If you’re grabbing Chinese takeout for dinner, you’re likely craving one of two dishes: sesame chicken or General Tso’s. These dishes include delicious, sticky pieces of chicken on top of vegetables and rice. What could be more comforting to eat?

Many of the dishes you’ll find while getting takeout may taste similar, and you may have wondered if is there a difference between sesame chicken vs. General Tso.

Both sesame chicken and General Tso’s have soy sauce and rice vinegar as a base for their sauce and they’re both typically served over vegetables and rice or noodles. However, the sauce in sesame chicken is thick, sweet, and tangy. The sesame oil and seeds in the sauce are what give the signature sesame flavor. General Tso’s has a richer and spicier flavor that comes from red chili peppers.

Keep reading to find out the difference between sesame chicken and General Tso’s chicken as well as their nutritional value.

Spicy Chinese Take Out Food with Chopsticks and Fortune Cookies
General Tso's and sesame chicken are popular dishes in American-Chinese restaurants.

©Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

Sesame Chicken vs. General Tso: What Is the Difference?

Sesame chicken and General Tso’s are both delicious and popular dishes found in Chinese restaurants in America. Both are American-Chinese dishes because even though the idea behind them may be Chinese in origin, you won’t find either dish on a menu in China.

The sesame chicken we’re familiar with here in America was inspired by a dish that originated in China. Supposedly, the Red Chamber Restaurant in Hong Kong was the first to create a chicken dish with sesame seeds and oil back in the 1980s. This idea eventually made its way to North America, and some adjustments were made to the recipe.

Many American-Chinese recipes, like sesame chicken, came from traditional Chinese meals but were changed based on the tastes and preferences of Americans. This is how many popular Asian restaurants started serving dishes like sesame chicken, orange chicken, and General Tso’s, which are all fried and covered in a sugary sauce. The American diet consists of a lot of processed meats, fat, and sugar, whereas the diet in Asian countries includes less sugar and more vegetables.

Both sesame chicken and General Tso’s are made from chunks of chicken, typically dark meat, that are battered and fried in their signature sauces. Most restaurants serve them over rice or noodles with a pile of vegetables. The distinguishing factor between the two meals is their sauce.

The sauce of sesame chicken is sweet and slightly tangy, with sesame oil and seeds providing the desired flavor. On the other hand, General Tso’s chicken has a sticky and spicy sauce made with chili peppers. It’s similar to the flavor of barbecue sauce but with more spice.

What Is Sesame Chicken?

Sesame chicken is the kind of dish that many people put their own spin on. However, if you order sesame chicken from different American-Chinese restaurants, you’ll likely find similar flavors there.

Like General Tso’s, sesame chicken is a dish made from cuts of boneless chicken. It’s usually made of dark meat such as chicken thighs, but some restaurants may use chicken breasts. The cuts of chicken are battered, fried, and then slathered in the sesame sauce before being placed on a bed of rice or noodles and vegetables.

The ingredients of sesame chicken are usually chicken, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger. The sesame flavor comes directly from the sauce. 

Sesame oil is essential to distinguish this meal from similar meals like orange chicken, which includes orange juice or peels in the sauce. Sesame chicken is also topped with sesame seeds at the end to add to the sesame flavor and overall appearance. For extra flavor, the sesame seeds are sometimes toasted before adding them to the chicken. Corn starch is often used to thicken the sauce, which ends up being a reddish brown color. 

What Is General Tso?

General Tso’s chicken is a popular chicken dish served at American-Chinese restaurants. In fact, it was previously rated the top Chinese dish in America by Grub Hub. Despite the popularity of this dish in American-Chinese restaurants, it’s not actually a dish you would find in China or any other Asian country.

Even though the chef who created the original version of General Tso was from Hunan, the dish we know today is far from the one Chef Peng Chang-Kuei originally created. The dish we know as General Tso’s chicken is actually closer to a recipe created by TT Wang, a New York chef who created a dish based loosely on the original General Tso’s recipe.

General Tso, which is undoubtedly a unique name for a chicken dish, was named after a real general. His name was Tso Tsung-t'ang, also known as General Tso. Oddly enough, this dish had nothing to do with this general, and considering it’s an American invention, it’s not something this Chinese general would have ever tried.

Much like sesame chicken, General Tso is usually served on a bed of rice or noodles and with a hearty serving of vegetables. The sauce of General Tso’s chicken has a similar base to sesame chicken but also includes chili peppers, which is what gives it the signature spice. This sauce is sometimes likened to that of a barbecue sauce, although it is spicier than the typical barbecue sauce.

Homemade sesame Chicken served with Jasmine white rice, selective focus
Sesame chicken has a sweeter flavor than General Tso's and lacks the spice of the dried peppers.

©vm2002/Shutterstock.com

Is General Tso's Spicier Than Sesame Chicken?

General Tso is one of the top to-go meals in America, but if you're not a fan of spicy food, it's not the dish for you. Sesame chicken brings a lot of the same flavors as General Tso's, however, sesame chicken isn’t spicy. Sesame chicken is a sweet dish since the sauce is made with brown sugar or honey.

One of the signature flavors in General Tso's chicken comes from dried chili peppers. In most cases, there are dried peppers mixed in the sauce, and pieces of peppers added to the top of the chicken as well. The amount of spice may vary depending on where you order it from, but you can generally count on General Tso's being a spicy entree. 

Nutritional Value of Sesame Chicken vs. General Tso

Sesame chicken or General Tso’s probably isn’t the go-to meal when you’re looking for something healthy or low-calorie, but they’re still delicious anyways. Both these meals are served with white rice, fried rice, or noodles. To compare these two dishes, here are the nutritional values of both excluding the rice or noodles and vegetables:

Nutritional ValuesSesame Chicken (100 g)General Tso (100 g)
Calories292295
Protein14 g12.9 g
Total Fat14 g16.4 g
Carbohydrate27 g24 g
Fiber1 g0.9 g
Sugars16 g11.6 g
Calcium12 mg12 mg
Iron1.1 mg1.16 mg
Magnesium22 mg18 mg
Phosphorus130 mg127 mg
Potassium204 mg201 mg
Sodium482 mg435 mg
Zinc0.9 mg1.3 mg
Vitamin C1 mg1.6 mg

Sesame Chicken Recipes

Takeaway

Both sesame chicken and General Tso’s are popular choices at American-Chinese restaurants, although you’re unlikely to see either of these entrees in an authentic Asian restaurant here or in another country. 

These chicken dishes are similar in many ways from the way they’re cooked to the way they’re served, but the main difference between them is the sauce. Sesame chicken comes with a sweeter, tangier sauce, while General Tso’s chicken comes with more of a kick from the chili peppers. No matter which one you prefer, they’re delicious and filling meals to order, or you can try your hand at making them at home!

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