How to make tangyuan (glutinous rice balls)

Tangyuan, or glutinous rice balls, is a delicious sweet snack from Southern China.

The name sounds rather unusual even before you translate it (the Chinese characters for “tang” and “yuan” mean “soup” and “sphere” respectively) but it’s really just a sweet filling wrapped in a glutinous rice flour pastry and served in its cooking liquid.

In China, the most popular flavour for tangyuan is black sesame but it’s also commercially available in flavours such as rose, peanut and red bean.

There are lots of theories about when to enjoy tangyuan, which varies according to the part of China that you’re from. Some have it at the turn of midnight for Chinese New Year while others have it on the 15 th day of the festival.

Either way, the most important part of the tangyuan tradition is about family. Not only is it something to be shared with family during New Year celebrations but, in Chinese, tangyuan also sounds like “tuanyuan”, or reunion.

Here’s a recipe for easy peanut butter tangyuan:

Makes about 20


For the filling:

  • 30g smooth peanut butter (or any other nut butter!)
  • 15g toasted sesame seeds
  • 15g caster sugar

For the pastry:

  • 260g glutinous rice flour
  • 200ml water


Mix the peanut butter, sesame seeds and sugar together, adding more sesame seeds if needed, until you have a mixture that’s solid enough to form into balls. Leave to chill.

Mix the glutinous rice flour with water until it comes together into a solid dough. You shouldn’t need to knead it very much.

Take an egg yolk sized amount of dough and roll into a ball before flattening into a disc from the centre out. It should be about the size of a small apple and 7mm or so thick.

Spoon a macadamia nut sized amount of filling into the centre, fold over edges of the pastry and roll between your palms to make a ball. Remove any excess dough in the process.

Cook the tangyuan in boiling water for five minutes until the dough turns opaque and the balls begin to float. If you’re unsure, check one – the pastry should be soft and opaque throughout.

Serve in a bowl with a little of the cooking liquid.

Qin Xie

Qin Xie is a London based food, wine and travel journalist and trained chef.

When not infiltrating Michelin restaurants as a kitchen tourist, she writes about food, drink and travel. Her work has appeared on Yahoo, FT, The Times and CNN.

Her first cookbook, co-authored with YS Peng at Hunan Restaurant, is out March 2014.

According to friends, her watch is always set to UTC -- ready for the next big adventure. In reality, she is happiest at the dinner table or by the sea.