Tanghulu: Chinese Sweets: Haw Candy

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Tanghulu literally translated means Candied Haw on a Stick (bīngtáng húlu 冰糖葫芦).  Tanghulu is a traditional winter snack in northern China, especially in Beijing.  Traditionally, tanghulu has a hardened sugar coating that comes from dipping the skewer in sugar.  There are less common varieties with a chocolate coating or sesame sprinkles.  Traditionally, tanghulu uses the Chinese hawthorn fruit (山楂 shānzhā), but other fruit can be used, such as apples, kiwi, strawberries, etc.

The taste is a combination of sweet and sour flavors. Hawthorn berries taste tangy with a coarse texture.  It is a delicious marriage of sweet sugar glazing and sour berries on your taste buds.

If you go to Beijing during National week, you will see tricycle-mounted stalls of vendors selling caramelized haw candy on a stick.  There is a lore about the how the haw fruit candy became so popular and was discovered to have medicinal qualities. 

During the Song Dynasty, Emperor Guangzong (Zhao Ting) was hedonistic and was not very concerned with government affairs.  When one of Emperor Guangzong’s favorite concubines (concubine Huang) became unwell, the Emperor scoured the country for a cure.  The Emperor’s private doctors could not cure Concubine Huang.  An unknown doctor came forward and prescribed a regime that included eating five or ten haw pieces before every meal.   Word of her recovery quickly spread throughout the country and vendors in China started hocking the tanghulu.  Eventually, Emperor Guangzong was forced to give up his throne in 1194 by his grandmother, the Grand Empress Dowager, as he refused to attend the funeral procession of his father, Xiaozong.

Today, research is starting to show that there are real medicinal benefits to the hawthorn fruit.  It is thought to be associated with long-term benefits on cardiovascular functions.  Further, recent research indicates that polyphenols from the haw fruit may have anti-tumor benefits for the skin.