General Tso's Chicken: Origins Of This Sweet & Sour Delicacy

General Tso's Chicken is a beloved dish in Chinese-American cuisine, renowned for its irresistible combination of sweet and spicy flavours. Originating in the United States, the dish features crispy, deep-fried chicken morsels coated in a sticky, tangy sauce. The sauce is typically a blend of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and chilli peppers, creating a perfect balance between savoury and sweet with a fiery kick. While its true origins remain debated, General Tso's Chicken has become an iconic symbol of Chinese-American culinary fusion, delighting taste buds across the globe with its distinctive and mouthwatering taste.

The mystery surrounding General Tso's Chicken lies in its supposed namesake, General Tso. The dish's association with a historical figure or a mythical character has led to various interpretations. In reality, General Tso was a prominent military leader during the Qing Dynasty in 19th-century China. However, there is no concrete evidence linking him to the creation of the dish. Instead, the origin of General Tso's Chicken is likely tied to the wave of Chinese immigration to the United States in the mid-20th century. Chinese chefs adapted traditional recipes to suit American palates, resulting in the emergence of this popular dish. Despite the lack of historical connection, the dish's name has persisted, adding an intriguing layer to the fascinating evolution of Chinese-American cuisine.

Regional Chinese Cuisines

China's regional cuisines boast a rich culinary tapestry, reflecting the country's vast landscape, diverse climates, and distinct cultural heritage. General Tso's Chicken, a famous Chinese-American dish, finds its origins in this culinary diversity. While it's not directly tied to any specific regional cuisine in China, its sweet and spicy flavour profile draws inspiration from the bold and contrasting tastes found in Sichuan and Hunan cuisines.

Sichuan cuisine is famous for its fiery and numbing flavours, with dishes like "Kung Pao Chicken" showcasing a similar combination of spicy and sweet elements. In contrast, Hunan cuisine emphasises deep, rich flavours, and "Hunan Crispy Chicken" is a regional dish that shares similarities with General Tso's Chicken. These regional culinary influences demonstrate the breadth of China's gastronomic heritage and how it has influenced the creation of popular dishes like General Tso's Chicken.

Immigration and Adaptation

The Chinese diaspora has played a significant role in spreading Chinese cuisine worldwide, leading to fascinating adaptations of traditional dishes in foreign countries. Chinese immigrants, especially in the United States, faced the challenge of catering to different tastes while preserving their culinary heritage. This gave rise to dishes like General Tso's Chicken. As Chinese immigrants settled in America, they introduced their cuisine to a new audience, adapting recipes to suit local ingredients and preferences.

General Tso's Chicken, with its sweet and spicy flavours, appealed to American palates and quickly gained popularity. While the dish has roots in Chinese cooking techniques and flavours, it is a product of cultural fusion and adaptation, reflecting the dynamic nature of the Chinese-American culinary experience and the enduring appeal of cross-cultural gastronomy.

Recipe For General Tso's Chicken 


For the Chicken:

1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/2 cup cornflour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 large egg, beaten

Vegetable oil for frying

For the Sauce:

3 tablespoons of soy sauce

3 tablespoons of hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons of rice vinegar

2 tablespoons of honey

1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce (or use Sriracha for a spicier version)

2 teaspoons sesame oil

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional, for extra heat)

For Garnish:

2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

1 tablespoon sesame seeds


In a large bowl, combine cornflour, salt, and black pepper. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and toss until the chicken is evenly coated with the cornflour mixture.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg. Dip the cornflour-coated chicken pieces into the beaten egg, ensuring they are well coated.

In a wok or deep skillet, heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot (around 350°F/175°C), carefully add the chicken pieces in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry the chicken until it turns golden brown and crispy, about 3–4 minutes per batch. Remove the chicken using a slotted spoon and place it on a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.

In a small saucepan, combine all the sauce ingredients (soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, honey, sweet chilli sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic, grated ginger, and red pepper flakes, if using). Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until the sauce thickens and becomes glossy, about 2–3 minutes.

Add the fried chicken to the sauce, tossing until all the pieces are evenly coated with the sauce.

Garnish the General Tso's Chicken with sliced green onions and sesame seeds.

Serve the dish hot over steamed rice or noodles. Enjoy your homemade General Tso's Chicken!

Note: Adjust the sweetness and spiciness of the sauce according to your taste preferences. You can also add some steamed broccoli or bell peppers to the dish for added colour and texture.