Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)

By: takestwoeggsPosted: 02/02/2024 Updated: 02/02/2024
Prep 1 hour
Cook 15 minutes
Total 1 hour 15 minutes
This tang yuan recipe features delicate and chewy spheres of glutinous rice flour enveloping sweet black sesame fillings that gently float in a warm sweetened ginger broth.
Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)

Tang yuan or Chinese glutinous rice balls is a tender, chewy rice ball dessert that is filled with a sweet and nutty black sesame filling. This black sesame tang yuan recipe includes a sweet ginger broth for that extra layer of flavor. Tangyuan is one of my favorite desserts to make because it is incredibly comforting and satisfying. Plus, you can easily customize it with different fillings or broths!

Looking down into a bowl of tang yuan in a ginger broth.

In this glutinous rice balls recipe, I will show you step-by-step how to make tang yuan and include all the tips and tricks you will need to make this rice ball dessert. If you are looking for more Chinese dessert inspiration, check out our snow skin mooncakes, sesame balls with red bean paste, and Chinese almond cookies.

A spoon holding up a bit open tang yuan over a bowl of more tang yuan.

What is Tang yuan?

Tang yuan (汤圆), yuan xiao (元宵), or Chinese glutinous rice balls consist of spherical glutinous rice ball dumplings that are filled with a sweet or savory filling. These Chinese rice balls are boiled and then served in either warm water or a sweet broth made with ginger and sugar.

Tangyuan is typically created with glutinous rice flour and water to form a soft and pliable mochi-like dough that is then shaped into small balls and filled with sweet filings such as black sesame, red bean, or peanut. They can also be filled with savory fillings or be served plain.

These glutinous rice balls are often served during Chinese festivals such as Lantern Festival, Winter Solstice, and Chinese New Year. Tangyuan symbolizes family reunion and togetherness.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

This glutinous rice balls recipe is easy to make and incredibly warm and comforting! Here are 3 reasons why you should make this tang yuan recipe.

  1. Delicious and Comforting: black sesame tang yuan is soft, chewy, and delightful. The sweet and nutty black sesame filling and ginger broth create a flavorful and heartwarming experience.
  2. Togetherness: Tangyuan is associated with family reunions and togetherness. These black sesame balls are perfect for creating cherished memories and bonds.
  3. Versatile: Chinese rice balls are incredibly versatile and be created with various fillings, broths, or other adaptations. You can see customization options in the Substitutions and Additions section below.

Kitchen Equipment

You will need the following kitchen equipment items to create this glutinous rice balls recipe.

  • Food Processor: a food processor will blend the black sesame seeds and create a fine filling.
  • Mixing Bowl: you will need a mixing bowl to create the glutinous rice ball dough.
  • Medium Pot: a medium pot is necessary to cook the Chinese rice balls and the sweet ginger broth.
  • Spider Strainer: a spider strainer will scoop out the tangyuan.

Ingredients

You can find all of the ingredients for this tang yuan recipe at your local Asian grocery market. I have linked everything that I used for you below.

Black Sesame Filling

  • Roasted black sesame seeds: roasted black sesame seeds are the star ingredient! I prefer toasted black sesame seeds because they have a nuttier and stronger flavor than regular black sesame seeds.
  • Granulated sugar: granulated sugar is the main sweetener in the black sesame balls.
  • Unsalted butter: unsalted butter acts as a binding ingredient that will melt and create a lava-like consistency once the black sesame tangyuan cooks.
  • Peanut butter: peanut butter also acts as a binding ingredient while giving the filling a nuttier flavor.
  • Salt: a hint of salt will enhance the toasted black sesame seed flavor.
All the ingredients for tang yuan black sesame filling organized and labeled.

Glutinous Rice Balls Dough

  • Glutinous rice flour: glutinous rice flour or sweet rice flour will give the Chinese rice balls that chewy consistency. Make sure you use glutinous rice flour and not regular rice flour.
  • Warm water: ideally, you want your water to be around 100°F or 40°C for the best soft, pliable dough.
The ingredients for glutinous flour organized and labeled.

Sweet Ginger Broth

  • Chinese Rock Sugar: Chinese rock sugar is typically used to create a gently sweet broth, but alternatively you can use brown sugar as well.
  • Fresh ginger: freshly sliced ginger will create a fragrant aromatic broth.
The ingredients for ginger broth organized and labeled.

Substitutions and Additions

You can personalize this glutinous rice balls recipe by swapping out the fillings or broth! I’ve listed some suggestions for substitutions and additions for you below.

Substitutions

  • Sweet Filling: instead of black sesame, you can use red bean paste, peanut paste, chocolate ganache, taro paste, and matcha cream.
  • Savory Filling: for savory fillings, you can use minced meat, mushrooms, or vegetables.
  • Broth: you can use a coconut milk-based broth flavored with pandan leaves, or plain water.
  • Brown sugar: instead of Chinese rock sugar, you can use brown sugar to sweeten your broth.

Additions

  • Sweetness: for added sweetness, you can top your Chinese rice balls with honey, caramel, or condensed milk.
  • Dough flavoring: you can always make colorful and flavored sweet rice balls by coloring the dough with matcha powder, beetroot powder, or food coloring.
  • Broth: to enhance the flavor of the broth, you can add grated orange or lemon zest, cinnamon, or osmanthus flowers.

How to Make Tang Yuan

Here are the step-by-step instructions on how to make this tang yuan recipe! I recommend freezing the filling before assembling for the best results.

Black Sesame Filling

  1. Pulverize black sesame seeds. In a food processor, pulverize the black sesame seeds, granulated sugar, and salt until it forms a very fine powder.
Toasted black sesame seeds pulverized in a small food processor.
  1. Add butter and peanut butter. Add the butter and peanut butter and blitz until it turns into a paste.
Black sesame filling after being completely mixed in a small food processor.
  1. Freeze. Transfer the filling onto plastic wrap, and shape it into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Then wrap and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm.
Black sesame filling mixted together and shaped into a wrapped brick for chilling.
  1. Shape. Once firm, cut the filling into 1/2-inch squares and roll them into a ball with your hands. You should have about 20 pieces. Chill them in the freezer while you prepare the dough.

Dough

  1. Make the dough. While the filling is in the freezer, in a medium bowl, add the glutinous rice flour. Slowly add the warm water while mixing the dough with chopsticks. Once it comes together knead the dough until smooth, pliable, and soft. Adjust the consistency by adding more water or flour if needed.
  1. Rest. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
Glutinous dough in a small glass bowl.
  1. Divide the dough. Divide the dough in half, and roll each half into logs about 1 inch thick. Then cut each log into 10 equal-sized pieces for a total of 20 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying.

Sweet ginger Broth

  1. Sweet ginger broth. Mix the brown sugar, water, and ginger in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer on medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Then remove the ginger.

Assemble

  1. Assemble. Take one piece of dough and use your thumb to create a cavity in the center of the ball. Place a ball of sesame filling into the dough and then pinch the dough over the filling to seal the filling in. Quickly roll the dough in your palms to smooth out the seams. Continue with the remaining dough and filling pieces. Cover the assembled tang yuan with plastic wrap to prevent them from cracking.
Balls of dough on a plastic wrap covered tray.
  1. Cook. In a large pot, bring water to a boil over high heat. Then using a spider strainer, carefully place the tong yuan into the pot. Stir them occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the pot and each other. Lower the heat to medium-high heat for a constant boil. Once they begin to float, cook them for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute before removing, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Serve. Place the warm ginger broth into serving bowls and add the sesame balls. Enjoy!
Looking down into a bowl of tang yuan in a ginger broth.

Tips for the Best Tang Yuan

  • Proper dough consistency. The consistency of the dough should be smooth, elastic, and not too dry where it cracks and not too sticky where it sticks to your fingers. You may need to adjust the water or flour as needed for the desired texture.
  • Let the dough rest. Letting the dough rest is important to give the dough time to absorb the water and become easily pliable.
  • Prepare and freeze the filling. It is very important to freeze the black sesame filling after you divide and shape it into balls. This will make assembly so much easier. If it begins to melt as you assemble, keep them in the freezer as you assemble each one.
  • Cover the dough while assembling. While assembling the tangyuan, cover both the dough and rice balls with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out.
  • If the dough cracks, if the dough cracks while you are assembling, your dough may be too dry. Wet the cracked area with water and gently massage it to seal.
  • Seal the glutinous rice balls completely. When assembling, make sure the rice balls do not have any cracks to prevent them from bursting when being cooked.
  • Cook in simmering water. Make sure the water is not at a roaring boil to prevent the black sesame balls from falling apart or becoming too mushy.

Storage Instructions

Cooked Chinese tang yuan is best served immediately when cooked. You can store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 days, however the texture may alter upon reheating.

Freeze: You can freeze your uncooked assembled black sesame tang yuan in the freezer by placing them on a single layer on a baking tray and freezing for 2-3 hours or until frozen. Then transfer them into an airtight container for up to 3 months.

To reheat: cook the sweet rice balls directly from the freezer without defrosting. It may take them a little longer to cook.

Frequently Asked Q’s and A’s

What is tang yuan made of?

This tang yuan recipe is made with glutinous rice flour, toasted black sesame seeds, butter, peanut butter, salt, sugar, and a sweetened ginger broth.

Can tang yuan be made in advance?

Yes! You can easily make this black sesame tang yuan in advance by freezing and cooking for later use.

How do you serve tang yuan?

You can serve the cooked glutinous rice balls either in warm water or a sweetened ginger broth.

Why did my filling leak out?

There may be a few reasons why your Chinese rice balls burst during cooking.

  1. The filling might not have been securely sealed by the dough and had a few small cracks.
  2. The dough was too thin. The dough may not have been even in thickness and while cooking, the thin area may have broken open.
  3. The water may have been too hot. If the water is at a roaring boil, it may cause too much turbulence for the sesame rice balls and cause them to break open.
  4. The tangyuan may have been overcooked. When the tang yuan cooks for too long, the dough will become overly soft and easily susceptible to breaking apart.

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Recipe

A bowl of tang yuan with a half eaten tang yuan in a spoon.

Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)

5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
This tang yuan recipe features delicate and chewy spheres of glutinous rice flour enveloping sweet black sesame fillings that gently float in a warm sweetened ginger broth.
Servings: 5 servings
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Black Sesame Filling

Dough

Sweet Ginger Broth

Instructions

Black Sesame Filling

  • Pulverize black sesame seeds. In a food processor, pulverize the black sesame seeds, granulated sugar, and salt until it forms a very fine powder.
  • Add butter and peanut butter. Add the butter and peanut butter and blitz until it turns into a paste.
  • Freeze. Transfer the filling onto plastic wrap, shape it into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Then wrap and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm.
  • Shape. Once firm, cut the filling into 1/2 inch squares and roll them into a ball with your hands. You should have about 20 pieces. Chill them in the freezer while you prepare the dough.

Dough

  • Make the dough. While the filling is in the freezer, in a medium bowl, add the glutinous rice flour. Slowly add the warm water while mixing the dough with chopsticks. Once it comes together knead the dough until smooth, pliable, and soft. Adjust the consistency by adding more water or flour if needed.
  • Rest. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
  • Divide the dough. Divide the dough in half, roll each half into logs about 1 inch thick. Then cut each log into 10 equal sized pieces for a total of 20 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying.

Sweet ginger Broth

  • Sweet ginger broth. In a small saucepan, mix the brown sugar, water and ginger and bring to a boil. Simmer on medium high heat for 5 minutes. Then remove the ginger.

Assemble

  • Assemble. Take one piece of dough and use your thumb to create a cavity in the center of the ball. Place a ball of sesame filling into the dough and then pinch the dough over the filling to seal the filling in. Quickly roll the dough in your palms to smooth out the seams. Continue with the remaining dough and filling pieces. Cover the assembled tang yuan with plastic wrap to prevent them from cracking.
  • Cook. In a large pot, bring water to a boil over high heat. Then using a spider strainer, carefully place a batch of tang yuan into the pot. Make sure to not overcrowd the pot. Stir them occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the pot and each other. Lower the heat to medium high heat for a constant boil. Once they begin to float, cook them for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute before removing, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Serve. Place the warm ginger broth into serving bowls and add the black sesame balls. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Proper dough consistency. The consistency of the dough should be smooth, elastic, and not too dry where it cracks and not too sticky where it sticks to your fingers. You may need to adjust the water or flour as needed for the desired texture.
  • Let the dough rest. Letting the dough rest is important to give the dough time to fully absorb the water and become easily pliable.
  • Prepare and freeze the filling. It is very important to freeze the black sesame filling after you divide and shape them into balls. This will make assembly so much easier. If it begins to melt as you assemble, keep them in the freezer as you assemble each one.
  • Cover the dough while assembling. While assembling the tangyuan, cover both the dough and rice balls with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out.
  • If the dough cracks, if the dough cracks while you are assembling, your dough may be too dry. Wet the cracked area with water and gently massage it to seal.
  • Seal the glutinous rice balls completely. When assembling, make sure the rice balls do not have any cracks to prevent them from bursting when being cooked.
  • Cook in simmering water. Make sure the water is not at a roaring boil to prevent the black sesame balls from falling apart or becoming too mushy.

Nutrition:

Calories: 440kcal | Carbohydrates: 72g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 18mg | Sodium: 87mg | Potassium: 119mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 22g | Vitamin A: 214IU | Vitamin C: 0.04mg | Calcium: 120mg | Iron: 2mg

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