How to Make Strawberry Tanghulu at Home
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This tanghulu recipe is a fruity Chinese confection with a modern twist.
As a child living in the historic Chinatown of Incheon, South Korea, I’d beg my parents for a tanghulu (糖葫芦) whenever we passed a street vendor selling candied hawthorn berries skewered on sticks. I believed with the certainty of youth that these jewel-like treats must taste like magic crystals that would fill me with sparkling bliss. My parents, however, were far too sensible.
“Tanghulu? What a waste of money,” they would say. “Dust sticks to those things all day long out in the streets. They’ll be hard as rocks. Not worth eating.”
As a result, I never tasted tanghulu as a kid. Though my family is from northern China, the home of tanghulu, I never knew of a family tanghulu recipe. When we immigrated to the United States, I forgot all about these delectable-looking Chinese fruit confections—until I traveled to Beijing in college. While exploring the bustling street markets, I encountered tanghulu vendors again and was flooded with memories of forgotten longing. I treated myself to a bamboo skewer of candied hawthorn fruits at once.
Eagerly, I snapped into the bite I’d been anticipating for nearly 20 years.
I shrank back in pain, wondering if I had chipped a tooth. As it turns out, my parents were right! The tanghulu was hard. The stale sugar sticking to my teeth was unpleasant. Perhaps it was my parents’ conditioning, perhaps I didn’t go to the right vendor, but that unfortunate first bite temporarily killed any further desire for the confection.
Fast-forward another 20 years and suddenly, I started seeing tanghulu trending all over the internet. ASMR videos of people joyfully crunching into tanghulu, made from all kinds of enticing fresh fruit, were garnering millions of views the world over. Tanghulu even appeared in viral TikTok content.
@petitecakery Candied Strawberries 🍓 #tanghulu #homebaker #easydessert #strawberryrecipe ♬ original sound – Maliah
It was time for me to try tanghulu again. This time, I wanted to make candied strawberries with my 7-year-old son. Not only would this strawberry dessert be a tasty summer fruit recipe to add to our family’s collection, it would be another way to introduce a taste of northern Chinese family heritage.
What Is Tanghulu?
Tanghulu is a classic Chinese dessert that has become trendy in recent years. Vendors make tanghulu with different fruit, like strawberries, cherries, kiwis, dragon fruit and pineapple. Festivals are held all over northern China in celebration of this confection, featuring tanghulu made to look like dolls, shaped like hearts or dipped in toasted sesame seeds and chocolate.
Because tanghulu is primarily enjoyed in the winter (the summer heat can cause the candy shell to melt), many people look forward to them as a signal for Chinese New Year. The shiny red appearance also symbolizes good luck.
Don’t miss our full list of desserts from around the world.
History of Tanghulu
Tanghulu is believed to have originated in northern China during the Song Dynasty, over 800 years ago. When a mysterious illness befell the emperor’s beloved concubine, all of the court’s physicians struggled to find a cure. Finally, an outside doctor was brought in who prescribed hawthorn berries simmered in sugar water. Before long, the concubine miraculously recovered and the fame of this sweet and sour remedy spread throughout China and became known as tanghulu.
How to Make Strawberry Tanghulu (Candied Strawberries)
Though making candied strawberries seems straightforward, my son and I discovered a handful of tricks. Most importantly, we learned to start with firm fruit that won’t slip off the skewer when dipping in the syrup, to not stir the sugar water mixture even after the hard-crack temperature has been reached and to work quickly!
This homemade tanghulu recipe is made with strawberries—and was not nearly as hard to bite into as the one I remember from Beijing.
- 16 firm strawberries, stems removed, washed and dried
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
Tools You’ll Need
Step 1: Skewer the strawberries
Michelle Yang for Taste of Home
If you haven’t already, wash the strawberries and dry them thoroughly. You want to make sure to dry each berry completely, because syrup will not adhere to the fruit if it’s wet.
Then, spear 1 or 2 strawberries per bamboo skewer.
Step 2: Prep the baking sheet
Line a baking sheet or large plates with parchment paper. Set aside.
Step 3: Make the sugar mixture
Clip a candy thermometer to the inside of your saucepan.
Add the sugar and water and heat over medium heat until the hard-crack stage is reached, 300-315°F. This will take about 10 minutes. Do not stir the mixture!
Editor’s Tip: Check out photos of what the hard-crack stage should look like in our guide to making candy.
Step 4: Dip the fruit
Michelle Yang for Taste of Home
Tilt the saucepan and dip the skewered strawberries in the pooled syrup. Rotate to cover the fruit entirely. Working quickly, allow the excess syrup to drip off and then place the skewers on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining skewers.
Step 5: Remove from parchment
Allow the candy shell to harden completely before removing from parchment paper. This should only take a few minutes.
Serve immediately! Tanghulu, especially those made with firmer, less juicy fruits, can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, but beware: The candy shell will become harder and the fruit may not hold up well because it is slightly cooked by the hot syrup.
Tips for Making Candied Strawberries
- Use firm, slightly unripe strawberries for this tanghulu recipe. Soft, ripe berries will slip off the skewer and leak juice.
- Spearing more than two strawberries per skewer will make it more challenging to coat the fruit fully with syrup.
- Do not stir the sugar and water mixture. Doing so will cause the syrup to crystallize, making it cloudy instead of clear. It will become sandy instead of liquid. (Here are more common candy-making mistakes.)
- Use a larger saucepan with a good handle so that it’s easier to tilt the pan, allowing more space to dip and rotate the skewers.
- Take extra care as the syrup is very hot. Use oven gloves to protect your hands whenever possible.
- Avoid spooning syrup onto the fruit. This will create bubbles and results in a cloudy candy shell. Spooning the syrup will also cause it to cool faster and crystallize.
- Work quickly! Keep the parchment-lined baking sheet as close to the saucepan as possible. The syrup in your saucepan will crystallize as soon as it cools, making it less workable.
Use any firm, tart fruit
Because the candy shell is so sweet, firm, tart fruit like strawberries work best for tanghulu. The kiddo and I used some green grapes we had on hand to add variety and color, but everyone in our family agreed the candied grapes tasted far too sweet. Cherry tomatoes have also become a popular variation of tanghulu in China. Sliced juicy fruit like pineapple or kiwis doesn’t work as well, since the moisture makes it a challenge for the syrup to adhere.
Add corn syrup to the sugar mixture
To fool-proof your recipe, add 1/4 cup of corn syrup to the sugar and water mixture to prevent the syrup from crystallizing. But keep in mind that your syrup will reach the hard-crack stage faster with the addition of corn syrup.
Add extra flavor and texture
Get creative! Add honey for flavor or toasted sesame seeds, sprinkles or crushed nuts for texture—just remember to work quickly. Some tanghulu makers also add food coloring to the syrup for extra pops of color.