The 5 Most Popular Chinese New Year Desserts

Update (January 31, 2019): This article has been updated with the current date of Chinese New Year.


The Lunar New Year falls on Tuesday, Feb. 5 and Chinese families around the globe are already prepping for their New Year's Eve banquet. It's single-handedly the most important holiday of the year -- a 15-day observation littered with family time, red envelopes stuffed with money, and tons of symbolic food to ring in the start of the agricultural season.

For those with a sweet tooth, here are five appropriate desserts for your Chinese New Year feasts. Most of these delicacies can be either purchased at local Chinese supermarkets or sampled at Chinese dim sum restaurants.


Photo: ulterior epicure/Flickr/Creative Commons License

1. Rice Cakes
The Chinese word for rice cake is nian gao, which is a homophone for increased prosperity. Rice cakes are crafted with sweet rice flour and mixed with milk, white sugar, and sometimes sweetened red bean paste. The texture is akin to mochi but it offers much more resistance and is often slightly crispy on the sides -- depending on the version.


Photo: WeNdy/Flickr/Creative Commons License 

2. Eight Treasure Rice
Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture and true to the dessert's name, it really has eight different types of treasures -- like red bean, lotus and other various dried fruit -- overlaid on top. It's a common dessert used to top off a family-style banquet. The glutinous rice is soaked in sugar and butter, then topped with sweetened lotus, dates, and fruits. The word eight in Chinese also sounds similar to the word "prosper."


Photo: Courtesy Melody Fury/GourmetFury.com

Story continues below

3. Candied Lotus Seeds
Candied lotus seeds, pronounced lian zhi, in Chinese sounds like the phrase "connected with children." It's supposed to symbolize a long line of offsprings. The crystallized lotus seeds are cooked in a syrup and then dried.


Photo: /avlxyz/Flickr/Creative Commons License 

4. Tang Yuan
These sweet rice balls are the hallmark dessert of the Chinese New Year, often consumed during the 15th day of the celebration. Tang yuan is the sugary equivalent of a dumpling, often infused with black sesame, red bean, or grounded peanuts. It's an auspicious dessert because the roundness of the delicacy signifies unity within the family.


Photo: kattebelletje/Flickr/Creative Commons License

5. Kumquats
Kumquats are a symbol of prosperity because the Chinese translation of kumquat means "gold orange." They are often served plain, or preserved with sugar. The entire tree is often displayed in the home or given as gifts.

Want recipes and food news emailed directly to you? Sign up for the new Food newsletter here!


We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading