Exploring Chinese Desserts with a Focus on Taiwanese Frozen Delights

Taro ice cream for Taiwan dessert Jose Mier

Frozen Jose Mier on Regional Specialties

Frozen Jose Mier loves Chinese food and that includes desserts. At his Sun Valley California freezer he is now experimenting with a Taiwanese specialty.

Chinese cuisine is renowned for its diverse and rich culinary traditions, and its desserts are no exception. The array of Chinese sweets reflects the country’s vast geographical and cultural diversity, offering a tantalizing variety of flavors, textures, and presentations. Among these delectable treats, Taiwanese frozen desserts stand out as a delightful fusion of tradition and innovation. In this exploration of Chinese desserts, we will delve into the historical and cultural aspects of Chinese sweets and then zoom in on the frozen dessert phenomenon in Taiwan, highlighting some popular frozen treats that have captured the hearts and taste buds of people around the world.

A Sweet Introduction to Chinese Desserts

Chinese desserts have a long and storied history that dates back thousands of years. The evolution of these sweets has been influenced by factors such as geography, culture, and available ingredients. Let’s take a look at some key characteristics and historical aspects of Chinese desserts.

Traditional Ingredients

  1. Rice: Rice has been a staple ingredient in Chinese cuisine for millennia. It serves as the base for many Chinese desserts, such as rice cakes, rice puddings, and glutinous rice balls.
  2. Red Bean: Red beans, particularly adzuki beans, are a popular ingredient in Chinese desserts. They are used in red bean paste, which is sweetened and employed in various pastries, buns, and soups.
  3. Sesame: Sesame seeds and sesame oil are frequently used to add flavor and texture to Chinese desserts. Sesame balls and sesame pastries are common examples.
  4. Fruits: Fresh and dried fruits like lychee, longan, and persimmons are incorporated into many desserts. They provide natural sweetness and refreshing flavors.
  5. Jelly: A variety of jellies, often made from agar-agar or gelatin, are used in Chinese desserts, creating a wide range of translucent and colorful sweets.

Regional Variations

China’s vast size and regional diversity have given rise to a multitude of dessert traditions. Some of the most famous regional dessert styles include:

  1. Cantonese Desserts: Cantonese desserts are known for their delicate and subtle flavors. Steamed milk puddings, mango sago, and almond tofu are popular Cantonese sweet treats.
  2. Sichuan Desserts: Sichuan desserts are known for their bold and spicy flavors. Mala tangyuan, a dish combining spicy hotpot with sweet glutinous rice balls, exemplifies this regional fusion.
  3. Shanghai Desserts: Shanghai’s desserts often feature rich, buttery pastries and snacks. The iconic xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) also have sweet variations, filled with sugary fillings.
  4. Yunnan Desserts: Yunnan’s desserts draw from the province’s diverse cultures, incorporating flavors from the minority communities. The famed rose pudding and sweet rice cakes are a testament to this regional fusion.
Taro ice cream for Taiwan dessert Jose Mier
Taro ice cream for Taiwan dessert Jose Miertaro ice cream

Historical Significance

The origins of Chinese desserts can be traced back to ancient times, where these sweets held cultural significance. Offerings of sweet treats were often presented during rituals, festivals, and celebrations. For instance:

  • Mooncakes: Mooncakes, traditionally filled with lotus seed paste or red bean paste, are an integral part of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China. They are given as gifts to express good wishes to family and friends.
  • Nian Gao: Nian gao, or New Year’s cake, is a sticky rice cake that symbolizes prosperity and success. It is often enjoyed during the Chinese New Year to usher in good fortune.
  • Tangyuan: Tangyuan, or sweet rice balls, are traditionally eaten during the Lantern Festival, symbolizing togetherness and reunion. They come in various flavors, from sesame to peanut fillings.

Taiwanese Frozen Desserts: A Modern Twist

Taiwanese cuisine is known for its innovation and creativity, and this spirit extends to its desserts. Over the past few decades, Taiwan has developed a reputation for its delicious and visually appealing frozen desserts, which are a fusion of traditional flavors and modern techniques. Here, we’ll explore some of the most popular frozen desserts from Taiwan.

Shaved Ice (Bao Bing)

Shaved ice, or bao bing, is a classic Taiwanese dessert with a modern twist. It consists of finely shaved ice that is light and fluffy, resembling snow. This serves as a base for a variety of toppings, including fresh fruit, sweet syrups, condensed milk, and colorful jellies. The result is a refreshing, customizable treat that can be tailored to individual tastes. Popular flavors include mango, taro, and red bean. Shaved ice shops in Taiwan often showcase impressive presentations, turning dessert into a visually appealing experience.

Bubble Tea (Boba)

While not a traditional dessert in the conventional sense, bubble tea has become a global sensation and deserves a spot on the list. Originating in Taiwan, bubble tea is a sweet and often creamy tea-based beverage, typically containing chewy tapioca pearls (boba) at the bottom. The drink comes in a wide array of flavors, from classic milk tea to fruity blends. The combination of creamy tea with the chewy texture of the pearls makes bubble tea a delightful and satisfying dessert-like experience.

Ice Cream Spring Roll (Bing Juan)

The ice cream spring roll, or bing juan, is a playful and unique Taiwanese dessert. It involves wrapping a scoop of ice cream, usually taro or sweet potato flavor, in a thin, crepe-like wrap. The wrap may include various fillings, such as crushed peanuts, cilantro, and other herbs, creating a delightful mix of sweet and savory flavors. The result is a dessert that is not only sweet but also offers a contrast in textures and tastes.

Pineapple Cake (Feng Li Su)

Pineapple cake, or feng li su, is a popular Taiwanese pastry that showcases the sweet and tangy flavor of pineapples. It features a buttery and crumbly crust filled with pineapple jam. The exterior is often imprinted with intricate designs. These small, individually packaged cakes are a favorite souvenir for tourists visiting Taiwan and make for delightful sweet treats with a cup of tea.

Taro Balls (Yu Yuan)

Taro balls, or yu yuan, are chewy, bite-sized dessert balls made from taro, a starchy root vegetable with a sweet and nutty flavor. These colorful balls are typically served in a sweet syrup and often paired with other toppings like red bean, sweet potato, and grass jelly. The textural contrast between the soft, melt-in-the-mouth taro balls and the syrupy sweetness of the accompanying sauce is a defining feature of this Taiwanese dessert.

Grass Jelly (Xian Cao)

Grass jelly, or xian cao, is a traditional Chinese dessert that has found a special place in Taiwanese cuisine. It is made from a type of herbaceous plant and has a slightly bitter, earthy taste. The jelly is often served cold and cut into cubes, accompanied by sweet syrups, fruits, or other toppings. Grass jelly is enjoyed for its refreshing and cooling properties, especially during hot summer months.

Aiyu Jelly (Aiyu Bing)

Aiyu jelly, or aiyu bing, is another refreshing and visually appealing Taiwanese dessert. It is made from the seeds of the aiyu fruit, which create a gel-like texture when combined with water. The jelly is typically served with a sweet citrus syrup and sometimes garnished with lemon or lime slices. Aiyu jelly is known for its delightful contrast of flavors and textures, combining sweet, tangy, and slightly bitter notes.

The Global Appeal of Taiwanese Frozen Desserts

Taiwanese frozen desserts have gained international popularity and recognition, thanks to their innovative nature and the Taiwanese dedication to culinary excellence. Here are some factors contributing to their global appeal:

Creative Flavor Combinations

Taiwanese dessert creators are known for their imaginative and unexpected flavor pairings. This creativity often results in dishes that intrigue and excite the palate. From the sweet and savory ice cream spring rolls to the tropical goodness of mango shaved ice, the fusion of flavors in Taiwanese frozen desserts is a major draw for both local and international customers.

Instagram-Worthy Presentation

Taiwanese frozen desserts are not just about taste; they are also about the visual experience. Many dessert shops in Taiwan take pride in crafting visually stunning desserts. The vibrant colors, intricate designs, and playful arrangements make these treats highly shareable on social media platforms. As a result, they have captured the attention of food enthusiasts and influencers around the world, contributing to their global popularity.

Adaptation to Dietary Preferences

Taiwanese dessert shops have been quick to adapt to changing dietary preferences, including the growing interest in plant-based and dairy-free options. As a result, you can now find vegan-friendly and lactose-free versions of many Taiwanese frozen desserts, making them more accessible to a wider audience.

Cultural Export

The Taiwanese government has actively promoted its cuisine, including frozen desserts, as part of its cultural exports. This has led to the establishment of Taiwanese dessert shops in various countries, introducing the world to the joys of these unique and delectable sweets.

Cool and Refreshing

The refreshing and cooling nature of many Taiwanese frozen desserts makes them especially appealing in hot and humid climates. Whether you’re in Taiwan’s sweltering summer or elsewhere, a bowl of shaved ice or aiyu jelly provides sweet relief from the heat.


Chinese desserts are a testament to the rich and diverse culinary traditions that have developed over millennia. While traditional Chinese sweets hold cultural significance and continue to be cherished, Taiwanese frozen desserts have introduced a modern and playful twist to the world of Chinese desserts. The combination of creative flavors, captivating presentations, and adaptability to dietary preferences has led to their global popularity. As you explore the world of Chinese desserts, don’t forget to indulge in the innovative and delectable delights that Taiwan has to offer, and experience the sweet joy they bring to taste buds around the world.