Considering the prominence of fried food and sweets in American diets, it’s unsurprising that when some Asian dishes made their way into American restaurants, they became fried and covered in syrup. Both orange chicken and General Tso's may be some of your favorite takeout dishes, but they’re not ones you would find in an authentic Asian restaurant.

Despite their lack of authentic flavor, they taste delicious with rice and vegetables and they’re two of the most sought-after dishes in American-Chinese restaurants. Due to their similarities, you may wonder if there’s any difference between orange chicken vs. General Tso. 

Orange chicken and General Tso are both made of boneless chicken chunks and have a sauce with a soy base. However, the sauce in orange chicken is made with orange juice or orange peel and is sweeter than the sauce of General Tso’s chicken. The sauce from General Tso’s is spicier and is similar to a barbeque sauce.

Keep reading for the difference in ingredients and nutritional values of these two chicken dishes.

Spicy Chinese Take Out Food with Chopsticks and Fortune Cookies
Despite their popularity in American-Chinese restaurants, many takeout dishes didn't actually originate in China.

©Brent Hofacker/

Orange Chicken vs. General Tso: What Is the Difference

If you head to your favorite Chinese restaurant, whether it’s a large chain or a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, you’ll likely find orange chicken and General Tso on the menu. Despite the popularity of these dishes in Asian restaurants in America, you wouldn’t find anything like them in China.

Orange chicken and General Tso are both made from boneless cuts of chicken. Typically, chicken thighs or another dark meat would be used, but they’re sometimes made from boneless chicken breast as well. 

Both meals are generally breaded, deep-fried, and served on a bed of rice and vegetables. Sometimes, General Tso’s chicken is stir-fried instead of deep-fried, but the recipe will vary by restaurant.

The main difference between the two dishes is the sauce. Although they both use the same type of meat and are often cooked and served the same way, the sauces have different ingredients and a much different flavor. 

The sauce for orange chicken is sweet and tangy, with a little bit of spice. There is often a bit of chili or chili powder added, but not enough for it to be considered a spicy dish. The sweetness often comes from brown sugar and orange juice or peel.

The sauce for General Tso’s chicken is not as sweet and has more spice from the chilis. The inclusion of dried red chili peppers, garlic, and brown sugar makes General Tso’s chicken a sweet and spicy dish.

What Is Orange Chicken?

Orange chicken is a sweet and tangy dish found in most North American Chinese restaurants. Although you won’t find this dish on a menu in China, it likely originated from a similar dish called tangerine chicken. However, the tangerine chicken was said to be much tangier and bitter than the orange chicken we’re familiar with. It was also stir-fried instead of breaded and deep-fried.

The orange chicken many Americans know and love was first created by the popular chain Panda Express over 30 years ago. This dish is created with cuts of dark meat chicken that are battered and fried before tossing them in a sweet, tangy sauce.

Depending on where you buy it, the orange flavor may come from orange juice or orange zest. At Panda Express, they fry the chicken in the oil from orange peels to give it the signature orange flavor. The ingredients for orange chicken usually include chicken, orange juice, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, and a small amount of red chili. The chili gives it a little bit of a kick, leading to a milder spice than General Tso’s chicken.

Homemade Chinese General Tsos Chicken with White Rice
General Tso's is a much spicier dish than orange chicken since it's made with red chili peppers.

©Brent Hofacker/

What Is General Tso?

General Tso’s chicken is a popular chicken dish also found in most North American Chinese restaurants. In fact, it’s so popular that Grub Hub discovered back in 2014 that General Tso’s chicken was the most popular Chinese dish in America and the 4th most popular dish overall. 

This sweet and spicy dish was named after a Chinese statesman and general named Tso Tsung-t'ang, also known as General Tso. Despite this dish being named after the 19th-century general, he definitely never tried it according to Smithsonian Magazine. Instead, the popular chicken dish was originally created by a Hunan chef named Peng Chang-kuei, although the version Americans know today is vastly different from Peng’s original version.

The recipe for General Tso’s chicken will vary depending on the restaurant. Typically, the ingredients will include chicken, chicken broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and hoisin sauce. Hoisin sauce is a type of thick sauce used in a lot of Asian dishes. It’s most often used for stir fry, as a glaze for meat, or as a dipping sauce. General Tso’s chicken is often served on a bed of broccoli and rice or noodles.

As with many American Chinese dishes, the origin of General Tso’s isn’t what most people think. There’s been so much interest in the origin of American Chinese food there’s even a documentary on it called The Search for General Tso.

Is General Tso Spicier Than Orange Chicken?

If you’re not a fan of spicy food, you’re better off choosing orange chicken over General Tso’s. Although orange chicken does have a little bit of chili powder, it’s more sweet than it is spicy. General Tso’s, on the other hand, does a more significant portion of red chili peppers, making it a spicy dish.

The specific recipe and ingredients used will vary based on where you order from, but General Tso’s will have a kick to it and be spicier than orange chicken no matter where you go. If you’re looking for something sweet, sour, and tangier, try the orange chicken instead.

Nutritional Value of Orange Chicken vs. General Tso

When it comes to the nutritional value of orange chicken vs. General Tso, they’re actually pretty similar. Both meals are made of the same type of chicken which is then battered, deep-fried, and covered in sauce.

If you’re ordering orange chicken or General Tso’s, it’s more of a comfort food than it is a healthy, nutritious meal. Orange chicken and General Tso’s are both high in sodium and carbs.

You can make a healthier version of either dish at home, but if you order orange chicken or General Tso’s at a restaurant, here are the nutritional values of the two dishes:

Nutritional ValuesOrange Chicken (100 g)General Tso (100 g)
Protein14.5 g12.9 g
Total Fat12.7 g16.4 g
Carbohydrate22.5 g24 g
Fiber0.8 g0.9 g
Sugars13.6 g11.6 g
Sucrose12.3 g10.5 g
Glucose0.63 g0.62 g
Fructose0.67 g0.51 g
Starch10.5 g11.8 g
Calcium14 mg12 mg
Iron0.94 mg1.16 mg
Magnesium20 mg18 mg
Phosphorus130 mg127 mg
Potassium209 mg201 mg
Sodium553 mg435 mg
Zinc1.13 mg1.3 mg
Vitamin C0.9 mg1.6 mg

These nutritional values are for the chicken alone and don’t include any rice or vegetables that go with the meal.

Orange Chicken Recipes


No matter which one you prefer, orange chicken and General Tso’s are both sweet, sticky, and taste great with rice, vegetables, or noodles. Although they're very similar recipes, orange chicken has a sweeter sauce while General Tso's has more spice to it.

There are plenty of restaurants that serve a version of these two favorite meals. If you’re looking for a healthier version, you might even try making orange chicken or General Tso’s at home.

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