Chinese New Year Desserts » 7 Sweets to Welcome New Year

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The Spring Festival is the most important annual celebration in Chinese culture. Just like the many festivities and red Chinese New Year decoration, Chinese New Year desserts are crafted to represent wishes and blessings for the near future. To bring you luck for the Chinese New Year, here are seven sweet delights you have to try.

Chinese New Year Desserts
Fa Gao(发糕), a popular Chinese New Year dessert.

Nian Gao

Made of sticky glutinous rice or yellow rice, nian gao is a sweet treat that can be found at almost every Chinese household during the Spring Festival. Serving it during the Chinese New Year expresses wishes to be successful in the years to come.

The glutinous rice and yellow rice give nian gao its distinct texture. When crafted in a certain manner, this Chinese New Year dessert can also depict silver or gold bars.

nian gao, one of the more popular chinese new year desserts, topped with dried jujube dates
Nian gao is often topped with dried jujube dates.

Variations of the nian gao vary from region to region. In Southern China, they are usually stir-fried along with meat and vegetables and served as a popular Chinese New Year food and Chinese New Year drinks. Elsewhere, they are typically offered with sugar and lard as desserts.

If you are one with a strong sweet tooth, it is also acceptable to directly dip nian gao in white sugar. The dessert’s signature sweetness represents the wishes of a sweet and successful new year.

Fa Gao

In most Chinese New Year desserts, the “gao” is a wish for prosperity. With fa gao, the “fa” expresses the desire for gaining wealth or making a fortune.

To make fa gao, rice is soaked and grounded into a paste. It is then fermented long enough that fa gao keeps its shape and does not open up. Also, it is very important that the paste is stirred once in a while during this process.

After fermentation, fa gao is then steamed. The most exciting part of making fa gao is when you lift the lid. It is believed that the luck this treat brings to your family depends on the quality of the finished product. The fluffier the cake and the cleaner the surface, the better!

a bunch of fa gao (rice cakes) served  with marked with three red dots in the middle
The trick to making sweet fa gao is to drizzle it with sugar!

You may also experiment with adding different vegetables and fruits to alter the color of the fa gao. Corn flour is used to create golden fa gao, carrots result in joyful red-orange, while green tea radiates a wonderful spring feeling. Fa gao can also be served as delicious Chinese New Year snacks.

Turnip Cake

This savory cake is also among the most commonly served Chinese New Year desserts. Popular in the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, the turnip cake is mainly made out of shredded Chinese radish. Other ingredients include rice flour and various flavoring. Additionally, you may opt to add bits of food like sausages, dried shrimp, shiitake, or peanuts.

Turnip cakes can be pan-fried to make the outer crust crumbly, or non-fried to make it soft all-over. In some dim sum restaurants, you can even customize a turnip cake to suit your taste.

three pieces of crusty, pan-fried turnip cakes
Pan-fry your turnip cakes if you want them crusty on the outside!

For the Hakka ethnic culture, turnip cakes are a specialty during the seventh day of the Spring Festival. The people of Hong Kong prefer to stir-fry turnip cakes with XO sauce, while in other places like Taiwan, turnip cakes are commonly served as a breakfast dish.

Hakka turnip cakes are more traditional than those in other regions. All you have to do to make them is steam, sprinkle diced green onions on, and serve!

Osmanthus Jelly

The Chinese are fond of infusing flower petals to their desserts such as the sweet osmanthus jelly – another staple treat during the Spring Festival. In Chinese culture, the osmanthus symbolizes auspiciousness, friendship, and success. Simply based on this representation, it’s no wonder the osmanthus jelly is one of the most popular Chinese New Year desserts!

Authentic osmanthus jellies are made without artificial flavoring. Aside from the petals of the osmanthus flower, key ingredients of this dessert include glutinous rice powder and bits of crystal sugar.

three slices of osmanthus jelly placed on a black plate
The petals and other ingredients can be seen through the jelly.

People from the city of Xianyang use a special osmanthus jam made of preserved petals and the addition of different Chinese herbs. Glutinous rice is stir-fried, grounded, steamed, and added to the jelly. Black sesame, saltwater, and white sugar are then mixed with the dough. Needless to say, the osmanthus jelly is a fragrant, sweet, and savory delight.

Jujube Flower Cake

The jujube flower cake is a dessert made with a popular Chinese fruit as its main ingredient. When making jujube flower cake, it is best that you pick the meatiest jujube fruits and wrap them with dough.  

These cakes are typically multi-tiered, but you can also choose to go with simply molding dough into the shape of a flower and just pressing a jujube fruit in the middle of each petal.

Once steamed, the dough should rise to a bit of a spongy texture resulting in what looks like a bouquet of jujube flowers. You can also use food coloring to place dots in the middle of the flower. In Chinese, the word “jujube” is a homophone of “early.” They are often prepared by couples who wish to have children in the near future.      

Want to learn more? Check out on the proper attire in Chinese New Year clothes article. You can also learn the proper Chinese New Year greetings and the importance of red envelops on Chinese New Year.

Ai Wo-Wo

Also referred to as “steamed rice cake with sweet stuffing,” ai wo-wo is another one of those Chinese New Year desserts with glutinous rice as the primary ingredient.

What sets it apart from the other sweet Chinese treats is its texture. The mixture of dough made of steamed rice powder and glutinous rice makes ai wo-wo look like freshly fallen snow!

a piece of ai wo-wo sliced in half, exposing its sweet filling that makes it one of the most well-known Chinese New Year desserts
The sweet filling of the ai wo-wo makes it one of the most prominent Chinese New Year desserts!

For the filling, you can make it out of sweet ingredients like sugar, walnuts, black sesame, hawthorn, or Chinese yam. You can also press jujube fruits on top of ai wo-wo if you want more blessings to come your way.

Rice Balls

rice balls soaked in a bowl of of bean curd
There are two variations of rice balls in China – southern rice balls and northern rice balls.

Southern rice balls

Customarily eaten as the first breakfast of the New Year in the regions of Jiangsu and Shanghai, these rice balls are boiled before being served in hot water. These sweets have mouth-watering fillings made of common sweet ingredients like red bean paste, black sesame, melted sugar, peanut paste, and even jujube.

Southern rice balls can also be fried or steamed. You may also serve these delightful Chinese New Year desserts with vegetables or meatballs to make it more savory.

Want to discover more Chinese customs? Read our articles on Chinese New Year traditions, Chinese New Year myth, and Chinese New Year superstitions.

Northern rice balls

The main difference between southern rice balls and northern rice balls lies in the process of their preparation. The former is often made to resemble a peach – a symbol of longevity, while the latter is formed in the shape of a ball, which in Chinese, is a homophone of reunions.

Northern rice balls are usually served during the Lantern Festival, the final day of the Chinese New Year. The significance of the round shape could also be understood as to celebrate the Lantern Festival, as there is a full moon during this night. These treats will definitely make your viewing experience of the full moon even better!

The phrase “there is always room for dessert” could not be more accurate in times of celebrations like the Spring Festival. With the help of these delicious Chinese New Year desserts, make your reunion dinner even sweeter!

Conclusion

If you’re a sweet tooth, visit china during Chinese New Year. The Chinese put up desserts stalls on the roads which are available at cheap prices. You would be full and won’t be able to complete half of the desserts list. Get to know more about the Chinese desserts from our post and post your views in the comment section.

2 thoughts on “Chinese New Year Desserts » 7 Sweets to Welcome New Year”

  1. I’ve spent more time in South Korea than I did in any other country. I’ve started using some Chinese stuff now and I can assure you that it’s been incredibly rewarding, even though it has a bit more in common with the rest of the country. It’s great to be able to see these things on the front page in person. I think a lot of countries do this for themselves – in fact, I’m aware of the Chinese diet/exercise scene, but I’m also aware of the local (American) nutrition factors. I have no idea how well this works in my country. I don’t know if that’s part of the reason I have to stop looking at Chinese food. I’ve used a few Japanese restaurants that I’ve been to – the menu options are nice, but the food selection is really poor. And a bit of the restaurant I have been to was actually good, too. There are a lot of other things that make this difficult to read. This one is just fantastic.

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  2. I really love these desserts, but I also hate the lack of clear colors for each type of dessert. I’d love an even darker grey that looked like these desserts with the red and green squares.

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