If you’ve ever wandered the streets of a Chinese city and seen sticks of brightly colored fruit glistening in the winter sun, chances are you’ve been at a Tanghulu stall.
So what is tanghulu? Also called bingtanghulu, it’s a traditional Northern Chinese snack made of skewered fresh fruit dipped into a simple sugar syrup that hardens quickly, creating a solid shell. Crunchy and sweet on the outside, soft and tart on the inside, this sugarcoated specialty of northern China is a winter favorite with young and old alike.
While traditionally made with Chinese hawthorn, or ‘haw’ fruits, many enterprising traders – and tanghulu lovers at home – will also make it with any number of other diverse fruits like strawberries, cranberries, grapes, mandarin oranges, and pineapple segments. As long as the chosen fruit is firm enough to not collapse on contact with caramelized sugar, there’s no limit to what you can use!
The History of Tanghulu: Chinese Candied Fruit
Tanghulu originated in Northern China, though it’s now sold all over China’s major cities. The snack dates back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279) where it was a favorite of the Chinese Imperial family.
Legend says that when the emperor’s favorite concubine fell sick, a doctor suggested she eat hawthorn fruits fried in brown sugar every day for a fortnight. On her recovery, the doctor became famous – and the snack found a permanent place on China’s streets.
Nowadays it’s perhaps the most popular street sweet in China. You’ll often see traveling street traders with their long bamboo skewers of shiny candied fruit tucked into tall ornamental gourds, making them something of a display item.
‘Tanghulu’ actually means ‘bottle gourd’ in Chinese, which is a type of fruit commonly eaten during the winter months in China. Appropriately, Tanghulu is sold throughout the winter and holds the alternative name of ‘Iced Tanghulu’ as the sugary coating is cold to the taste.
When the weather cools, the vendors multiply, and you can’t avoid seeing them! And at the equivalent cost of just a dollar, there’s not much stopping you from trying it.
Learn How To Make Tanghulu At Home
It may look like a fancy sweet, but the recipe for Tangulu is actually pretty easy to follow. The only ingredients you need for tanghulu are sugar, water, and the fruit of your choice, with a two to one ratio of granulated sugar to water. To prep your cooking station, grab some wooden skewers, a baking sheet and parchment, a pan, spoon, and an optional candy thermometer.
- Wash and pat dry your tanghulu fruit.
- Spear 2-3 fruit pieces onto the skewers.
- Off the heat, add the sugar to a pan, then pour in the water so all the sugar is wet. On a high heat and without stirring, carefully boil together the sugar and water.
- Raise temperature to 300’F, known as the ‘hard crack’ stage. This takes approximately 5-10 minutes.
- Test the temperature. If you have no thermometer, you can dip a spoon first into ice cold water, then into your syrup. If it hardens immediately upon contact, you’re good to go. If not, boil and re-test in one minute intervals.
- Dip your fruit skewers into the clear sugar mixture so the fruit is coated with syrup. Careful – it’s hot!
- Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper until the tanghulu syrup has hardened. This should only take a few minutes.
- Eat – the quicker the better!
- Tanghulu is sensitive to moisture and humidity so it tastes best when eaten immediately. You can store Tanghulu for up to two weeks in an airtight container when refrigerated, but the quality will be affected.
Perfecting the caramelized sugar coating is the trickiest part: it needs to be hot enough that it immediately hardens on contact with the cooler temperature of the fruit. A common problem is that the coating is sticky and wet instead of hard and crunchy – if this happens, then the sugar mixture wasn’t cooked to a high enough temperature to allow the extra moisture to be properly cooked off.
When made well, the hard shell of caramel will crack and shatter, releasing the sweet juice of the fruit beneath and combining with toffee-like shards of crunchy caramel — aka, the perfect bite!
If learning about Tanghulu has whet your appetite, why not explore some more Asian ingredients in Bokksu’s online store? With plenty of sweet treats and traditional snacks available in this online Asian grocery store, you can get to know even more about Asia’s snack world!