Saturday 12 February 2011


Tangyuan - Modern Healthy Chinese Sweet Rice Balls/汤圆 [tāng yuán]

Made of nutritious brown rice, sesame, peanut, red bean and natural colouring from spinach and beetroot :-)

Makes 22 tangyuan


- 2/3 cup white glutinous rice flour
- 1/3 cup brown rice flour
- 100 ml water

Natural colouring:
- 1 small beetroot for the red colour
- A handful of baby spinach leaves blended

Sesame paste filling 芝蔴:
- 2 TBS black sesame ground
- 2 TBS tahini
- 2 tsp maple syrup *

Peanut paste filling (optional):
- 2 TBS organic unsweetened and unsalted peanut butter
- 1 tsp maple syrup *

Red bean paste filling (optional):
- 5 cubes of the homemade red bean baby cubes
- 5 tsp maple syrup *

* As a rule of thumb for my family in terms of desired sweetness, for every 2 TBS of ingredients, add 1 tsp of maple syrup. You can add more or less adjust to your taste.

Sweet ginger soup (甜姜汤):
- 1 litre water
- 1 inch ginger
- 4 TBS brown sugar or coconut sugar
- 1 Pandan leave (optional) – In Singapore, we add this to the ingredients for the fragrant of the Pandan leave in the soup, but since I can’t get it in Denmark, I just leave it out.


Sesame paste filling:
1. Grind 2 TBS of black sesame seeds in a baby blender for 30 seconds until it turns into powder.

2. Mix well with tahini and maple syrup.

Peanut paste filling:
1. Mix organic peanut butter with maple syrup.

Red bean paste filling:
1. Thaw the homemade red bean baby cubes overnight in the fridge.

2. Mix well with maple syrup.


1. Grind the white glutinous rice and brown rice in a baby blender until they turn into flour (approx. 10 mins – but make sure you switch off the blender in between to avoid it from overheating).

2. In a mixing bowl, add the ground rice flour and slowly mix in water until it forms a smooth dough that no doesn't stick to your fingers.

3. Divide the dough into 3 smaller portions.

4. Grate the beetroot and dab the slices on one of the doughs to give it a red colour.

5. Blend a handful of baby spinach leaves with a tsp of water and slowly add it to another dough to give it a green colour.

6. For each dough, roll it into a sausage about 2.5 cm in diameter and cut it into 6 portions.

7. Flatten each portion in your palm until it resemble a little round pancake of 7 cm in diameter.

8. Use a pair of chopsticks to pick up some black sesame, peanut or red bean filling and place it in the middle of the flatten dough.

9. Fold and seal the edge.

10. Lightly roll it into a ball shape using your palms, then set aside and cover with a cloth.

11. Repeat step 7-10 until you have made all the balls.

Sweet ginger soup:

1. In a pot of water, add ginger and Pandan leaves and bring to boil.

2. Add the brown or coconut sugar and simmer it under low heat (no. 3 on my stove).

Cooking the sweet balls:

1. Bring to rapid boil a separate pot of water and add the sweet balls into the pot.

2. Let it come to a second boil. The sweet balls are done once they float to the top.

3. Dish it out into a bowl and add the sweet ginger soup into it.

4. Serve immediately and enjoy :-)

Additional Information:

Tangyuan is eaten on the last day (or 15th day) of Chinese New Year (CNY) known as Yuanxiao. It is the first full moon after the start of the CNY. This day is commemorated with tangyuan symbolizing that the year would be sweet, round and complete, just like the full moon. Tangyuan is also eaten during the Lantern Festival.

However, traditionally-made tangyuan is not the healthiest choice as it is made up basically of white glutinous rice, lots of sugar and artificial colouring! Tangyuan can be made without the filling, just plain glutinous flour balls. I remembered that tanggyuan is not my favourite CNY food, as even as a young child, I found it a rather empty food, when my granny or my mum made it during the Lantern Festival.

Now as a mother, I face the dilemma of whether or not to pass down this tradition to J. If I am to pass this tradition down, tangyuan has to be more nutritious and not just an empty calorie food. I have decided to make a modern more healthier version of tangyuan that will pass the nutritional standard requirement that I have set for my family, otherwise, I am prepared to throw this Chinese cultural tradition out of the window.

Culture has to move with time. China is changing, and as the knowledge of food and nutrition increases along with wealth, so do Chinese food and ingredients. What is not useful will be demolished without any regrets. I have to innovate to make a more modern, healthier and nutritious tangyuan. This is done by making the dough more nutritious by adding 1 part brown rice to 2 parts white glutinous rice, instead of using just totally white glutinous rice. The green colouring from spinach and red colouring from beetroot, all very nutritious vegetables. The spinach taste is very subtle and will not affect the taste of tangyuan. Beetroot, as we all know, is a rich well of antioxidants.

Next, the fillings are also very nutritious. Here I use the traditional fillings made of sesame seeds, peanut and red bean paste, since they are very nutritious food. As a working woman, I use organic peanut butter available in the Danish market, instead of making it myself. If you don't like peanut butter, you can also use almond butter, hazelnut butter or cashewnut butter instead. Unlike Chinese, you don't have to be bounded by traditions.

Lastly, the healthier version of sweet soup is with ginger and using brown sugar or even blackstrap molasse. Blackstrap molasse is the most nutritious type of sugar, but it has a strong licorice taste.

I am super-duper happy with my creation, and now I can enjoy tangyuan and the CNY tradition without being guilty of loading my body with junk :-)

To simply this recipe, if you wish to make it on an ordinary day, you don’t have to make the sweet tea. You can also just serve the sweet balls with hot water. The Chinese eat it colourful, especially the red is a must have during CNY to bring in good fortune, but you also do not have to make colourful sweet balls. You can just keep it white and skip the red and green colour. You don’t need to make the red bean paste, if you find it too troublesome, you can just use the peanut paste straight from the jar of peanut butter. You can also just add maple syrup to tahini, instead of grinding some black sesame paste yourself.

In general, the tangyuan can tolerate 20% - 33% brown rice and still tastes as good.

The sugar can be reduced to 80g for every 100g of sesame seeds.

Measure 1 cup sesame seeds

Roast the sesame seeds on a pan on low-medium heat (no. 5.5 to 6 on my stove until it is fragrant)

Blend the roasted sesame seeds together with the sugar

Black sesame filling done :-)

You can store the sesame filling in an air-tight jar with lid in the fridge for a couple of months.

Here is an alternative and faster method to wrap tangyuan's filling:

Measure 8g of dough and roll into a ball.

Use your finger to impress a hole in the middle of the ball of dough.

Add the filling.

Close the opening with your finger by pushing up the dough.

Smoothen and roll it into a round ball and a tangyuan is done :-)


  1. Can this be made with pure brown rice or does it have to have the glutinous rice in the mix for it to work?

  2. Thanks! I'm putting black glutinous rice on my shopping list.

    Meanwhile I do have some glutinous rice flour, so I experimented on the ratio by grinding the brown rice and mixing it with the glutinous rice flour. I made used the mixture for making dango.

    The ratio of 2 brown : 1 glutinous turned out too heavy, and not chewy enough. Then I tried 1:1 ratio (by weight, I used 25 g brown rice flour and 25 g glutinous rice flour) and it turned out alright, it was chewy enough but still had the grainy brown rice texture.

    I'm so glad I found this post since I've been looking forever to see if anyone tried making dango with just brown rice flour and none of that unhealthy glutinous rice flour... this was just what I needed.

  3. Yeah, next time I'll try 3 brown : 2 glutinous to see if it works as well (since it's between 1:1 and 2:1). I'm thinking the higher the brown:glutinous ratio the better, so I'll be testing the limits.

  4. Actually I tried the 2 brown : 1 glutinous ratio again, but this time I put the ground brown rice and glutinous rice flour into the blender and blended again, I also added more water when making the dough (the dough is much softer, but still manageable), and it turned out fine... at least I think so.
    It's more grainy, but still quite chewy, so maybe I'm just getting used to having that different texture. I think if you are used to pure glutinous rice, it takes time to get used to, so in the end it's a matter of preference. I think I'll stick with the 2:1 ratio for at least a while until I'm ready to venture into adding proportionally more brown rice. I'll be sure to update if I do.


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