with ginger slices.
Other traditional Chinese sweet tang yuan fillings include:
The tang yuan dumpling skin can also be brightly coloured and flavoured as well.
Today, tang yuan is consumed year round and commonly found in dessert shops and in freezer sections of Asian grocery stores.
Amongst the classic flavours, my favourite tang yuan filling is peanut, hands down.
There’s something about the textures: the oozing flow of crushed peanut and sugar, mixed with the chewiness of the glutinous rice skin. Especially when served warm with a light sugar-ginger syrup.
IS TANG YUAN VEGAN?
This Peanut Tang Yuan is vegan.
INGREDIENTS IN TANG YUAN DOUGH
The tang yuan dough is very simple. There are only 2 ingredients for the tang yuan:
- glutinous rice flour: is different than rice flour; it’s also known as sticky rice flour, or sweet rice flour and can be made from short-grained or long-grained rice. This ingredient gives the tang yuan its chewy texture.
- hot water: denatures the flour which results in a softer, pliable dough.
INGREDIENTS IN THE PEANUT FILLING
For the peanut filling, you’ll need:
- peanuts: whole peanuts that will be processed in a food processor; you can use salted or unsalted, up to you
- granulated sugar: adds some sweetness to the filling
- peanut butter: not only adds more peanut flavour, but helps bind the crushed peanut filling together; you can use either crunchy or smooth peanut butter — your choice. I used natural peanut butter.
- coconut oil: you can certainly use any light vegetable oil; or a refined coconut oil if you don’t like the flavour of coconut
- powdered sugar: also known as icing sugar, helps stiffen up the filling if it’s too loose.
HOW TO MAKE PEANUT TANG YUAN
For the peanut filling:
It’s best to make the peanut filling ahead of time so it has time to firm up in the fridge.
- Toast the peanuts in a dry frying pan over low heat until lightly aromatic, about 3-5 minutes.
- Let the peanuts cool.
- Add the peanuts and granulated sugar to spice grinder or food processor and blitz until it forms a coarse powder. However, don’t over blitz or it will turn to peanut butter.
- Transfer the crushed peanuts to a bowl and mix with the peanut butter, icing sugar, and oil until it forms a firm consistency (if it’s too runny, add a little more icing powder to stiffen up the mixture).
- Cover the bowl and place into the fridge to firm up.
For the dough:
The preparation of the glutinous rice balls is quite straightforward.
You can form the balls however large or small you like. (For these, I formed them into a small golf ball).
- Combine the hot boiled water with the glutinous rice flour.
- Mix the ingredients together until it forms a rough dough.
- Use your hands to knead until a smooth dough forms.
- Portion them into a small golf ball.
How to assemble the tang yuan:
Use a small melon baller to portion out the peanut filling.
Roll each piece of dough into a ball and make a large indent with your thumb.
Place the peanut filling and enclose it with the dough.
Repeat with the remainder.
HOW TO COOK THE PEANUT TANG YUAN
Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.
Add the tang yuan to the water and cook for 2-3 minutes, until they float to the top, stirring every so often so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
Serve warm with ginger syrup or a sweet soup.
HOW TO STORE COOKED TANG YUAN
Tang yuan is best enjoyed warm.
Like any other food made with glutinous rice flour, tang yuan does harden when it is cold. It’s advisable to only cook as many tang yuan as you are able to consume.
If you’re not able to finish the tang yuan, store the cooked tang yuan in a container in the fridge.
You can gently reheat the tang yuan in boiling water prior to serving.
CAN I FREEZE THE UNCOOKED TANG YUAN FOR LATER?
Yes, place the uncooked tang yuan onto a baking sheet with parchment paper and freeze until hardened (1-2 hours).
Then transfer the frozen tang yuan into a freezer-safe container and store for up to 3 months.
To reheat, add the frozen tang yuan into a pot of boiling water. Reduce the heat and cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
OTHER RECIPES YOU MAY LIKE
If you enjoyed this recipe, be sure to try out these other glutinous rice recipes:
I love the warm, chewy, sweet, and crunchy textures in this homemade Peanut Tang Yuan.
This is a classic Chinese sweet that will bring together your family and be sure to please any peanut and mochi lover!
Let me know if you try out this classic Chinese recipe — tag me on Instagram @siftandsimmer or leave me a comment/rating below!
Peanut Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)
For accuracy and precision in baking recipes, use weight (metric) measurements when available.
Filling: (best made ahead of time)
- ½ C whole peanuts
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 3 Tbsp natural peanut butter crunchy or smooth
- 1 Tbsp icing sugar
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil or any light vegetable oil
- 2 C glutinous rice flour
- 1 C hot boiled water
- 2 C water
- ½ C granulated sugar or to taste
- a few slices ginger
Make the peanut filling:
- Make the filling a day before you want to make the tang yuan.
- In a dry frying pan, add the peanuts and toast over medium heat, for 3-5 minutes, until aromatic.
- Remove peanuts and let cool.
- Add the cooled peanuts to a spice grinder or food processor and blitz together with the granulated sugar, until you obtain a coarse powder. (Be careful not to over blitz or it will turn into peanut butter).
- Dump the peanuts into a small mixing bowl. Add the peanut butter, icing sugar, and coconut oil and mix together until you obtain a firm consistency (not too runny, and not too stiff). If it's too runny, add a little more icing sugar. If too stiff, add a touch more coconut oil. It will firm up in the fridge.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place into the fridge to stiffen.
- When ready to make the tang yuan, remove the peanut filling from the fridge and use a melon baller to scoop small portions. Use the warmth from your hands to help mold the shape of the peanut filling.
- Place the formed peanut filling balls onto a plate lined with plastic wrap.
- Keep in the fridge until ready to use.
Make the dough:
- In a medium mixing bowl, add the glutinous rice flour, make a well, and pour in the hot water in the center.
- Use a silicone spatula or a pair of chopsticks to mix together and form a dough. If the dough appears dry, add 1 Tbsp of water and keep mixing. Use your hands to feel the dough -- it should be able to form a ball without it being sticky. If the dough is too wet, add a little more glutinous rice powder.
- Break off small chunks of dough, about the size of a small golf ball. Roll into a ball, and use your thumb to make an indent.
- Remove the peanut fillings from the fridge. Place one of the fillings in the center of the dough ball and enclose, pinching the dough together and roll gently so it forms a round sphere. Place onto a plate lined with plastic wrap. Repeat with the remainder.
- Note: Tang yuan can be frozen at this stage. Place into a freezer-safe container (be sure to leave some space between the spheres or they will stick together) for up to 3 months.
Make ginger sugar syrup:
- In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add in sugar and ginger slices and simmer over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the ginger. Keep warm.
Cook the tang yuan:
- Fill a small pot with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Gently drop in the tang yuan and let them simmer for 2-3 minutes, until they float to the top. Reduce the heat a little so that they don't explode. Stir occasionally so that they don't stick to the bottom of the pot.
- Carefully scoop out the glutinous rice balls with a slotted spoon and place into a serving bowl.
- Serve tang yuan warm with ginger sugar syrup.