Hunan Chicken Vs. Tso Chicken | Are They The Same?

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If you are someone who is a fan of Asian cuisine, then you must have come across Hunan chicken and Tso chicken. Both of them are extremely flavorful and look a little similar. Thus, many people mistake Hunan chicken for Tso chicken and vice versa. 

Tso Chicken

If you are someone who is new to Asian Cuisine, you must give this article a read! Hunan chicken and Tso chicken are entirely different dishes that have a unique taste of their own. Thus if you want to try any of them, read this article first!

So what is the difference between the two? The first thing that separates these two dishes is how they are cooked. Hunan chicken is the spicier of the two. Tso chicken, on the other hand, has a sweet taste to it. Even though they look alike, they taste very different.

So in this article, we are going to talk at length about these two dishes. Both are part of Asian cuisine and have almost similar culinary uses. But apart from all the similarities, there are so many differences between the two, and this article is all about that.

Hunan Chicken Vs. Tso Chicken | Difference Table

Basis Of DifferenceHunan ChickenTso Chicken
OriginHunan, ChinaChina
Main ingredientsChicken and doubanjiang sauce, spices.Chicken, sugar, spices, and sauces.
PreparationPan Fried ChickenDeep Fried Chicken

What Is Hunan Chicken?

Hunan Chicken

Just as its name suggests, the Hunan chicken is a recipe originating in the Hunan province of China. The Hunan province is known for its sweet flavor and hot flavors. Hunan chicken is a stir-fried version of chicken that has a hot and sour flavor.

A lot of vegetables often accompany this dish. Thus this dish is not just amazing to taste but is also extremely colorful to look at! This dish is also known as Xiang cuisine. This is named after the Xiang river that follows through the Hunan region. 

Hunan chicken is often associated with Sichuan cuisine. However, Hunan chicken is not as spicy as Sichuan dishes. These cuisines became popular in the USA in the late 1970s when some Chinese chefs fled from China in the 1940s.

What Is Tso Chicken?

Tso Chicken

Tso chicken, also known as general Tso chicken or general tao chicken, is a staple in Chinese American cuisine. This dish is named after Hunanese general Zuo Zongtang. However, there is no record that he ever made or ate this dish. 

There are so many stories about the birth of this dish. This dish was believed to be created by Peng Chang Kuai, a Hunan chef who named it after the famous Huananse general Zuo Zongtang. 

But the Tso chicken has a slightly sweet taste, which was not there when Peng Chang Kuai created it. Thus we can assume that the Tso chicken which we enjoy today is purely an American addition. 

Tso chicken is a perfect blend of sweet and spicy. Apart from chicken, the same recipe can be made from beef, shrimp, and pork. 

Hunan Chicken Vs. Tso Chicken | Similarities Between The Two

Hunan Chicken

Now that we have read a little about both of these dishes let’s look at some of the similarities between the two.

Both Asian Cuisines

Hunan chicken, as well as Tso chicken, have their origin in the Chinese province. Hence it uses so many sauces as its main ingredients, which render a special flavor to the dish.  

Both Are Chicken Dishes

Just as its name suggests, both Hunan chicken and tso chicken use chicken as their main ingredient. Thus if you are not someone who is used to eating these dishes regularly, you might find it difficult to differentiate between the two. 

The chicken cuts commonly used for these dishes are skinless and boneless breasts and thighs. 

Method Of Serving 

Both Hunan chicken and Tsoc chicken are often served as a side dish to different dishes. Since they are extremely flavorful dishes, they taste best when served along with some rice.

However, if you love these dishes, you can have them with anything you want!

Hunan Chicken Vs. Tso Chicken | Differences Between The Two

Tso Chicken

As we have already said, Hunan chicken and Tso chicken are Asian cuisines. Even though they are often mistaken for one another, there are so many differences between them. So in this section, we are going to look at the major difference between the two dishes.

1. Origin 

Even though Hunana and Tso chicken are a part of Chinese cuisine, they have different origins. Just as its name suggests, the Hunan chicken’s name is inspired by its place of origin. It is named after the Hunan province of China.

Tso chicken has a very disputed origin. As we have already said, it is named after a Chinese General. However, it is believed to be invented by a Chinese chef named Peng Chang Kuai. However, the dish he created was much different from the present version.

Thus we could say that the kind of Tso chicken we have today is born from a fusion of American Chinese cuisines.

2. Taste 

Even though both are Asian cuisines, there is a huge flavor difference between the two. Hunan chicken is all about flavors. Once you bite a piece of Hunan chicken, different flavors will dance in your mouth.

It combines all the sauces and ginger, garlic, and many other spices to bring in this spicy taste. Hunan chicken, in a word, is juicy, soft, and, most importantly, spicy; thus, if you are a spice lover, you are going to love this dish.

But if you are someone who loves little sweetness in your food, then you are going to love the Tso chicken. Tso chicken contains less heat and more sweetness when compared to Hunan chicken.

3. Ingredients Used 

At the outset, one may think that both these cuisines use the same ingredients. This is true to an extent. Both of these dishes commonly use many ingredients, such as chicken, many sauces, and even many spices. 

All of these ingredients are used in different ways that the end result of the final cooking tastes different. However, some specific ingredients are added to each dish, making it different from the others. 

For example, the Hunana chicken uses doubanjiang. It is a fermented chili bean paste with a spicy and savory taste. It is the main ingredient that renders that special taste to Hunan chicken.

But this doubanjiang is not a commonly available sauce and is often replaced with chili paste. However, many chefs are of the opinion that it is this sauce which brings the authentic flavor to the Hunan chicken.

Tso chicken, on the other hand, uses sugar as its main ingredient. Whatever the interests you add while making Tso chicken, the final result is a juicy, flavorful chicken dish with prominent sweetness and a hint of spiciness. 

4. Preparation

We have already said that both dishes use chicken as their ingredients. However, the method of cooking chicken is different for each dish. To make the Hunan chicken, one must coat the chicken in cornstarch mixture and sear it in a pan until it is brown.

This method is called the velveting method. This method uses a mixture of cornstarch, egg white, vinegar, and some salt. This helps the chicken to be tender and juicy and half cooked before adding it to many dishes. 

But while making Tso, chicken, instead of frying them, we deep fry them. This alters the texture and taste of the chicken to a great extent.

5. Texture 

Even though both dishes look alike, they have very different textures. Since Hunan chicken is made from pan-seared chicken, they are much more tender and juicy than the Tso chicken, which deep fries the chicken before mixing it with sauces.

6. Substitutes 

There is no perfect substitute for Hunan chicken or Tso chicken. These dishes have a unique flavor and are hard to replace. But we can compare the flavor of these dishes to some other dishes.

Hunan chicken, as we said, is known for its spicy taste. Szechuan chicken and Kung Pao have a spicy taste comparable to that of Hunan chicken. On the other hand, Sesame chicken, with its sweetness and spiciness, tastes so much like the Tso chicken.

Top Dishes To Serve With Hunan Chicken / Tso Chicken 

Hunan chicken and Tso chicken are extremely flavorful dishes with a little gravy. Thus, if you plan to try either of the two, make sure to make it a meal. By now, you might have decided which one you would love.

But if you are unsure about what to pair with it, here are some of our recommendations. 

1. Egg Fried Rice 

Egg Fried rice

The best way to have Hunan chicken or Tso chicken is to pair them with some egg fried rice. Egg-fried rice, on its own, is extremely flavorful. However, when paired with either of these two dishes, it tastes even better. 

Egg fried rice, as its name suggests, is made by cooking egg and vegetables in rice along with some spices and sauces. Even though egg fried rice contains a lot of ingredients, it has a composed taste and very well comprehends the taste of both dishes.

2. Chinese Crispy Noodles 

Chinese crispy noodles

Not everyone is expected to be a fan of rice items. Thus if you are one of them, these Chinese crispy noodles are the perfect dish to pair with both Hunan chicken and Tso chicken. These are perfectly fried egg noodles with a golden brown color.

These noodles, as you can imagine, are incredibly crunchy. Most Chinese restaurants serve it as an appetizer. However, you can easily take this as one of the dishes to eat with these Chinese dishes. 

3. Asian Salad 

Asian Salads

There is no way you can go wrong with a salad. Whatever the ingredients, salads can sometimes be boring. Thus next time you have some salad, pair it with either Hunan chicken or Tso chicken. It is the best way to bring back some exciting flavors to your food. 

4. Lettuce Wraps 

Lettuce wrap

This is a very common way of serving Hunan chicken and Tso chicken. For such servings, you should choose iceberg or little gem lettuce. These lettuce types can hold a good amount of chicken without breaking or wilting. 

To make such servings tastier and more exciting, you could add some more ingredients to the lettuce wraps, such as onion, grated carrots, or some sesame seeds. This is a perfect way to enjoy Hunan chicken and Tso chicken in an informal way.

5. Fried Asian Mushroom 

Hunan Chicken

If you want to include some mild-tasting food with your flavorful chicken dish, try this fried Asian mushroom. This is a perfect dish if you want to have something which doesn’t have much carbs or fat. 

Hunan Chicken Vs. Tso Chicken | Which Is Spicier?

Hunan Chicken

Asian cuisines are all about sauces and spices. Thus if you are a fan of spicier food, choose Hunan chicken over Tso chicken. Hunan chicken uses a paste called doubanjiang. It is a fermented chili paste and brings spiciness to the dish.

Tso chicken, on the other hand, is much less spicy. It is more on the sweet side with a kick of spiciness, which is bearable to all. It uses chili paste or red chili pepper to bring the heat. However, it is often balanced with added sugar.

That being said, we shouldn’t forget that the spiciness of both dishes is totally customizable. 

Chicken Vs. Tso Chicken | Which Is Healthier?

Tso Chicken

If you are someone who is concerned about their health, then go for the Hunan chicken. The preparation process of Hunan chicken doesn’t include any deep frying like that of Tso chicken; hence, when compared between the two, Hunan chicken is healthier than Tso chicken. 

Hunan Chicken Vs. Tso Chicken | Which Is Tastier?

Hunan Chicken

Both Hunan chicken and Tso chicken are extremely flavorful dishes. However, compared to the two, people prefer Tso chicken over Hunan chicken. This is because the Tso chicken has less spiciness than the Hunan chicken.

Tso chicken isn’t overtly spicy nor too sweet. It is the perfect blend of both flavors. Hence we could say that when compared between the two, Tso chicken is tastier than Hunan chicken. 

Hunan Chicken Vs. Tso Chicken | Which Is More Versatile?

Tso Chicken

When compared between the two, we could say that Hunan chicken is much more versatile than Tso chicken. Even though Hunan is Asian cuisine, it has almost become a household name in America.

Hunan Chicken Vs. Tso Chicken | Which Is Better?

Hunan Chicken

Both Hunan chicken and Tso chicken are extremely versatile and tasty dishes. Both are flavorful and are a favorite to many! But if we have to choose between the two, go for Hunan chicken.

Hunan chicken has a very versatile flavor which is one of a kind. That being said, we cannot ignore the sweet, spicy taste of Tso chicken. 


Now that we have discussed Tso and Hunan chicken in detail, I hope you have a clear idea about both dishes. Both these dishes are signature cuisines of Asian cuisines with exquisite flavor. While Hunan chicken is hot and spicy, Tso chicken is sweet and hot.

Regarding its taste and nutritional profile, we could say that Hunan chicken is better when compared to Tso chicken. But if you love sweet and spicy food, you cannot have enough Tso chicken! Next time when you are in the mood to try new food, try these!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

What does Hunan chicken taste like?

Hunan chicken, in a word, is juicy, soft, and, most importantly, spicy; thus, if you are a spice lover, you are going to love this dish.

What’s the difference between General Tso and Szechuan chicken?

Szechuan chicken is spicier than general Tso chicken.

Which is hotter Szechuan or Hunan?

Hunan chicken is spicier than szechuan chicken.

Is General Tso Chicken spicy or sweet?

Tso chicken contains less heat and more sweetness when compared to Hunan chicken.

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