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Sesame Chicken vs General TSO: 5 Differences You Must Know

One of the most common misconceptions about General TSO’s chicken is that it is no different than sesame chicken. While both dishes are extremely popular, delicious, and share many similarities, there are some crucial differences.

They certainly do appear to be similar and, to some people, the taste may be similar as well. However, there are some major differences in the flavor profile, cooking method, and a few more aspects we’ll be discussing in this article.

Maybe you’re trying to replicate these dishes at home, or you’re torn between the two for your takeout order. Whatever the reason may be, let’s discuss the difference between sesame chicken and General TSO’s.

What is sesame chicken?

Sesame chicken is without a doubt one of the most popular dishes of Asian cuisine. It is considered a “safe” order if you love chicken and the combination of sweet and sour flavors. Often, sesame chicken will also be spicy, but this varies from one place to another.

Sesame chicken consists of lean meat – chicken breast to be exact, which is cut into bite-size cubes. The batter combination will vary, just like the flavors of the sauce. It usually consists of corn starch, rice flour, and/or regular flour, and of course – eggs.

Many say that the secret to tender, flavorful, aromatic sesame chicken is in the marinade. The truth is that any meat can benefit from being marinated, at least an hour before the cooking stage. This step also allows for all the spices to marry together.

The sauce is surely what makes this dish so irresistible. It is mostly a mixture of rice vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, and chicken stock or water. 

In order to get that characteristic thick sauce, many cooks combine a tablespoon of cornstarch with a little bit of water and add it towards the end of the cooking process. This little trick makes the sauce extra sticky and flavorful. 

Often, when ordering sesame chicken, you may wonder how do they make the chicken this crispy? Often, the secret lies in the cooking process, as the chicken is double-fried. If you’re making sesame chicken at home, make sure to try this technique. 

Fry the chicken for a few minutes on each side, then remove it from the oil and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Put it back into the frying pan and fry it for a few more minutes, or until it turns golden and crispy!

What does sesame chicken taste like?

Sesame chicken may not taste the same each time you order it. It depends on the restaurants and their recipes, techniques, and spice mixtures. Therefore, it is safe to say that there is no uniform recipe when it comes to this dish.

However, sesame chicken is a pretty simple dish that leaves little room for imagination. It will mostly include crispy, delicious chicken breast cubes that are golden and crunchy on the outside, but tender and soft on the inside.

When it comes to the sauce, which makes all the difference in this recipe, it is normally a mix of sweet flavors. They come from sugar, savory, and umami taste from soy sauce and salt, and a bit of tanginess and sourness from the vinegar. 

Depending on the recipe, the sauce may be a bit spicy, but it normally isn’t the main factor in this dish. The emphasis seems to be on the sweet-sour combination of flavors, and the rich, sticky, thick sauce.

Also, the shining star of this recipe is sesame seeds which add a touch of sweetness, and that recognizable nutty, earthy, almost almond-like flavor.

What is General TSO’s chicken?

When discussing General TSO’s Chicken, it is pretty much impossible to avoid the story surrounding its specific, eye-catching name. The original recipe comes from a chef named Peng Chang-Kuei, who cooked for the president of China back in the 1950s.

This chicken recipe was originally made for a diplomatic envoy. It is clear that the chef wanted to make something that would make a great impression. Judging from the popularity of the dish today, he was certainly successful. 

The dish was named after General Tso Tsung-tang, a military leader from Peng’s hometown of Hunan. Even though General TSO’s isn’t as popular in China as some other chicken dishes, it certainly became a hit in the rest of the world – especially the States.

When it comes to preparing this dish, once again, the marinade plays a big role. For the marinade, chefs usually use the same mixture they prepare for the sauce, which is a great way of developing flavors even before cooking the food.

The marinade/sauce mixture usually consists of chicken stock, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, chili, and cornstarch which helps achieve that sticky, rich consistency of the sauce. 

The only difference between the marinade and the sauce is that the sauce has the addition of sugar. It gives that caramelized, smokey aroma and a dose of sweetness.

Just like in the sesame chicken recipe, this recipe calls for chicken breasts cut up into cubes. They are then marinated in ginger, garlic, and the sauce mixture we’ve mentioned. After being in the marinade, the chicken is then coated with cornstarch or cornflour.

The chicken will be crispy on the outside while staying tender and juicy on the inside. Another secret behind crispy chicken is not to keep it cooking in the sauce for too long, but rather toss it around the pan to get it evenly coated. 

What does General TSO’s chicken taste like?

If you prefer spicier chicken dishes, this recipe is probably something you would enjoy, since chili is one of the main General TSO’s chicken ingredients. However, depending on the restaurant, the spice levels can vary.

When it comes to other ingredients, this is yet another sweet-sour combination of flavors. The sugar in the sauce provides that sweet, caramelized taste, while the rice vinegar adds the much-needed, refreshing sourness.

When it comes to sesame oil, soy sauce, and hoisin, this choice of ingredients is the secret behind the complexity of this dish. Each of the mentioned elements adds a touch of depth, tanginess, and umami.

What’s more, the ginger and garlic make the aroma intoxicating, with the addition of toasted sesame seeds added on top. If you’ve marinated the chicken in the sauce mixture with the addition of ginger and garlic, you can expect an even stronger aroma.

What’s the difference between General TSO’s chicken and sesame chicken?

While these two dishes may appear identical at first, there are some important differences that could make your decision much easier the next time you’re ordering Chinese takeout. Let’s go over the main differences between General TSO’s and sesame chicken.

1. Level of Spiciness

While the original recipe for General TSO’s chicken calls for chili, whether it be chili paste, flakes, or fresh chili peppers, this isn’t the case with sesame chicken. In the majority of sesame chicken recipes, chili isn’t listed as an ingredient.

Therefore, if you don’t handle spicy food and you prefer sweet, mild flavors, sesame chicken is the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of spicy food, you’ll probably gravitate towards General TSO’s.

In case you’re making any of these dishes at home, it will be easier for you to adjust the taste to your liking. For instance, there is nothing wrong with adding a little bit of chili to improve the sesame chicken taste.

2. Flavor

At first, you may find sesame chicken and General TSO’s chicken almost identical when it comes to the flavor profile. However, a noticeable difference between the two is that, with sesame chicken, the focus is on sweet flavors.

Therefore, in a lot of sesame chicken recipes, you’ll be able to taste a bit more sugar and/or honey. It’s a given since the emphasis is on the sweet and sour contrast – not the spiciness of the dish.

As we’ve mentioned before, sesame chicken usually isn’t spicy, as opposed to General TSO’s.

On the other hand, there is a significant difference in the sauce when it comes to some varieties of these two Chinese dishes. While most General TSO’s sauces will include both soy sauce and hoisin, this may not be the case with sesame chicken.

Hoisin is a very deep, complex sauce resembling barbecue sauce, but it is more on the salty side as opposed to the sweet. Since it is also umami, it will enhance this specific savory flavor of soy sauce, adding a hint of tanginess and earthiness to the combination.

3. Availability

Will you be able to find both of these dishes on the menu of your favorite Chinese cuisine restaurant? It is quite likely since both dishes are very popular. However, if we were to talk about supremacy, we’d have to say that sesame chicken takes the win.

Sesame chicken is one of the staple dishes in many Chinese restaurants. It is a go-to meal for many people – especially since it is quite sweet, mild, and it encompasses all the favorite flavors of this kind of cuisine.

General TSO’s chicken, on the other hand, could be considered a spicier, more intense version of sesame chicken. That’s why it may not be on the menu in some restaurants. 

Also, some places may not carry this dish under this exact name, so make sure to check the ingredients. Sweet, sour, and spicy sesame chicken is what your order should be if you’d like to get something similar to General TSO’s.

4. Ingredients

Once again, it is hard to compare these two dishes in any area. The recipes, including the list of ingredients, can vary from one place to another. Since there isn’t a universal recipe for either of these dishes, you may come across different ingredient combos. 

When it comes to sesame chicken, the main ingredients include chicken breast, sesame seeds, cornstarch/flour, eggs, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Some chefs may choose to add honey, pepper, or different spices to elevate their version of sesame chicken.

General TSO’s chicken, on the other hand, includes the very same ingredients, but often with the addition of hoisin sauce. Also, the major difference between the ingredients in these two dishes is that General TSO’s includes chili paste or chili flakes.

Also, you might notice that many recipes include eggs as a part of the batter for sesame chicken. This is not the case with General TSO’s. Nevertheless, we cannot say that you won’t be able to come across a General TSO’s chicken recipe that includes eggs, as well.

5. Versatility

When we say versatility, we think mainly about the suitability of these dishes for different people. As we’ve mentioned, sesame chicken is usually considered a “safe” order for many people. 

It is a great introduction to the world of Chinese cuisine, interesting enough to grab someone’s attention, yet not bold enough to be considered a big step out of the comfort zone. We’d say it’s a perfect first order for someone who’s never had Chinese.

We’d think of General TSO’s as a bolder option, considering the level of spice. It is also not suitable for children, which makes it less versatile than regular sesame chicken.

Are sesame chicken and General TSO’s chicken the same?

At first glance, many would agree that these dishes are essentially the same. They mostly have the same ingredients and the preparation process is pretty much identical. Also, at the very base of the flavor profile, you’ll find the same flavors and aromas.

The main difference between the two is definitely the spice level. Sesame chicken normally doesn’t include chili, while General TSO’s chicken does. However, this is not a general rule, and you can definitely come across exceptions.

Overall, we’d have to say that sesame chicken is a safe bet. It’s sweet and sour chicken with a dose of umami, but without the spice. On the other hand, spice lovers will naturally gravitate towards General TSO’s chicken.

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Passionate chef, in love with everything related to food and cooking it to perfection!
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