What is tanghulu traditionally made of?

Tanghulu is a traditional Chinese snack that has been enjoyed for centuries. It consists of small fruits, usually hawthorn or strawberries, skewered on bamboo sticks and coated in a hard sugar syrup. The origins of tanghulu can be traced back to the Song dynasty, and it remains a beloved treat across China today.

The Fruits Used in Tanghulu

The most common fruits used to make tanghulu are:

  • Hawthorn: This sour fruit is the most traditional choice for tanghulu. Hawthorn has been grown in China for centuries and has great symbolic meaning in Chinese culture.
  • Strawberries: Sweet, juicy strawberries have become increasingly popular as a tanghulu ingredient. Strawberry tanghulu is especially common in the spring and summer months.
  • Cherries: Both sweet and sour cherries work well for tanghulu, adding a pop of color and flavor.
  • Grapes: Seedless grapes, plump with juice, also make excellent tanghulu fruit choices.

Other fruits are sometimes used as well, though less commonly. These can include grapes, kumquats, crabapples, jujubes, and even dried fruits like dates, figs or raisins. The key is to choose small, bite-sized fruits that can be easily skewered.

The Bamboo Skewers

Tanghulu is traditionally skewered on small bamboo sticks, usually 4-6 inches long. Bamboo has been a ubiquitous material in Chinese culture for centuries, used for everything from building scaffolding to cooking utensils. Its availability made it a natural choice for tanghulu skewers.

Bamboo has some advantages over other materials when it comes to skewers:

  • Naturally smooth and splinter-free, minimizing injuries or disruptions while eating.
  • Rigid and easy to pierce through fruits.
  • Reusable and sustainable – bamboo sticks can be washed and used again.
  • Adds an authentic look and feel.

In modern times, metal or plastic skewers are sometimes used for tanghulu as well. But for traditionalists, the classic bamboo skewer remains integral to the treat’s appeal.

The Signature Hard Sugar Coating

The hard, cracked sugar shell coating the fruits is what gives tanghulu its distinctive look and taste. This sugar coating serves several purposes:

  • Holds the fruits in place on the skewer.
  • Adds a sweet, crunchy contrast to the soft interior fruit.
  • Creates an eye-catching crackled appearance.
  • Acts as a preservative by forming a protective shell.

Traditionally, the sugar coating is made by simmering white sugar in water with perhaps a touch of food coloring. As it concentrates into a syrup, it becomes tacky and coats the fruits. Once cooled and set, it hardens into a crisp shell. The sugar syrup may also include small additions like honey, maltose, or vinegar to modify the texture and flavor.

The History and Origins of Tanghulu

The earliest accounts of tanghulu date back over 1000 years to the Song dynasty in China. At this time it was known as “boguli,” meaning “candied haws on a stick.” Hawthorns were the original fruit used. Eating candied haws was written about by the poet Su Dongpo, indicating it was a popular treat.

The skewers originally may have served a practical purpose – allowing street vendors to carry around and sell the candied fruits easily without getting sticky hands. But over time, it evolved into a specialty food item produced by specialized tanghulu shops and stands.

By the Qing dynasty in the 1600s, tanghulu had taken on various creative forms such as adding sesame seeds, ginger, or decorative carvings. The variety of fruits expanded from just hawthorns to possibilities like strawberries, plums, and cherries. The basic components, though, remained fruits on bamboo skewers coated in crystallized sugar.

Tanghulu became popular not just as a snack but also as a decor piece to adorn festival meals and celebrations. The fancy styles were called “huazhul” or “花楪”. The complex carvings and designs reflected Chinese artistic sensibilities.

In modern times, tanghulu is sold as street food in China and Taiwan. It is especially ubiquitous at festivals, parks, and tourist attractions. The street stalls may offer a variety of flavors from fruits to nuts to sesame seeds. Creative innovations keep tanghulu feeling fresh while retaining its classic skewered sweetness.

Making Tanghulu

Making your own homemade tanghulu is relatively straightforward. Here is a simple recipe to try it yourself:


  • 1 lb fresh strawberries, hawthorns, or other fruit of choice
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes prior to use


  1. Wash and dry the fresh fruits well. Leave small fruits like strawberries whole. Cut larger fruits like hawthorns in half.
  2. Thread 3-5 fruits through each bamboo skewer, leaving a small space between each for the sugar to adhere.
  3. In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until slightly thickened.
  4. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Working one skewer at a time, dip the fruits into the sugar syrup, twirling to coat evenly. Let excess drip off and place on prepared baking sheet.
  5. Allow tanghulu skewers to cool completely until sugar hardens, about 1 hour. Enjoy!

For a decorative touch, food coloring can be added to the syrup or decorative carvings can be etched into the sugar coating before it hardens. Get creative with your own flavors and designs!

Enjoying Tanghulu

Part of tanghulu’s appeal lies in eating it the classic way – straight off the skewer! Bite the entire candy-coated fruit off the stick, allowing the crispy sugar shell to give way to the soft, sweet interior. Discard the skewers as you go.

Tanghulu makes an ideal on-the-go snack or fun dessert. It can be enjoyed year round, but is especially popular at festivals and celebrations. The striking appearance and contrast of flavors make it a sensory treat.

Here are some serving suggestions for tanghulu:

  • Serve as party appetizers or desserts
  • Include as part of a Chinese-themed banquet
  • Bring along to avoid candy while trick-or-treating
  • Skewer with a cocktail umbrella for festive drinks
  • Garnish cakes and cupcakes
  • Pile into candy bowls and platters

Kids and adults alike will love the fun colors and flavors of tanghulu. The interactive skewers make it a hands-on sweet treat.

Regional Variations

While tanghulu is universally associated with China, over the centuries different regions have put their own spin on the classic treat. Here are some of the regional variations that have emerged:

Region Unique Features
Northern China
  • Use sour fruits like hawthorn, crabapple, jujube
  • Coating has subtle vinegar tang
  • May include spices like ginger or Sichuan pepper
Southern China
  • Favor sweeter fruits like lychee, mango, strawberry
  • Citrus flavors like orange zest or lemon
  • Decorated with festive carvings
  • Creative modern fruits like kiwi, pineapple, banana
  • Bubble tea flavored syrups
  • Coated in crushed nuts, cookies, or sesame seeds

So while the basic concept remains the same, there are many exciting twists fromusing locally available ingredients and trending flavors. This diversity keeps tanghulu dynamic across different regions.

Cultural Significance

As a food with centuries of history, tanghulu holds cultural significance in China. Here are some of the cultural meanings and associations around tanghulu:

  • Festivals – Tanghulu is traditionally eaten during holidays like Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival. The bright colors and sweetness symbolize joy and blessings for the season.
  • Celebrations – Serving tanghulu is considered auspicious for celebrations like weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. The red and gold colors represent happiness.
  • Unity – Tanghulu is often shared communally between family, friends, or colleagues. Eating from a common skewer represents bonding and unity.
  • Street food – Its origins as an affordable street snack make tanghulu a symbol of everyday Chinese life and entrepreneurship.
  • Decor – Ornately decorated tanghulu skewers reflect Chinese artistic expression. They embellish festival meals and gifts.
  • Seasons – Ingredients follow the seasons, with sour fruits in fall and winter, sweet berries in spring and summer.

For Chinese people worldwide, tanghulu evokes nostalgia and connections to cultural heritage and traditions. It remains a beloved treat across generations.

Nutrition Facts

Tanghulu is essentially a fruit-based candy. The fruits provide some beneficial vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. But the main drawback is the high sugar content from the candy coating. Here are some general nutrition facts about tanghulu:

  • High in natural sugar. About 8-10 grams per 5 strawberries. The coating adds pure white sugar.
  • Low in fat and protein. Negligible amounts from the fruits and none from sugar.
  • Some fiber, vitamins, minerals. Strawberries provide vitamin C, manganese.
  • Low calorie density. Around 50 calories for 5 medium strawberries plus coating.
  • Carbs mainly from sugar. The coating is nearly pure sucrose.
  • No cholesterol, gluten, dairy. Sugar and fruits are naturally vegan.

While tanghulu is high in sugar, the portions are small. Enjoy it in moderation as an occasional treat. For a healthier version, use less sugar, fruit sweeteners, or dark chocolate.

Global Spread

While tanghulu originated in China, it has slowly spread across the globe as Chinese cuisine gains international popularity. Some key facts about tanghulu’s global reach:

  • Common in Chinese communities worldwide – from Asia to Americas to Australia.
  • Introduced to Taiwan after 1949 when the Republic of China relocated there. Remains a beloved snack.
  • Gaining popularity in the West as Chinese street food and sweets gain exposure. Seen as an exotic treat.
  • Sometimes called “hawthorn candy” or “candy skewers” in English translations.
  • Produced and sold by Asian food brands overseas. Imported versions available online.
  • Featured in recipe articles and videos as interest in Chinese cuisine grows.

Though still most popular in greater China, tanghulu has potential to become a global phenomenon like fortune cookies or bubble tea. Its colorful appearance and mix of flavors have universal appeal. Look for tanghulu to continue spreading sweetness worldwide!


With a 1000-year history, tanghulu holds an important place in Chinese culinary heritage. The concept of skewered fruits coated in hardened sugar has endured for centuries while also evolving across regions. Tanghulu embodies Chinese creativity and artistry with decorative carvings and ingredients following seasons.

Making tanghulu is simple enough for anyone to try at home. Bamboo skewers threaded with bite-sized fruits are dipped into bubbling hot syrup that crystallizes into a shiny, crispy shell. Sour hawthorns or sweet strawberries are classic choices. Customize with your favorite flavors and garnishes.

Beyond just a unique sweet snack, tanghulu carries cultural significance for holidays, celebrations, and everyday enjoyment. It represents community, seasons, and artistry. While deeply rooted in Chinese traditions, tanghulu’s appealing colors and flavors hold the potential for global popularity in the future.

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