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Igniting Taiwanese cuisine with vibrant colors, sumptuous, gooey textures, and spellbinding decadence, these Taiwanese desserts are must-try dishes on your trip to Taiwan.
Food plays an incredibly important role in Taiwanese culture, and that dedication, tradition, and creativity truly comes through in all of these popular dessert dishes.
Together, let’s embark on a culinary journey of mind-blowing proportions, and taste Taiwanese cuisine through 11 of its most popular desserts, guided by the expertise of a local writer.
Best Desserts to Try in Taiwan
1. 豆花 – Douhua (Tofu Pudding)
Tofu pudding is a popular dessert that is served both hot and cold, usually with sugar water and a lot of condiments, such as adzuki beans and mung beans.
Tofu pudding is essentially extra soft tofu. To make it, you first need soy milk. “豆花粉 (Tofu pudding powder),” a type of coagulant, is then added to the rich soy milk. After that, you simply let it sit at room temperature.
You can make it with ready-made soy milk, or if you’re up for a challenge and have a few hours to spare, you can make your own soy milk from soybeans.
The most common way to enjoy this sweet dessert is with cold brown sugar water. In the north of Taiwan, however, it is also common to find it served with soy milk. Since it’s served both hot and cold, you can enjoy this delicious dessert all year round.
2. 花生糖 – Taiwanese Peanut Brittle
Taiwanese Peanut Brittle is a type of candy, very popular during Chinese New Year, but available all year round. The sweetness of the candy pairs perfectly with the rich, nutty aroma of peanuts, while the crunchy texture keeps you coming back for more.
To make this simple Taiwanese dessert, pour sugar and water into the pan, add a pinch of salt, and melt the sugar. Next, add peanuts and some oil, and keep frying them until they turn reddish-brown and the sugar water becomes sticky.
Take your sugared peanuts out of the pan and set them on a plate at room temperature. Once cooled, the peanuts will stick together, and you’ll be able to cut them into bite-size chunks to enjoy.
In Kinmen County (an off-shore island), you can find “貢糖” – one of many legendary specialties of the island. It is another type of peanut brittle that’s made with crushed peanuts. Buying “貢糖” back for family and friends is the done thing when visiting Kinmen, so don’t forget to get it if you travel there.
3.糖葫蘆 – Candied Haw on a Stick
Candied haw on a stick is a traditional confectionary found in night markets and from street food vendors. It consists of skewered fruit dipped in sugar syrup that hardens after a short while.
Traditionally, Chinese hawthorn was the only fruit used on the skewer. Nowadays, however, creative vendors have introduced more variety to this traditional dessert, so you can find candied strawberries, pineapple slices, kiwi slices, orange slices, tomatoes, and grapes, sometimes all on the same stick.
A candied haw stand is hard to miss because it usually displays stacks of colorful fruit slices, skewered together with long wooden skewers. If you are craving a sweet treat after a hearty or spicy main dish at a night market, try this simple but flavorful dessert.
4. 湯圓 – Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)
Tangyuan is a dish of small balls, made with sticky rice (glutinous rice). Even though there are plenty of color additives to choose from, white and pink are the most common colors in Taiwan. Tangyuan can be served both hot and cold, so you can find it on shaved ice, as well as in hot, sweet soup.
Traditionally, Tangyuan is served hot on the winter solstice to celebrate safely getting through another year. Making small tangyuan is also a traditional family activity on Winter Solstice. Also, tangyuan sounds like the Chinese words for “union,” so people view it as an important dessert to enjoy on important holidays and events, such as Chinese New Year and weddings.
Nowadays, Tangyuan is enjoyed all year round as one of the most popular Taiwanese desserts. While white and pink rice balls remain the classic recipe, you can also find bigger versions of this dish, with sweet sesame or peanut fillings. Either way, tang yuan is a wholesome and delicious dessert that will certainly warm your heart.
5. 鳳梨酥 – Pineapple Shortcake
If you have to choose just one thing to bring back to your family and friends from Taiwan, this is the dessert to bring with you. It is always among the top 10 most popular Taiwanese souvenirs, and it is enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.
Pineapple shortcakes are popular not just because of their tasty flavor, but also because of their name. The words for “pineapple” in Taiwanese sound like “prosperity comes,” so pineapple shortcakes are great gifts to give if you want to wish someone a good fortune.
The filling is made with pineapple jam, and the crust, inspired by western pastries, is made with flour, butter, and sugar. The slightly zesty jam combines perfectly with the sweetened crust, and the rich fruity aroma bursts in your mouth after you take a bite. Its small size makes it a great snack to enjoy with a cup of tea, and it is ideal for when you want to nibble on something sweet.
6. 綠豆椪 – Mung Bean Pastry
Mung bean pastry is a sweet dessert made with, as you can probably guess, mung beans and flour. It is a type of traditional Taiwanese moon cake, and often enjoyed around the time of the Moon Festival. However, it is such a popular dessert, you can find and enjoy it all year round.
Traditionally, the filling contained not only mung bean paste, but also lard, shallots, and even small chunks of pork. Nowadays, however, it is marketed and sold as a much sweeter dessert, and the filling usually consists of purely sweetened mung bean paste.
You can find mung bean pastries in moon cake box sets, or from food vendors or bakers selling Taiwanese pastries.
7. 黑糖粿 – Brown Sugar Steamed Cake
Brown sugar steamed cake is a type of Taiwanese dessert that originates from Penghu County (an off-shore island). Its origins date back to a time when Taiwan was still under Japanese rule.
When the Japanese people left, the local pastry chefs took their recipe and tweaked it to create the Taiwanese version of the cake. Originally, the brown sugar steamed cake was used as a worship offering at temple gatherings. However, as Penghu became a popular traveling destination among locals, the brown sugar cake gained popularity too, eventually becoming a well-known desser throughout Taiwan.
Brown sugar steamed cake is made with a mixture of flour, water, sweet potato starch, some sesame, and of course, brown sugar. After everything is mixed together nicely, it is steamed, hence the name. Once cooked, white sesame is sprinkled on top, and finally the cake is left to cool before being served. It is a rich and wholesome cake, and a must-try dish in Taiwan.
8. 紅豆湯 – Adzuki Bean Soup
Adzuki bean soup is a traditional Chinese dessert, commonly found in China, Hong Kong, and of course, Taiwan. It is a type of sweet soup, which essentially means it is made largely of sugar water.
Adzuki bean soup can be served both hot and cold, so it is something you can enjoy at all times of the year. In traditional Chinese medicine, adzuki beans are believed to have properties that help replenish blood and improve metabolism, so it is considered a healthy ingredient in general. Adzuki beans are also low in calories, so many drink adzuki bean soup when on a diet (not sweetened, of course).
Whether you are eager for the medicinal properities, or a light, sweet dish following a meal, adzuki bean soup is a great option for you.
9. 車輪餅 – Wheel Cake (Small Cake with Various Fillings)
The wheel cake was introduced to Taiwan by the Japanese decades ago, and “Imagawayaki” was its origin name. Since then, it has become a common and popular dessert for adults and kids alike.
It is commonly called “紅豆餅 (adzuki bean cake)” because originally, that was the cake’s only flavor. To keep up with the gastronomical demands of Taiwanese people, today creative vendors have introduced many new flavors to this old-fashioned dessert.
Oreo and custard, adzuki bean paste and mochi, taro, sesame paste, cheese, and even bubble tea flavor (yes, with the tapioca balls as the filling) are all new and alluring flavors you can try. In Taiwan, you can even find wheel cakes with savory fillings, such as dried radish, Taiwanese fried chicken, and tuna.
You can find wheel cakes in roadside stands, and it is a very inexpensive dessert. The cheapest flavor (usually the adzuki bean and custard flavor) costs only 30 US cents, which makes it perfect for when you want to nibble on something easy and sweet. Most stands offer more than 10 flavors, so you’ve got some important choices to make!
10. 仙草 – Grass Jelly (Jelly Made from a Mint Plant)
Grass jelly is a type of dark-colored jelly made with the Platostoma palustre plant. It is served in both liquid and solid form, and it is a popular dessert all year round.
It can be served both hot and cold. On hot summer nights, you can enjoy grass jelly as an additional condiment on your shaved ice, or add it to your bubble tea for a different texture. During winter, you can try “燒仙草 (hot grass jelly),” which is made by melting the grass jelly, forming a thick and dark liquid.
Other ingredients like taro balls, sweet potato balls, boba, and adzuki beans are added to the grass jelly liquid, creating a sweet-soup type of dessert that is bound to warm your heart.
11. 麻花捲 – Twisted Roll (Fried Cookie Rolls)
There are mainly two types of twisted roll in Taiwan; one from Changhua and one from Liuqiu Island. Both are equally scrumptious!
Twisted rolls are must-buy souvenirs from Liuqiu, and the dish is sold all over this small off-shore island. It was originally made for fishermen, so that they had something to snack on when out at sea for long periods of time. As tourism developed in the region, the snack gained popularity, and has since become a famous snack all over Taiwan.
Twisted rolls from Liuqiu are crunchy and smaller in size, and Changhua’s version is slightly thicker, with a chewier texture due to the thick coat of malt sugar used to glaze the exterior. Common flavors include seaweed and plum, and Changhua’s twisted rolls are famous for their sweet-and-salty spring onion flavor.
Best Desserts to Try in Taiwan Summary
Joy, melt-in-mouth textures, and boundless sweetness all await when you delve into the wondrous world of desserts to try in Taiwan.
The sweeter side of Taiwanese food is a feast for all the senses, and from bubble tea shops to Taiwanese night markets, you can find so many of these Taiwanese sweets and desserts ready and waiting for you to pick up and more than satisfy your sweet tooth with.
Keep your eyes peeled for these popular desserts during your next visit, and try your best to embrace Taiwan’s food culture as much as you can. It’ll most certainly be worth it!
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Save and Pin for Later
Excited to try a sweeter side to Taiwan? Keep this list of traditional desserts on-hand before you visit, by saving it for safekeeping to one of your foodie travel Pinterest boards.
Author: Vanessa Teng is a freelance writer and translator from Taiwan. She writes about travel, fashion, and languages for many different publications. She is passionate about Taiwan and is eager to share more about its culture, history, and cuisine through her writing.