As winter sets in, it's time to turn to haws for comfort against that cold

As temperatures in the north drop and the trees lose their leaves, tanghulu – candied fruit on a bamboo skewer – can help lift the mood on a cold winter day.

As temperatures in the north drop and the trees lose their leaves, tanghulu — candied fruit on a bamboo skewer — can help lift the mood on a cold winter day.

Known as shanzha (山楂, mountain hawthorn) or hongguo (红果, red fruit), the fruit of the Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida) tree is very popular, especially in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei Province.

Artificial cultivation of the trees started in the 15th century, but the fruit didn’t become popular until the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties when it was gradually introduced to Henan, Hebei and Liaoning provinces from Shandong.

The fruit, haws, are small and bright red, just like tiny apples. Few people can eat the very tart raw fruits without feeling the mouth puckering up.

So the fruits are mostly made into snacks, jams and beverages to make them more palatable.

Haws contain a significant amount of B-vitamins including folic acid, vitamin C, vitexin, rutin, catechins and various anthocyanids that act as antioxidants.

The fruit is beneficial to heart and the dried fruits are used in traditional Chinese medicine to aid digestion.

Although parents are often reluctant to give children sweet treats like cakes and candies for health reasons, especially to prevent cavities and obesity, they are willing to make occasional exceptions for sweet snacks made of the haws because of the nutritional and medicinal benefits.

But one should still be cautious about the sugar when eating the sweet and sour haw snacks.


The origin of tanghulu, one of the most prominent snacks in winter, dates back to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279) when Emperor Guangzong’s imperial consort Huang was sick and had an eating disorder. The imperial physicians tried many medicines but couldn’t cure her.

The emperor put up a notice to seek medical advice from outside the court.

One doctor decided to try and suggested eating five to 10 haws braised with rock sugar. After eating the haws for several days, Huang’s appetite returned and her disease was cured.

The recipe, which was the early version of tanghulu, gradually spread out to the people from the imperial court.

Tanghulu is also easy to make by dipping a skewer of fresh haws in maltose syrup or melted rock sugar, letting it cool so the syrup hardens to form a crisp shell.

Sometimes walnuts are also added in between the haws to enrich the flavor and texture, and toasted sesame seeds are sprinkled on top to add fragrance.

Today, the ingredients for tanghulu are not limited to just haws. Fruits like kiwi, grape and strawberry are also used.


Tanghulu, one of the most prominent snacks in winter.

The haw balls

TCM prescriptions can often be a very unpleasant experience. But the haw balls are different.

For many people, especially if they come from northern China, sneaking around to eat this snack away from parents is part of their childhood memory.

The big, dark brown colored haw balls are made of hawthorn, medicated leaven and malt and flavored with honey and sugar.

The chewy medicine is sweet and sour with strong herbal tastes.

When young children experience a loss of appetite, parents would give one or two haw balls to stimulate the appetite and digestion.

The more you chew, the more intense the flavor.

Always drink plenty of water after eating haw balls.

Ti Gong

The haw balls have strong herbal taste.

Haw jelly

Known as shanzhagao, or haw cake, this jelly-like hawthorn snack is loved for its soft texture, sweet and sour flavor and herbal benefits.

Traditional haw jelly is made of fresh haws, agar (similar to gelatin) and rock sugar.

The fruits are stewed with rock sugar on low heat until they break apart, which is then crushed in a blender and mixed with agar powder and water, let it cool to form the jelly. The easy-to-make snack can be enjoyed all year round.

Ti Gong

The haw jelly.

Haw roll

The crimson colored haw roll, or guodanpi, is another prominent hawthorn snack that is especially popular among school children.

The haws are boiled in water before being blended into a smoothie-like mixture, which is sieved to remove the skin and dregs and sweetened.

It’s then spread out thinly on a glass board or buttered flat plate. The sheets are baked in an oven until the moisture is removed. The haw “leather” is rolled to form the small sticks.

Although guodanpi is preferably made with just fresh haws, many products in the market actually blend in other fruits like apple, apricot and peaches to save costs.

Ti Gong

Haw roll.

Haw sticks and flakes

Unlike the haw balls, jelly and rolls that are quite moist and soft, haw flakes and sticks are drier and easier to preserve.

The thin, crispy haw flakes are made with fresh haw fruits and sugar.

The haws are steamed, blended, shaped and baked to remove all the moisture.

The haw flakes are packaged in small quantities with either plastic or paper wrap, so they are portable and easy to travel with.

The haw sticks are made in similar method but they are much chewier.

These snacks are also sweeter than the jelly because of the large amount of sugar, and children should avoid eating too much.

Frosting haws

In Shanghai, frosting haws are often sold alongside sugar-roasted chestnuts in fall and winter.

The frosting haws are made in a similar style to tanghulu, that is to neutralize the tartness with a sugar coating.

But frosting haws use a sugar syrup. The fresh fruits are tossed in the syrup and stir-fried until the sugar crystallizes.

Ti Gong

The frosting haws.

Haw soup

The sweet and sour haw soup is a simple beverage or dessert one can make with just the fruit and sugar in minutes.


Fresh haws, 500 grams

Rock sugar, 100-150 grams depending on personal preference

Water, about 1 liter

Servings: 3-4


  1. Wash the haws thoroughly and remove the kernels by pushing them out with a chopstick, then rinse the fruits again.
  2. Add the haws, rock sugar and water in the pot and bring to the boil. Let it simmer until the haws are soft enough to be crushed with a spoon or spatula. The longer you cook, the thicker the soup will become.
  3. Let the haw soup cool a bit. It can be enjoyed hot or cold.
  4. You can also add apple, pear or jujube in the soup for a richer taste.

Ti Gong

Haw soup.

The difference between haws from northern and southern China

Although hawthorn is mostly seen in the cuisines of northern Chinese provinces, the fruit is also grown in southern province of Yunnan.

The Yunnan hawthorn (Crataegus scabrifolia) grows at high altitude (1,500-3,000 meters) where there’s abundant rainfall.

Its tree has no thorns and the fruit is not entirely bright red, but yellowish or greenish with flush of red.

The fruits of Yunnan hawthorn are cooked and eaten the same way as the haws in the north.

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