Glutinous rice flour lends a chewy yet soft texture to these sweet rice balls, also known as black sesame tang yuan or tangyuan.
Black Sesame Tang Yuan, commonly known as sweet rice balls with a black sesame filling, is a classic Chinese dessert usually eaten during the Lunar New Year. Think of this like a warm version of mochi. It has a chewy exterior, thanks to glutinous rice flour. The inside is filled with a sweetened black sesame and butter filling. These balls are boiled gently, to allow the filling to get molten and the wrapper to get soft and chewy. With the right amount of sweetness in the filling, these rice balls are soulful and not too overpowering.
A Chinese friend introduced this sweet dish to me while we were in business school together. And I’ve been hooked on it ever since. Tang Yuan ( 黑芝麻汤圆 ) is an auspicious recipe that symbolizes harmony and reunion. In the olden days, making tang yuan was a laborious task since everything was made from scratch, with little equipment to aid the process. Sesame seeds were hand-ground, glutinous rice was soaked overnight, hand-ground to a batter out of by hand grinding, and kneaded to a smooth dough. It would take well over two days to get everything ready. But these days, the task is incredibly easy since it involves a few handfuls of ingredients and less than a couple of hours to put together.
As much as I love an over-the-top dessert, I also am at a point in my life where I crave comfort food and food that’s a bit more mellow. These tangyuan balls are the perfect combination of simple and sweet. And what do you know, you’re also getting the goodness of the sesame seeds with every bite.
Are these sweet glutinous rice balls healthy?
Well, kind of. The only “unhealthy” component of this dish is the unsalted butter. Whether you choose regular butter or the vegan kind, it is still going to be high in calories. However, what’s great about these rice balls, is you can control your portion sizes. Each ball is about the size of a small lime, so if you eat say 2-4 at a time, you’re still exercising moderation. And the good news is, black sesame seeds are extremely beneficial for your skin, hair, and overall health.
This Chinese tang yuan recipe is vegetarian and gluten-free. You can also make this completely vegan by using vegan butter or coconut oil. You can also use peanut butter, but that’ll add a distinct flavor to the sweet filling
A note to Indians reading this – if you’re curious as to what this tastes like, and are contemplating whether to try this out or not, I highly urge you to do so! It resembles the texture of a modak / kozhukattai, but is a lot easier to assemble!
How to make the Black Sesame Tang Yuan?
You’ll need simple ingredients to make the tang yuan: glutinous rice flour, black sesame seeds, unsalted butter, sugar, and water. That’s it!
For the filling, grind the sesame seeds to a fine powder along with sugar. Then add soft unsalted butter and beat to a smooth mixture. This mixture will be too soft to handle. All you have to do it set the bowl in the freezer for 15-30 minutes until it hardens a bit. Then divide into 1-2 tsp portions, roll into neat balls, and place onto a plate. Then freeze for 30 minutes. The butter in the filling will harden the sesame balls.
Make a dough with glutinous rice flour and water. You can find this in Asian grocery stores, or on Amazon or Walmart. Divide into lemon-sized balls, roll neatly, and set aside. Keep the balls covered as you make the tangyuan.
Take each dough, flatten it, place the sesame ball in the middle, and cover it with the rest of the dough. Roll to even out and place on the plate. Work quickly, for the butter will start to melt. Once the balls are formed, you need to freeze them again to let the filling harden. Then boil on medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until the balls start to float. That’s it!
How are the Tangyuan balls served?
I usually just boil the sesame rice balls and eat them warm – as is. But you can also serve in the broth that the balls were boiled in. Traditionally tangyuan is served in a hot and sweet ginger syrup or tea. You can brew some store-bought ginger tea, or simply boil fresh ginger, sugar, water and your choice of spices, then drain out the liquid. If you’re serving in a broth, make sure it is hot. If it is cold or at room temperature, the balls will stick to each other.
How to store Tang Yuan or the sweet rice balls?
Usually a recipe will yield a big batch of about 20-25 tangyuan. If you’re making it for a big party, you can simply assemble all of the tangyuan, and boil and consume on the same day. But if you’re just making it for your family, chances are, you won’t consume all of them at once. In that case there are 2 options of storing the tang yuan –
- Once you form all the sweet rice balls, boil as many as you want. For the rest, place in a box & keep them frozen. Make sure the balls don’t stick to each other. To make this easier, I recommend saving the box that Ferrero Rocher comes in! I usually form the tangyuan, place each on in each groove, then close with the lid & freeze. Once frozen, they can last for 1-2 months at least! All you do is boil some of them whenever you want to eat them!
- Another way, is to simply make enough tangyuan you want to consume on the same day and not more. The dough takes less than a minute to put together, so you can freeze the filling and make the dough whenever you want to eat tangyuan.
Here’s a recipe video on how to make the black sesame tangyuan –
Black Sesame Rice Balls
- 2 oz Black Sesame Seeds (around 3.5 Tbsp)
- 3 oz Fine Sugar (adjust for sweetness desired)
- 6 TBsp unsalted Butter (you can substitute with vegan butter or refined coconut oil too)
- 1-2 drops Water
- 1 cup Glutinous Rice Flour
- 1/2 cup Warm Water
To Cook and Serve:
- Hot Water, to cook the rice balls in
- Ginger Tea or Sweet ginger syrup, to serve (equal parts ginger, sugar boiled in 2 cups water)
- Toast sesame seeds couple minutes, let it cool completely. Add to spice grinder & pulse a few times until its a powder
- Add sugar to the sesame powder and pulse again few times to get a fine mixture of sugar & sesame. Then add the powder to a bowl
- Add few drops of water, softened butter & mix. Beat the mixture to let the sugar dissolve well.
- Freeze the mixture for 15-20 minutes until the butter hardens.
- Take 1-2 tsp of the filling and roll into neat balls, place on a clean plate (lined with an aluminum foil). Work quickly, and in batches, to avoid butter from melting too quickly.
- Once the sesame balls are formed freeze for 30-60 minutes until they harden.
- To a bowl, add the glutinous rice flour and warm water. Mix with a fork until mixture comes together, then knead to soft dough. Don’t add too much water. As you start to knead, it’ll turn soft.
- Divide into equal portions and roll into neat big lemon-sized balls.
- Keep the dough covered with a damp cloth until you need to make the tangyuan balls.
Forming the Tang Yuan:
- Once the sesame balls have hardened, remove some of them, work in batches
- Flatten each dough ball, add a sesame ball in the middle & cover with the dough around the filling. Roll into neat ball & place it on a plate.
- As you keep forming the balls, place them in the freezer, to avoid melting of the butter.
- Once all the balls are formed, you can go ahead and cook or store them for later.
Boiling the Sweet Rice Balls:
- Bring a pot of water to boil. Add rice balls in batches, don’t overcrowd the pan
- Boil for 4-5 minutes, or until the rice balls expand in size, and start to float
- Once the balls start to float, they’re ready to eat.
- Only boil as many as you want to eat. They should be consumed right away
How to serve the Sesame Tangyuan:
- Once the glutinous rice balls are boiled, you can serve them in boiling water, hot ginger syrup, sugar syrup or ginger tea. You can also just eat them as is.
Storing the Tang Yuan:
- Option 1: Roll into balls, place in airtight dish at 1-2 inch distance from each other. Save a ferrero rocher box, and place the formed balls in each groove. Keep them covered & frozen for up to 2 months. When you want to eat some, take the few out, boil until they float & serve!
- Option 2: Just freeze the sesame filling. The dough takes less than a minute to make, so just make the dough as and when you need it
Check out some other dessert recipes on our blog –