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Chinese Desserts in Food Culture

Chinese desserts form a realm of flavors, textures, and time-honored culinary traditions. 

They exhibit less standardization, featuring fewer milky and sugary flavors, both historically and traditionally.

From the delicate sweetness of iconic treats like mooncakes to the comforting warmth of sweet soups and the intricate artistry of traditional pastries, Chinese desserts present an artful balance of taste and beauty.

Bean Cakes (Dou Gao)

Bean Cakes (Dou Gao), Picture from Lingchuan Meishi.

History of Chinese Desserts

The consumption of maltose, honey, and ice has been documented in the Classic of Poetry (or Book of Songs), which contains poems from the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 771 BC) and the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 476 BC).

This is the earliest written record of using sugar to make sweet-tasting desserts. 

Bronze Container (Jian) that Could Place Ice Cubes to Cool Wine and Food, Unearthed from Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng (about 475 BC — 433 BC)

Bronze Container (Jian) that Could Place Ice Cubes to Cool Wine and Food, Unearthed from Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng (about 475 BC — 433 BC) — National Museum of China

But dessert had been only popular among royals.

 

Until the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) and Song Dynasty (960 — 1279), sugar production dramatically increased due to the development of technology and the economy. 

 

Since then, desserts have become a part of civilian life, with more ingredients added and new types invented.

Unearthed Food (Dumplings and Desserts) and Utensils from the Tang Dynasty

Unearthed Food (Dumplings and Desserts) and Utensils from the Tang Dynasty — National Museum of China (Photo by Kanjianji)

Characteristics of Chinese Dessert

 

  • Not standardized.

 

Most of the typical Chinese desserts have public recipes, but because of complicated ingredients and cooking methods, they are still neither standardized nor industrialized. Therefore, a dessert would not taste the same in different places and shops. 

 

  • Less milky and sugary. 

 

  • Stuffing varied geographically. Depending on geographical differences, one type of dessert may have many different stuffings. 

For example, the stuffings of Mooncake for the Mid Autumn Festival varied from sugar, nuts, and fruits, to egg yolk and meat. 

  • Some Chinese desserts, especially those made of flour and rice, could be served as staple foods. 

 

  • Sweet-flavored soups and pastes are also considered desserts.

Chinese Sweet Soup Tang Shui

Cooking Methods for Traditional Chinese Desserts

Historically, the art of crafting traditional Chinese desserts has embraced a diverse array of cooking methods, including but not limited to steaming, baking, roasting, boiling, and frying. 

Main Ingredients for Making Traditional Chinese Desserts

A myriad of ingredients forms the foundation of traditional Chinese desserts, showcasing the culinary versatility of the cuisine.

 

Key elements include rice, flour, fragrant flowers, beans, fresh fruits, milk, crisp vegetables, succulent meats, eggs, sweet sugar, rich oils, and refreshing ice.

 

This diverse palette of ingredients allows for the creation of a wide spectrum of delectable desserts, each offering a unique blend of flavors, textures, and cultural significance.

Chinese Dessert Walnut Su