Sesame Chicken vs. General Tso’s Chicken: Unraveling the Distinctions

Sesame Chicken vs. General Tso’s Chicken: Understanding the differences

Chinese cuisine has gained immense popularity worldwide, with many dishes making their way onto international menus. Two such dishes that have captured the taste buds of food enthusiasts are Sesame Chicken and General Tso’s Chicken. While these dishes may appear similar at first glance, there are subtle differences that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the nuances of these two popular Chinese dishes and shed light on their unique characteristics.

General Tso’s Chicken: A Spicy and Tangy Delight

General Tso’s Chicken is a well-known Chinese dish that has become a staple in many Chinese restaurants throughout North America and Asia. It is believed to have been invented by a military leader named General Tso Tsung-t’ang, although the exact origins of the dish remain controversial. This popular delicacy consists of boneless chicken pieces that are battered and deep-fried to perfection.
The key distinguishing feature of General Tso’s Chicken is its flavor profile, which combines elements of sweetness and heat. The dish is typically prepared by tossing fried chicken with vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, whole dried red chili peppers, and garlic. The result is a tantalizing blend of spicy, sweet, and hot flavors that has captivated the palates of many.
General Tso’s Chicken is often served with broccoli, which complements the dish’s distinct flavor. However, variations of this dish can be found in different regions and restaurants. For example, the Taiwanese version of General Tso’s Chicken tends to be less sweet and contains more soy sauce. In addition, some chefs may experiment with different cuts of meat or vegetables to give the dish a unique twist.

Sesame Chicken: A Sweet and Savory Sensation

Sesame chicken, another popular Chinese dish, is often compared to General Tso’s chicken because of its similar appearance and basic ingredients. However, there are subtle differences that set these two dishes apart. Sesame Chicken tends to be sweet rather than spicy, making it a favorite for those who prefer milder flavors.
The origins of sesame chicken are somewhat obscure, but it gained popularity in North America through Chinese-American restaurants. The basic preparation involves coating boneless, thigh-length pieces of chicken in a batter made of egg and cornstarch. The chicken is then fried until golden brown and served with a sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and chicken stock. The dish is garnished with sesame seeds, adding an extra layer of flavor and texture.
Sesame chicken can be customized to suit individual tastes. Some variations include the addition of baby corn, broccoli, sake, or other ingredients to enhance the overall flavor. Unlike General Tso’s Chicken, Sesame Chicken does not contain any added spices. However, some chefs may experiment with incorporating spices or herbs to create a unique fusion of flavors.

Variations and similarities

Both General Tso’s Chicken and Sesame Chicken have numerous variations that cater to different tastes and preferences. For example, a variation of Sesame Chicken called “Almond Shrimp” replaces the chicken with shrimp and substitutes shaved almonds for the sesame seeds. Despite these variations, the core ingredients and cooking techniques remain largely the same.
While some people may draw comparisons between General Tso’s Chicken and Kung Pao Chicken, it is important to note that these dishes have distinct differences. Kung Pao Chicken is known for its hot and spicy flavor, while General Tso’s Chicken strikes a balance between heat and sweetness. In addition, Kung Pao Chicken typically contains peanuts, while General Tso’s Chicken does not contain nuts in its original recipe.
Both General Tso’s Chicken and Sesame Chicken have a thick sauce that adds richness to the dishes. However, due to its sweeter nature, Sesame Chicken tends to be less sauce-intensive, but still bursting with flavor. General Tso’s chicken, on the other hand, may have more sauce to provide a spicy and umami taste experience.

Spice Levels

Spice levels in General Tso’s Chicken and Sesame Chicken may vary depending on the specific recipe or restaurant preparing the dish. General Tso’s Chicken typically has a higher heat level due to the inclusion of whole dried chili peppers. However, the intensity of heat may vary from restaurant to restaurant.
In contrast, Sesame Chicken is known for its milder flavor profile, with a minimal amount of heat. On a scale of 1 to 10, General Tso’s Chicken can be rated about a 6 in terms of spiciness, while Sesame Chicken would fall closer to a 2 for its mild heat. It is important to note that these ratings are based on the basic versions of the dishes and may be subject to variation.
It is worth noting that chefs and restaurants often adjust spice levels based on regional preferences and customer demand. Therefore, it is advisable to inquire about the spice level when ordering any dish to ensure that it meets your personal taste preferences.

Pairings and Serving Suggestions

Both General Tso’s Chicken and Sesame Chicken are typically served as entrees with steamed or fried rice. The combination of flavorful chicken and fluffy rice creates a satisfying and balanced meal. In addition, these dishes can be complemented with a variety of vegetable side dishes, such as stir-fried vegetables or steamed broccoli, to add freshness and nutritional value.
When it comes to pairing these dishes with beverages, options such as jasmine tea, green tea, or a cold glass of iced tea can help cleanse the palate and provide a refreshing contrast to the savory flavors. For those who prefer alcoholic beverages, light-bodied beers or white wines with a hint of sweetness can complement the flavor profiles of both General Tso’s Chicken and Sesame Chicken.

Bottom line

In summary, while Sesame Chicken and General Tso’s Chicken have some similarities, they also have distinct characteristics that set them apart. General Tso’s Chicken is known for its sweet and spicy flavor combination, while Sesame Chicken tends to be more sweet without the spiciness. Both dishes offer a delightful blend of textures and flavors, making them popular choices among Chinese cuisine enthusiasts.
It is important to remember that there are variations of these dishes, and different restaurants may have their own unique twists. By understanding the basic differences between Sesame Chicken and General Tso’s Chicken, you can make an informed choice based on your personal taste preferences. Whether you crave a tangy, spicy experience or a sweeter, mellower flavor, both dishes offer a delicious culinary adventure into the world of Chinese cuisine.


What makes Sesame Chicken different from General Tso’s Chicken?

Sesame Chicken is noticeably sweeter without the heat, while General Tso’s Chicken is a blend of sweet and spicy flavors.

Are Sesame Chicken and General Tso’s Chicken basically the same dish?

Yes, both dishes are considered close cousins, but they have slight variations in their flavor profiles.

Which dish is hotter, Sesame Chicken or General Tso’s Chicken?

General Tso’s Chicken is typically hotter due to the inclusion of whole dried red chili peppers.

Can the heat level be adjusted for these dishes?

Yes, the heat level can be adjusted based on individual preferences and the cooking techniques used by different restaurants.

What are some common variations of these dishes?

Variations of Sesame Chicken and General Tso’s Chicken may include adding different vegetables such as broccoli or baby corn, or experimenting with alternative cuts of meat such as shrimp or almonds in place of sesame seeds.