Sweet Rice Balls

Sweet Rice Balls (tang yuan), which are made with glutinous rice flour, are traditionally eaten to celebrate and welcome the arrival of winter. It's a bit late, but I had a chance to make some this weekend.  Tang yuan are one of my favorite foods of all time.  They are chewy, and a little bit sweet.

They can be found in red bean soup, rice wine soup, as a topping for shaved ice, or they can be eaten on their own.  Usually, I just make the plain white ones.  If you buy them frozen in the super market, they usually come in white and pink.  At restaurants, you will often see light blue and pink ones. 

I thought that I would attempt to make my own and use some colors.  I haven't had much experience with food coloring and I've never tried to make colored sweet rice balls.  I wanted to make light blue, pink and purple. I try not to use food coloring when I cook, so I was a little concerned about adding food coloring to the sweet rice balls since I would be eaten them after.

My first few attempts were a bit of a disaster as I added too many drops.  The food coloring is also a pain to get off your hands. I finally managed to make some pretty pink balls.  When I cooked them though, the water was stained pink.

After staining my fingers with food coloring and seeing the pink water, I decided to not try to make the purple and blue balls.  Instead, I used some matcha powder to make some green ones.

Usually when I make these rice balls, I don't do measurements.  I just pour out some glutinous rice flour and add a little water at a time and mix.  You want the dough to be wet and sticky, but not so sticky as to stick to your fingers.  You should be able to easily form small balls and put them into bowling water.

This time, I tried to do some measurements for those who have not made them before.  For every 1/3 cup of flour, you need about 2 tablespoons and one teaspoon of water.

If you are just eating the sweet rice balls by themselves or putting it on some shaved ice, then you can simply cook them in some sugar water.  If you are eating them in red bean soup or in rice wine soup, you can cook them directly in the soup. Though if you are cooking ones with food coloring, I recommend cooking them separately first, so that the dye does not run into the soups.

Sweet rice balls


  • Sweet glutinous rice flour
  • Water
  • Food coloring, matcha powder (optional)


1.  Mix glutinous rice flour with water.  For each 1/3 cup of flour, add about 2 tablespoons and one teaspoon of water.  Mix together.  The dough should be sticky and wet.  You should be able to form balls in your palm easily and have them not stick to your hand.  If the dough is too dry, add some more water.  If it's too sticky, add some more flour to adjust.

2. If you wish to color your balls, add food coloring after mixing.  Very little coloring is needed.  Add about one to two drops of red to create a pink color for 2/3 cup of flour.  To create matcha sweet rice balls, add approximately 1 tsp of matcha powder for every 2/3 cup of flour.

3. 2/3 cup of flour makes about 10-15 balls, depending on the size you make them.  Traditionally, they are fairly small.  I usually make mine to be about 1/3 – 1/2 inch in diameter.

4. To cook, boil a pot of water.  Add sugar to the water if desired.  Usually for a small pot of water, I will add about 1/4 cup of sugar.  Put the balls in after the water is boilin.  This prevents the balls from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  The balls do not need long to cook.  Once they float to the top, they are done.  Turn off boiling water and remove balls from water. 

11 comments on “Sweet Rice Balls”

  1. They are very colourful, nice!!!

  2. I like the rice balls, but in a savory way – in soup. My mother always makes the soup at this time of year, but I don’t live near her. However, I guess there’s no reason I can’t make the soup and rice balls myself!
    For some reason, I’ve never liked the sweet rice balls.

  3. I’ve seen the savory soup ways on cooking shows, but I’ve actually never had it prepared that way! It sounds good though. I think I would like them savory or sweet, I just love chewy things!

  4. My mom used to make these all the time and put them in red bean soup. I always ended up eating the rice balls first before finishing the soup. I guess I have no excuses for not making them either. :-p

  5. I haven’t eaten this ever since I moved to France. 🙁 My mom used to make these during the Tang Yuan festival and in ginger soup. I have to make them to introduce my little one to Chinese custom.

  6. Good idea to use matcha powder as green coloring.

  7. Whenever I eat this in red bean soup, I always get scoop tons of the rice balls and just a teeny bit of red beans. When I was little, I always wanted the rice balls when my mom made the red bean soup, and my mom would have me makes them. So I’ve gotten used to making them.

  8. I’ve never had them in ginger soup before. Sounds delicious!

  9. Thanks! It’s not as bright in color as using food coloring, but it’s definitely more natural looking and healthier!

  10. Pingback: Sweet Rice Balls | Online REL

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