Tanghulu is an Asian snack of brilliantly coloured, candy-covered fruit that looks like a glossy strand of big pearls on a stick. Lovers of candy looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, rejoice!
This chinese candied fruit treat has grown very popular as a street candy in Korea, and hence has also garnered much attention from the global K-culture fans!
Tanghulu has also been trending on Tiktok recently with many Tiktokers posting videos of them dipping colourful skewered fruits in sugar syrup.
For many at-home chefs, this Chinese candied fruit is becoming a must-try recipe challenge! In this article, we’ll reveal everything you need to know about Tanghulu and how to successfully recreate this Chinese candied fruit in your kitchen.
What is Tanghulu made of?
Tanghulu is a Chinese snack that is traditionally made from dried hawthorn fruit. The hawthorn plant or ‘san zha’ in Chinese resembles small red crab apples. It is the main ingredient to make haw flakes which is a traditional Chinese sweet.
The candied fruit is coated with a layer of hardened sugar syrup, rendering it bright and glossy. Conveniently served skewered on a stick, this makes it a popular hit in Asian street markets.
Couples on a date, children demanding a snack, teenagers looking for a treat, happily bite into its attractive, shiny exterior, nibbling on this sweet and sour delight while browsing the stalls.
Instead of hawthorn, strawberry Tanghulu is now more popular. However, other fruits like grapes, blueberries, apples, and even pineapples can work as well.
Historical records show that this sweet treat hails from Northern China. It supposedly made its appearance during the Song dynasty, under Emperor Guangzong’s reign.
Many stories speak of its origin. One legend has it that a beloved concubine was too ill to eat anything until a physician suggested dipping dried fruit in caramel. Another story is that the physician’s wife invented it because of her poor appetite. Whichever the truth, the candied fruit definitely became very popular and was sold mostly in the theatres, in the streets, and in tea houses as an accompaniment snack.
Originally, the Chinese term this candied delight as Bing Tanghulu (冰糖葫蘆). ‘Bing’ is Chinese for ice. It was aptly named as the dessert was eaten only in the Winter, to avoid a sticky mess when it melted in the sun.
With the invention of refrigerators and air-conditioning, this candied treat has evolved to be an all-season snack. Still, this bright red candy is a festive favourite in many Asian countries, and it is not unusual to see many street vendors hawking this during the Chinese New Year period.
Is it unhealthy?
Although Tanghulu is made from fruits, it is certainly not the healthiest snack available. Consuming 20 candied fruits has about 400 calories (Source: Myfitnesspal), equivalent to a Macdonald’s cheeseburger.
While the fruits can provide Vitamin C, the decadent sugar coating can cause tooth decay if consumed too often.
The key ingredients to create candied fruit are white sugar, water, corn syrup and strawberries. White sugar, corn syrup and water are used to make the syrup for the exterior of the candy.
Honey is an optional addition for a sweeter treat. These ingredients are readily available at any grocery store.
You may choose to substitute the strawberries with fruits of your own choice, although it is best to choose sour fruits. This is to achieve a delicate balance of sweet and sour, that distinct tart flavour that is so famous amongst its fans.
Grapes and apples are a great choice to make candied fruit. With apples, you might want to cut these into bite size so it's easier to eat!
How to make Tanghulu sugar
To make Tanghulu sugar coating you will need 1¼ cups of white sugar (250g) and about ½ cup of water (125g). We will also have to add about ⅓ cup of corn syrup. Adding corn syrup helps to prevent the white sugar from crystallising when added to water.
After combining sugar, water and corn syrup in a pot over medium heat, stir the mixture evenly. In order to ensure the sugar coating hardens, a candy thermometer comes in handy to measure the temperature of the boiling pot. The thermometer should read about 150 degrees Celsius when the sugar mixture boils.
The Tanghulu syrup is ready when it appears light golden brown, and there are no bubbles on the surface of the mixture. The coating should harden fairly immediately when exposed to air.
If the mixture does not harden, check that the candy thermometer is accurate. Place it in a pot of boiling water and the temperature should read 100 degree Celsius (212F).
What if I do not have a candy thermometer?
To check the sugar without a candy thermometer, drizzle some of the Tanghulu syrup into a bowl of cold water. It should instantly harden into brittle crystal threads that snap. However, if the crystal threads are flexible enough to bend before breaking, it is not ready.
Alternative method: Use Liquid Food Colouring
Another method for hardening the mixture is to add some liquid food colouring into the mixture. The sugar mixture could be sticky because there is still too much moisture. This could be caused by either the water in the mix or the humidity present in the kitchen. For those who cook in warmer climates, this might be the problem!
If the syrup still seems sticky without water, then moisture is still present. Adding some liquid food colouring allows the mixture to boil off the additional moisture so that the syrup can continue to heat to the hard-crack stage.
Food colouring enhances the appearance of the Tanghulu candy. We can also heat the syrup slightly longer, to achieve a pale golden consistency.
Tanghulu Recipe | Chinese Candied Fruit
- 20 pcs strawberries
- 1¼ cups white sugar
- ½ cup water
- ⅓ cup corn syrup
- 2 tbsp honey for drizzle topping
- Create the sugar coating by boiling sugar, water and corn syrup together until it reaches a golden-brown colour.
- Wash strawberries and then dry them thoroughly so that the sugar coating can adhere to the fruit. After which, skewer the fruits on bamboo or lollipop sticks.
- Dip and rotate a strawberry into the mixture pot. Coat the strawberry, then allow excess syrup to drip off before placing the fruit on a tray lined with a baking sheet. Repeat until all the strawberries are sugared.
- After the sugar coating has hardened, drip the teaspoons of honey over the skewered fruits for more flavour. It should take about ten minutes for the coating to fully harden. Serve your strawberry tanghulu immediately.
- Scroll to the above section for tips to make the perfect candy coating.
- Since the sugar coating will soften as the strawberries release moisture, it is best to serve Tanghulu as soon as possible. To keep it fresh, place it in a sealed box and store it in the fridge. If preserved carefully, the dessert can last for two weeks.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
You can also refer to Panda Sweet’s Youtube video on how to make tanghulu! The process is detailed for any beginners who are wondering how each step looks like.
Successfully made your own candy treat? Now, take a photo of your efforts and share this Tanghulu recipe on Pinterest to spread the sweetness!
How To Store Tanghulu
Tanghulu can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge. This should keep the snack relatively fresh and good for consumption for a few days. However, we highly recommend eating the sweet treat fresh. After storing in the fridge, the texture of the candy will become harder and less crunchy.
While strawberries are now commonly used, we can substitute them with other fruits such as apples, grapes, tangerines, even kiwis. Cherry tomatoes are actually an excellent substitute.
Apart from serving them on bamboo sticks, you can also use lollipops sticks. Skewering the fruits on lollipop sticks to place on a cake pop stand or tying them like a bouquet of strawberries, creates a lovely dessert visual to delight guests that are coming over.
Popular types on Tiktok
Indeed, because of the aesthetic appeal of this glossy snack, content creators on Tiktok have outdone themselves, creating interesting variations of this dessert. If you’re feeling adventurous, here are some delicious Tiktok Tanghulu recipe variations worth trying!
The most common variation is to substitute brown sugar for white sugar. Nutritionally, there is not much difference between the different types of sugar, given that brown sugar is just unprocessed white sugar. The main difference is that using brown sugar produces a toffee-like, caramel flavoured hard candy exterior. If you enjoy toffee sweets, then this variation is for you.
Pop Rocks and Jolly Rancher
To up the ante, some creative foodies have also tried melting pop rocks and jolly rancher sweets to create the syrup coating. This candy mix may seem terrifying at first as it melts down to a colourful mess. But after hardening, the final product is an Instagram worthy candied fruit snack.
Another recommended Tiktok Tanghulu recipe trend replaces fruit with bacon strips. The saltiness of fried bacon is a sharp contrast to the sweetness of the candy, resulting in a savoury-sweet surprise. Imagine the look on your guests’ faces when they realise the glossy bacon strips are not shiny due to oil!
This candied fruit treat is certainly an easy way to wow guests or as a pretty edible prop for a picnic. Whether you tried a traditional approach or got bolder by dipping bacon into syrup, we hope you had fun trying this Tanghulu recipe.
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