Orange chicken and General Tso’s chicken are two popular dishes that are on the menu at Chinese restaurants in the United States. Both are known for their sweet, tangy, and savory flavors and are often served with steamed white rice that soaks up the delicious sauces.
However, there are some key differences between the two that make them unique. It’s interesting to note that both chicken favorites, however, classified as Chinese fare are only popular in the United States and not in China.
Plus, one of them was created in Hawaii, not China! Whether you prefer Orange Chicken over General Tso’s, read on to learn what makes them different and similar at the same time.
Orange Chicken and General Tso’s Chicken Have Different Origins
Orange chicken has its origins in the United States, specifically in California. That said, it is probably not even served in China. The dish was first created by Chinese-American chef, Andrew Cherng, in the late 1980s. Cherng was the co-founder of Panda Express, a popular Chinese fast-food chain that is known for its orange chicken.
The sweet and savory dish is said to be inspired by the Hunan cuisine of Hawaii and quickly gained popularity. Today, it continues to be considered a staple at Panda Express and most Chinese-American restaurants.
Jimmy Wang, Panda Express’ head chef of culinary innovation was quoted as saying, “the dish takes a hybrid approach of bridging cultures, ingredients, and flavors while respecting its roots.”
General Tso’s chicken, on the other hand, has a more complicated and unsure history. The dish is believed to have originated in Taiwan, but it is not clear who the original creator was. Some believe it was invented by Peng Chang-kuei, a chef from the Hunan province and likely named after General Tso Tsung-tang, a 19th-century Chinese military leader.
The dish is believed to have been created in his honor, but it is not clear if there is any connection between him and the dish. Historians don’t even think he ever tasted it! It became popular in the United States back in the 1970’s and has grown to be a staple at Chinese-American restaurants.
Both Chinese Dishes Feature Delicious Tangy Ingredients
Orange chicken is a complex dish made with bite-sized pieces of chicken breast that are battered and deep-fried in a hot wok until golden and crispy. The chicken is then tossed in a sweet, tangy, and slightly spicy sauce that is made with oranges, orange zest, sugar, chili peppers, honey, garlic, soy sauce, and ginger. This sweet and savory dish is often served with steamed rice and vegetables. It is also served with fried rice that enhances the flavor. The aroma is zesty with a touch of fruity citrus notes.
General Tso’s chicken is also made with bite-sized pieces of chicken that are battered and deep-fried in a wok. Chicken thighs are usually used in this dish as opposed to all white meat used in Orange Chicken. The cooked chicken is then tossed in a sensational sweet, tangy, and slightly spicy sauce that is made with dark soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, sugar, chili flakes, and chili peppers.
The dish is often served with steamed rice and vegetables like onions, broccoli, and carrots, also covered in the same tasty sauce. It can also be served with fried rice full of complementary vegetables. Some prefer the sauce extra spicy and ask for additional chili flakes and soy sauce for an added flavor kick. The aroma is tangy with an irresistible smoky overtone.
What Are The Appearance Differences
Orange Chicken and General Tso’s chicken are two Chinese masterpieces that look very similar. However, when you compare the two side by side you will immediately notice a few apparent differences. The Orange Chicken dish features a lighter color sauce than the General Tso’s. It’s the orange juice that gives it the orange hue.
General Tso’s on the other hand (plate in this matter) is darker, usually brown due to all the soy sauce and chilis. In addition, General Tso’s chicken is usually sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and Orange Chicken is garnished with finely chopped scallions.
Texture Comparison: One is Crispy, One Is Crunchy
Orange chicken is known for its crispy, battered exterior and tender, juicy interior. The sauce is thick and clings well to the chicken, which gives it a rich flavor. The dish is also known for its slightly spicy and sweet taste, which is balanced by the savory flavors of the chicken.
General Tso’s chicken, on the other hand, is known for its crunchy and crispy exterior. The chicken is also tender and juicy, but the sauce is thinner and lighter than the sauce used in orange chicken. The flavors are also more balanced, with a sweeter taste and mild spiciness.
Both Dishes Offer Similar Calorie Counts
Orange chicken is a bit higher in calories than General Tso’s chicken. A typical serving of orange chicken contains around 400-450 calories, while a serving of General Tso’s chicken contains around 300-350 calories. The calories can vary from restaurant to restaurant as not every recipe is exactly the same.
General Tso’s chicken features dark thigh meat that has more fat content than the leaner white breast meat used in Orange Chicken. While both dishes are high in calories, they have similar nutritional values and when served with vegetables, can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Which Dish Is Better and More Popular?
Both Orange Chicken and General Tso’s chicken are very popular dishes usually served in any Asian restaurant and bistro in America. Since Orange Chicken is one of the signature dishes created by the Panda Express restaurant chain and sells more than 115 million pounds every year, it’s clear it is very popular. Plus, anyone who is a fan of the sitcom series, The Big Bang Theory, knows it is an all-time favorite of the show’s character, Sheldon Cooper.
On the other hand, General Tso’s, although not preferred by a television celebrity, was named for an army general years before Orange Chicken was invented. It is preferred by Americans as one of their favorite Chinese dishes.
Is it the savory-sweet sauce and vegetable sides that are soaked up by the sticky white rice? Probably. Although the Chinese culture hasn’t embraced either dish as we have in The United States, both are popular in their own right and will continue to satisfy and delight with their sweet, savory, and exceptional flavors.
Hi all! I’m Cora Benson, and I’ve been blogging about food, recipes and things that happen in my kitchen since 2019.