Today we are going to compare and contrast 3 classic Asian dishes: 

Sesame Chicken vs General Tso vs Orange Chicken

Read on to find out how they are different and how they are similar.

Asian cuisine offers one of the widest varieties of flavors, textures, and nourishing ingredients of any fare—something to please any palate! But for some non-native eaters, it can be a challenge to decipher the differences between each dish. 

Today we will dive into three popular Chinese chicken options — Sesame Chicken, General Tso’s chicken, and Orange Chicken. Read on to learn about the flavor profiles, textures, and cooking methods that set these similar but distinct dishes apart!

Similarities in Sesame Chicken, Orange Chicken and General Tso

Sesame Chicken, General Tso, and Orange Chicken look quite similar and share some common ingredients, which can make it difficult for some to choose between them. 

  • Chicken: Each dish uses chunks of boneless chicken meat (usually thigh).
  • Sauce: All three have soy sauce and rice vinegar in common, which gives their sticky sauces some common ground. 
  • Pairing: Each is commonly served with rice or noodles and vegetables. 

While these dishes look alike, they have distinctly different flavor profiles, textures, and colors. Let’s get into the differences between these dishes and share our favorite recipes so you can give them a try!

Sesame Chicken on bed of white rice
Photo from Canva user VM2002

What is sesame chicken?

The main flavor component of sesame chicken is — you guessed it — sesame! Here are some of the components that characterize this popular recipe.

  • Chicken: Bite-sized chinks of boneless meat (usually thigh) are breaded in cornstarch and egg and Chinese deep-fried, resulting in crunchy chicken pieces. 
  • Sauce: A thick, reddish-brown sauce that is a bit sweet and slightly tangy. Of course, sesame oil and seeds give this dish its iconic flavor. 
  • Preparation: The meat is deep-fried in oil. It is usually served with rice and vegetables, such as broccoli or snow peas, on the side. 

History of Sesame Chicken 

According to the Scholars Int’l Institute of Technology, this dish comes from the southern Chinese region of Guangdong. It’s believed the recipe was created in the 1980s when by the now-defunct Red Chamber Restaurant in Hong Kong. 

It was brought to North America by immigrants who opened Chinese restaurants, and it became much more popular here than in their homeland. It’s considered by most to be an American-Chinese dish.

Ingredients in sesame chicken sauce

Most chefs have their own unique take on sesame chicken, but the basic ingredients for the sauce are soy sauce, brown sugar (or honey), rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, and fresh garlic and ginger

The sauce may be thickened with a slurry of cornstarch and water. Sesame seeds are sprinkled over top after frying. 

How do you make sesame chicken?

Here are the basic steps in preparing this Chinese deep-fried meal:

  1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and coat in egg and starch mixture. 
  2. Fry the chicken in hot oil until crispy
  3. Mix the sauce ingredients, heat it, and drizzle over the chicken before serving.

Our picks for the best sesame chicken recipes

Looking for more detailed instructions? Here are two of our favorite sesame chicken recipes from DinnerthenDessert and KhinsKitchen

General Tso chicken on white plate
Photo from Canva user Lcc54613

What is General Tso chicken?

Thinking of calling to order takeout? Here’s how you pronounce General Tso: the ‘t’ is not silent but is subtly blended with the ‘s’ (much like the pronunciation of “tsar” in Russian.) The vowel sound rhymes with “ow” – as in ouch!

Now that you can say it out loud, let’s get into the meat of this dish. (Get it?) 

  • Chicken: Soft and tender (not crispy) bites of boneless meat (usually thigh)
  • Sauce: A sticky, reddish sauce described as sweet, sour, and spicy. Ginger and added chili flakes give it a bit of spice, a distinct difference in this recipe from the other two dishes.  
  • Preparation: The meat is stir-fried, often with vegetables, such as onion and bell peppers. It is usually served with rice, often with a side of broccoli and carrots. 

So is General Tso chicken spicy? It’s generally a subtle spice, but it is a distinctive quality of this dish compared to the others. 

History of General Tso chicken

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the recipe was first developed by Peng Chang-kuei, a prominent chef from the Hunan province who fled to Taiwan when communists toppled the government in 1949.

As the dish made its way to America, it was modified by a New York City chef named Tsung Ting Wang to appeal to the western palate. Mainly, Peng’s heavy, sour, hot and salty” flavors grew sweeter and the chicken is now stir-fried instead of deep-fried. 

Ingredients in General Tso chicken sauce

While recipes will vary in different restaurants, the sauce used in General Tso’s chicken generally calls for chicken broth, soy sauce, hoisin, rice vinegar, sugar, chili peppers, and fresh garlic and ginger. A cornstarch flurry thickens the sauce.

How do you make General Tso chicken?

Prep, stir fry, and serve — this dish really is as easy as 1-2-3! Here are the basic cooking steps:

  1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, marinate it, and stir-fry until crispy. 
  2. Remove the chicken from the pan and stir-fry vegetables and aromatics.
  3. Return the chicken to the pan with the vegetables and pour in the sauce.

Our picks for the best orange General Tso recipes

Sounds delicious, right? We think so too! Here are two of our favorite recipes from Natasha’s Kitchen and How to Feed a Loon

Orange Chicken on bed of rice
Photo from Canva user AlisaFarov

What is orange chicken?

This sweet and crispy chicken is arguably one of the most popular Chinese American dishes in America, though it’s rarely found in mainland China. No wonder why, it’s the perfect blend of sweet, sour, tangy, acidic, and savory. So what is orange chicken?

  • Chicken: Crispy bites of boneless meat (usually thigh) are battered with egg and starch and fried in oil (similar to sesame chicken)
  • Sauce: A sweet, orange-flavored sauce with notes of chili is thickened and caramelized into a gaze. 
  • Preparation: The meat is Chinese deep-fried and coated in the sticky sweet orange sauce. It’s commonly served with rice and vegetables.  

History of Orange Chicken 

The idea for this dish may have originally come from “tangerine chicken,” a classic dish originating in China’s Hunan province. The original tangerine flavor was more bitter and less sweet than the dish we know today. 

Orange chicken as we know it was introduced to the west by the American-Chinese food chain Panda Express more than 30 years ago. According to NPR, the restaurant serves around 100 million pounds of it each year!  

Ingredients in orange chicken sauce

The gold (or shall we say orange) standard for this sauce calls for orange juice, rice vinegar, fresh garlic and ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, and a bit of red chili. A cornstarch flurry can be used to thicken the sauce.

How do you make orange chicken?

Very similar to sesame chicken, this meal is as easy as it is delicious! Here are the basic cooking steps:

  1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and coat in egg and starch mixture. 
  2. Fry the chicken in hot oil until crispy
  3. Mix the sauce ingredients, heat it, and drizzle over the chicken before serving.

Our picks for the best orange chicken recipes

Well, our mouth is watering. How about you? Here are two of our favorite orange chicken recipes from Modern Honey and Cookin with Mima


When choosing between Sesame Chicken, General Tso, and Orange Chicken, the main considerations are texture and flavor profile. 

Choosing by texture:

  • If you prefer a crispy fried chicken, sesame or orange chicken is your best bet. 
  • If you like a stir-fry, go for General Tso. 

Choosing by taste:

  • Sesame chicken if you like the nutty notes of sesame oil and seeds. 
  • General Tso if you like a bit of spice. 
  • Orange chicken if you want something a bit sweeter.

For an in-depth look at how these dishes compare nutritionally, check out this resource from FoodStruct

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between sesame chicken and General Tso chicken?

When it comes to Chinese cuisine, general Tso’s chicken and sesame chicken are two popular dishes that offer distinct flavors. General Tso’s chicken is a spicy and tangy dish made with a mix of chicken breast and thighs, while sesame chicken is a sweeter option made with succulent chicken thighs. Whether you’re in the mood for something spicy or sweet, both dishes offer a delicious and crispy meal that’s sure to satisfy your cravings.”

What is the difference between sesame chicken and orange chicken? 

Orange chicken and sesame chicken may both feature boneless chicken meat, but they are distinct dishes that differ in several key ways. While sesame chicken uses a base sauce of soy sauce and sesame oil to create a savory, nutty flavor, orange chicken incorporates soy sauce and orange zest for a sweet and tangy taste. Additionally, sesame chicken is typically deep-fried for a crispy texture, while orange chicken is stir-fried to achieve a slightly crunchy exterior and tender interior. Overall, whether you prefer the rich umami flavor of sesame chicken or the refreshing citrus notes of orange chicken, both dishes offer a delicious taste of Chinese cuisine.

What is the difference between orange chicken and General Tso? 

Orange chicken is crispy fried with a fruity, sweet, and tangy sauce that’s caramelized into a glaze. General Tso is stir-fried in a sweet, sour, and spicy umami sauce.

How do you pronounce General Tso? 

Let’s learn how to pronounce General Tso. The ‘t’ is not silent but is subtly blended with the ‘s’ (much like the pronunciation of “tsar” in Russian.) The vowel sound rhymes with “ow” – as in ouch!

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