Tanghulu is a skewer of crispy candied fruit. Though it may be new to those of us in North America, it’s actually been a popular street food treat in China. Tanghulu is a popular Northern Chinese street food that consists of fruit skewered onto a stick and dipped into a boiled sugar syrup that hardens into a clear, crystalized sugar shell. It’s essentially a candy-coated fruit, similar to a candied apple. Tanghulu is often mistaken for candied fruit. But unlike soft candied fruit tanghulu is not soft. In fact, this popular Chinese candied fruit is known for its hard candy shell. It is often referred to as ice candy or glass candy.
What exactly is Tanghulu?
Tanghulu is an Asian snack of brilliantly colored, candy-covered fruit that looks like a glossy strand of big pearls on a stick. Traditionally, we can use dried hawthorn fruit to make this candy. The hawthorn plant or a fruit resembles small red crab apples. It is also the main ingredient to make haw flakes, a traditional Chinese sweets.
Vendors will coat the candied fruit with a layer of hardened sugar syrup. This is what makes it bright and glossy. Conveniently served skewered on a stick, making it a popular hit in Asian street markets. Couples on a date, children, or teenagers looking for a treat, will enjoy this fruit snack. You will see them 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.
Origin and history of Tanghulu: A Chinese candied fruit
Dating back to the Song Dynasty over 800 years ago, Tanghulu has a history long before its fame on TikTok.
Legend has it that the sweet-tart treat was developed by a northern Chinese emperor’s court physician in order to treat his favorite concubine, who had fallen ill; some sources say she was suffering from anorexia. Apparently, the sugar-dipped hawthorn berries did the trick and tanghulu secured its place in Chinese street food culture.
These days, tanghulu is generally enjoyed in the wintertime, probably to avoid a sticky situation as hot weather months would make it difficult for the candy coating to hold up. We can make it with traditional haw berries or a variety of fruits (more on that below), and sprinkled with sesame seeds or coated in chocolate. Some vendors even create heart shapes and elaborate decorative skewers with candied fruit.
How to make it at home
If you’re not planning a trip to China anytime soon but are craving a taste of tanghulu, I have great news: You can easily use this tanghulu recipe to make it at home with 4 simple ingredients:
- Fruits for dipping- Berries work great for tanghulu. Fruit that can be fully patted dry such as blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and cherries will work best, as opposed to sliced fruit with a lot of moisture.
- 2 cups sugar- Plain, granulated white sugar works best for this.
- Water- You will need about half the amount of water like sugar. The tanghulu recipe is “flexible” as long as you follow this ratio.
- bamboo skewers- Choose the size of the skewers with regard to the size of the fruits you´re using.
Preparing fruit skewers:
First, you’ll want to select the type of fruit that you want to skewer and candy. Strawberries make a great option since they’re mildly tart, firm, and pretty to look at! Blueberries, blackberries, and grapes are among other fruits that would work well for this recipe.
Once you’ve selected and cleaned your fruit, make sure it’s completely dry before threading it onto a skewer. Line up all of your fruit skewers and ready to go on a plate or a baking pan before you start on the sugar syrup portion of the recipe.
Set up drying station:
Make a place for the skewers to harden and set. If done correctly, this stage goes quickly, but no one wants sticky sugar syrup all over the kitchen. So, prepare your work area accordingly. Set up a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (do not use foil since it will stick) on which to place the dipped fruit to cool.
If you want to avoid the pooling of the candy shell, you can create a cooling station for them to set in an upright position by filling a container with a wide mouth and placing the fruit skewers directly into the container after dipping.
Make sugar syrup:
Next, make the sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil, do not stir it as this can cause the sugar to crystalize.
If you don’t have a candy thermometer, keep an eye on the bubbles to see when the sugar syrup is done (they become smaller, faster, and more “high pitched”). If the sugar syrup is at the proper temperature for dipping, dip the end of a skewer in it, and then dip it in a glass of ice water, it should immediately harden into hard candy.
Dipping the fruits:
Once the syrup has reached room temperature, immediately dip the skewered fruit into it, twisting it around to coat it completely. Allow any excess to drip into the saucepan before placing the skewer upright to cool and harden.
Work quickly with the remaining fruit skewers. The sugar will continue to heat, becoming darker and more difficult to work with. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat as soon as it turns light brown to avoid scorching in the pan.
That’s it! Enjoy the tangulu fruit immediately when it cools down. I have read that we can store them in an airtight container. But I have never had luck with keeping the candy from melting for more than a few hours.
Other Tanghulu Fruit Options
- Hawthorn berries
- Peeled kiwi
The rising popularity of Tanghulu: a Chinese candied fruit
This Chinese candied fruit treat has grown very popular as 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 colorful skewered fruits in sugar syrup. This Chinese candied fruit is becoming a must-try recipe challenge for many at-home chefs! In this article, we’ll reveal everything you need to know about Tanghulu and how to recreate this Chinese candied fruit in your kitchen successfully.
If you want to know more about frybread and its history, read this article.
Looking for another sweet article? Check out our blog post about traditional sweets in Greece.