Although largely unheard of in China, General Tso's chicken has become known as a classic Hunanese dish, appearing as a staple menu item in Chinese restaurants throughout the United States. The chicken is battered, fried, and coated in a spicy sweet sauce. Chinese chef Peng Chang-kuei claims to have first cooked it in the 1950s, originally without sugar, but now it is prepared with sugar to satisfy the American palate.
In the unsweetened Taiwanese version of the recipe, the sauce typically contains tomato paste, soy sauce, flour, rice wine vinegar and chili peppers. The American version also contains sugar. The battered chicken pieces are most often made with dark meat from chicken thighs, ginger, garlic, flour, egg, soy sauce, and peanut or vegetable oil for frying. Some variants of the dish include vegetables.
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Macronutrients and Calories
While different restaurants' recipes may vary, the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference indicates that General Tso's chicken is a high calorie, high fat food. A 30-piece, 535 gram, restaurant-style order of General Tso's chicken contains 1,578 calories, 69 grams of protein, 87 grams of fat, and 62 grams of sugar with a total carbohydrate count of 128 grams. The calories, carbohydrates, and fat primarily come from the chicken's batter coating and sugar-containing sauce and the protein comes from the chicken.
Vitamins and Minerals
The vitamin and mineral content for General Tso's Chicken is limited, with the exception of vitamin A, vitamin K, sodium and niacin. The USDA Nutrient Database states that a 30-piece order provides 500 International Units of vitamin A and a full day's supply of niacin, approximately 15 milligrams. It also provides twice the daily recommendations for vitamin K. However, its sodium content of 2,327 milligrams in a typical order exceeds daily sodium recommendations, which may be counterproductive for those following a low sodium diet for conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
While it is certainly beneficial that General Tso's chicken is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin K and protein, the high fat and calorie content make it an undesirable dish for those trying to lose weight. Leafy greens and orange vegetables are a lower fat source of these important vitamins. This dish is not advised for those attempting to limit sodium since it exceeds daily recommendations. Lastly, it is not recommended for diabetics or those on a heart-healthy diet due to its high sugar content of 62 grams per serving, which may contribute to elevated blood sugar and triglyceride levels.
- The New York Times: Hunan Resources
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Restaurant, Chinese, general tso's chicken
- Linus Pauling Institute: Niacin
- Center for Disease Control: Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt)
- Medline Plus: Vitamin K
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin A