Kirbie's Cravings

Sweet Rice Balls

close-up photo of a spoonful of 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. They are also used in many other Chinese desserts. 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.

close-up photo of a bowl of sweet rice balls

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 eating them after.

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 boiling water.

Sweet Rice Balls

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.

photo of a bowlful of sweet rice balls

Sweet Rice Balls

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Asian
I enjoy making homemade sweet rice balls and I've detailed my process here so you can make your own, too.


  • 2/3 cup sweet glutinous rice flour
  • 4 ½ tbsp water
  • 2-3 drops food coloring of your choice (optional)


  • Mix glutinous rice flour with water.  Add water and mix until water is completely absorbed and a sticky dough forms.  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.
  • If you wish to add color your balls, add just a few drops with the water.  To create matcha sweet rice balls, add approximately 1 tsp of matcha powder for every 2/3 cup of flour.
  • Take a small chunk of dough and roll between palms. You want the dough balls to be between 1/3 - 1/2 inch in diameter.
  • To cook, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Put the balls in after the water is boiling.  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 drain balls from water. Add to your favorite dessert.

The nutrition information provided are only estimates based on an online nutritional calculator. I am not a certified nutritionist. Please consult a professional nutritionist or doctor for accurate information and any dietary restrictions and concerns you may have.

Did you make this recipe?I'd love to see it! Mention @KirbieCravings and tag #kirbiecravings!

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12 comments on “Sweet Rice Balls”

  1. Olá, gostei do seu site!

  2. Pingback: Sweet Rice Balls | Online REL

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

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

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. They are very colourful, nice!!!

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