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Drama over dumplings for Lantern Festival

2013-02-27 14:58:04



Although eating glutinous rice dumplings is an ancient Lantern Festival tradition, these tang yuan (汤圆) snacks are keeping up with the times and healthy-eating trends. The recipe changes are controversial and a sweet vs salty "taste war" has broken out on the Internet.

While most people stick to traditional stuffings, including sesame, sweet red bean paste and pork, some producers are innovating with fillings, especially of frozen dumplings. Various fruits and green tea are being used as stuffings for the white rice balls.

Sanquan Food Co Ltd in central China's Henan Province, a major producer of frozen dumplings, has developed lower-calorie fillings.

Traditional dumplings, whether savory or sweet, are rich and high in calories, but many young people today are health-conscious and prefer a lighter, fresher taste, the company says. New tastes include green tea, low-sugar jam and fruits, such as strawberries, kiwifruits and pineapples.

The same thing has happened with mooncakes, the traditional snack of the Mid-Autumn Festival, but not all the new stuffings are low-calorie. Today mooncakes can be very elaborate and costly, filled with chocolate, ice cream, tiramisu, coffee, green tea, beef and precious herbs.

Tang yuan innovations, however, are not as extravagant. Some consumers embrace healthier dumplings.

"I don't like the traditional sesame tang yuan because it's so sweet that it makes my teeth ache," says Vanny Zhang, an office worker in Shanghai. "But I can accept the taste of green tea tang yuan. It's less sweet and the idea is quite fresh."

Other consumers called the new stuffings weird and said they don't taste like tang yuan anymore.

"Especially those fruit tang yuan, which are sour," says Ding Yu, a middle school teacher. "I think the meaning of eating tang yuan on the Lantern Festival is to wish for a sweet life for the family, but these are not even sweet."

Eating the new-fangled tang yuan is fine at other times of the year, he says, but traditional tang yuan are best for the Lantern Festival, or Yuanxiao Jie, which falls on Sunday this year.

But what is traditional flavor? Is it sweet, which is preferred in northern China, or savory and salty, which is preferred in the south? A "taste war" over sweet vs salty has broken out on the Internet.

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