Tanghulu is just a delightful treat to behold. These candied, fruity snacks will greet you everywhere you go in China. From neighborhood food stalls to high-end restaurants, everywhere you go, you can find bing tang hulu. And their addictive sweetness means that you will always come go looking for them even if you’re already out of the country. Thankfully enough, making your own tanghulu, is as easy as pie.
But first, let’s describe what tanghulu is, for people who haven’t had the privilege of tasting or seeing one.
Bing Tang Hulu: A Quick Rundown
If you’ve ever had candy apples before, then you’ve already eaten something that is pretty similar in execution as tanghulu.
Tanghulu (also known as bing tanghulu) is a traditional Chinese snack made out of fruits skewered on bamboo sticks that are coated in a crispy shell of sugar. The sugar coating is where the “bing” in the name comes from, because “bing” means iced. The tanghulu part of the name means “bottle gourd” which references the overall shape of the snack (that is said to resemble the shape of the gourd fruit). The name literally means “iced bottle gourd.”
It is commonly eaten during the colder winter months in China. While old-school, traditional tanghulu is made out yellow and red hawthorn berries (which are known to have medicinal properties), any kind of fruit (and even nuts) can be turned into this treat as long as it can be skewered on a stick and be coated with sugar.
Is It Healthy?
Well, not really. The sugar content is off the roof, and the calories might be more than you would expect from a fruit-based snack. But eaten in moderation, it’s probably okay, especially if you make it with traditional haw berries which are rich in Vitamin C. The snack has medicinal roots anyway.
Legend has it that a royal concubine of an emperor in the Song dynasty caught a mysterious illness. The court physician, knowing about the medicinal properties of hawthorn berries, told her to eat five to ten pieces of these berries before every meal. Alas, the only way that the concubine was able to eat these berries is if they are coated with sugar to make them more palatable.
But the tasty “cure” eventually worked, and the woman eventually recovered. Townsfolk heard about this miraculous cure, and soon enough, people were eating candied haw on a stick as a snack from thereon.
Candied Haw AKA Traditional Bing Tang Hulu
*Red and yellow hawthorn berries
1. Put the hawthorn berries on the skewers. Limit the number of berries to three or four per stick- anything higher than this will make the tanghulu troublesome to prepare and eat.
2. In a small pot, heat 150ml of water with about 200 grams of white sugar on medium heat. Add the sugar gradually, while keeping most of the granules in the center of the pot.
3. Don’t stir the sugar mixture. Just wait for it to boil over; it’s done once the sugar is fully disolved and the solution is clear.
4. The sugar solution will still continue to cook even after you’ve taken the pot off the heat. It will turn into a dark amber color eventually. But to prevent the sugar coating mixture from cooking (and darkening) further, dip the bottom of the pot into cold water. But do this carefully, since by doing so you run the risk of crystallizing the solution early.
5. Finally, dip the skewered candied haw into the sugar solution. It’s best to do this quickly while the sugar solution is still runny. Hang the skewers on a rack and wait for it to cool down.
Other Things You Should Know About Bing Tang Hulu
1. Tang hulu is commonly eaten in the winter. Why? It’s because the sugar coating will melt and will become sticky and messy if you eat it during the hotter parts of the year.
2. You can try using other fruits as tanghulu. Strawberries are a popular alternative to haw. But other fruits you can try out include kiwi, apples, and oranges.
3. Add a sprinkle of sesame seeds to the sugar coating if you want a nutty taste to your tanghulu.