Americans love Chinese food! Whether it’s Kung Pao chicken, dumplings, fried rice, egg rolls, or sweet and sour chicken, chances are that you probably had some in the recent past.
Mandarin chicken and orange chicken are two other equally popular and delicious dishes that have their unique flavors. But wait, aren’t they the same? No, they share many similarities but are two very different dishes.
So, what are the differences between mandarin chicken and orange chicken? Mandarin chicken is a traditional Chinese dish made with regular chicken pieces and a sweet soy sauce base, whereas orange chicken is the Americanized version of the dish made with crispy fried chicken.
Read on to find out more about mandarin and orange chicken and how they are similar to and different from one another:
What Is Mandarin Chicken?
Mandarin chicken is a popular Chinese dish that has been around for quite some time. Originally brought to the US in the early 16th century by Portuguese traders, it wasn’t until the late 18th century that it started to gain popularity.
The dish gets its name from the original ingredients used (mandarins and oranges) both of which were imported from China.
Although the original recipe uses fresh fruit, nowadays it is common to use orange juice instead as it is easier to find and less expensive than fresh mandarins and oranges.
There are several versions of this recipe, most of which include some type of sweet sauce made using soy sauce, brown sugar or honey, and sesame oil, among other ingredients.
What Is Orange Chicken?
Orange chicken is similar to mandarin chicken but is an Americanized version of the dish created in the 1950s.
It is made using fried chicken pieces and a sweet and sour flavored sauce made with orange peel that gives it a distinctive flavor and color.
It has a crispy texture as it uses deep-fried chicken, but it isn’t as greasy and oily as you’d expect due to the light batter coating that it uses.
Similar to mandarin chicken, orange chicken can also be prepared in a variety of ways.
One of the most popular variations is created using Asian-style fried chicken mixed with a sauce made using soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and more delicious ingredients.
Commonly paired with white rice, orange chicken can also be enjoyed with noodles and steamed vegetables to create a more well-balanced meal.
What Is The Difference Between Mandarin Chicken And Orange Chicken?
Both mandarin chicken and orange chicken are popular foods in Chinese cuisine and are easily available in the US in several Asian bistros around the country.
They share quite a few similarities but are two different dishes. The biggest difference between them is the type of meat used to prepare them.
Mandarin chicken uses regular pieces of chicken breast which are roasted and mixed with a sweet sauce. Orange chicken, on the other hand, is made using fried chicken in a sweet, orange sauce.
Here are all the differences between mandarin chicken and orange chicken based on their taste, texture, ingredients, and preparation techniques:
|Sweeter than orange chicken since it is prepared using orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar or honey, and a few other ingredients.
|Slight savory taste since it is deep-fried in oil before being doused in a sweet sauce.
|Softer than orange chicken as it is roasted and cooked for less time at a lower temperature.
|Crispier since it is deep-fried, although it is softer to bite into.
|Mandarin chicken has a thicker sauce.
|Orange chicken has a thinner sauce.
|Roasted chicken breast is mixed with the mandarin sauce until it becomes thick and sticky.
|Deep-fried breaded chicken is mixed with orange sauce.
How Are Mandarin Chicken And Orange Chicken Similar?
Now that we’re clear on how mandarin chicken and orange chicken are different from one another, let’s look at some of the similarities that these two popular dishes share.
Both dishes belong to Chinese cuisine and are incredibly popular in the US. While mandarin chicken is a traditional Chinese dish, orange chicken is a more Americanized version.
Both use chicken, although the type of chicken is very different. Mandarin chicken uses roasted chicken whereas orange chicken is made with deep-fried chicken.
Their ingredients are also more or less the same, although orange chicken uses a few extra ingredients. In addition to that, both dishes are usually served with white rice.
Which Is Better – Mandarin Chicken Or Orange Chicken?
When it comes to food, it is impossible to say which is better since it all depends on an individual’s taste and preference.
What may be one person’s favorite may be the other person’s most disliked food. It’s hard to believe but there are people in the world who don’t like pizza!
When it comes to mandarin and orange chicken, it comes down to the flavor you are looking for.
Mandarin chicken is more flavorful than orange chicken and is also much sweeter. Orange chicken has a mild orange taste and is saltier.
Therefore, if you are looking for a strong orange flavor, we suggest you opt for mandarin chicken. If you are looking for a milder orange flavor that is also less sweet, go with orange chicken.
Either way, both dishes are equally delicious and use a classic combination of flavors that is sure to please even the pickiest of eaters.
Can You Make Mandarin Chicken At Home?
While you can get delicious Mandarin chicken at several Chinese restaurants across the country, the dish is incredibly easy to prepare and you can make it yourself at home. Here’s what you need to do:
- Take a large skillet and heat it over medium-high heat.
- Add oil and boneless chicken breasts chopped into bite-sized chunks.
- Stir the chicken well to coat it in oil.
- Let the chicken cook until it starts to brown a bit on the sides.
- Keep stirring occasionally for about 5–7 minutes.
- Take a separate bowl and add the orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, water, black pepper, and corn starch. Mix well until it is properly combined.
- Pour the sauce over the browned chicken and stir to coat properly.
- When the sauce starts to bubble reduce the heat to a simmer and let the chicken cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until it is cooked through.
- Sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds and serve hot with white rice.
Note: you may alternatively use the readymade Mandarin Teriyaki Sauce by Panda Express to add to the chicken for a restaurant-like flavor.
Can You Make Orange Chicken At Home?
Made with golden and crispy fried chicken pieces, orange chicken is also a simple recipe that you can easily recreate at home. Here’s what you need to do:
- Start with cutting the boneless chicken breast or thigh into bite-sized pieces.
- Dredge them into whisked eggs and a cornstarch/flour mixture until all the pieces are nicely coated.
- To make the orange sauce, take a small pot and add the orange juice, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic, and red chili flakes.
- Cook over medium-high heat and add cornstarch and water to thicken the sauce.
- Stir in the orange zest.
- In a separate heavy-bottomed pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. You may use a thermometer to make sure the temperature of the oil is up to 350°F.
- Once the oil is ready, deep fry the chicken in batches for about 2 minutes until it is light golden brown.
- Remove the chicken from the oil, drain it on a paper towel-lined plate, and toss it with the sweet orange sauce.
- Make sure all the chicken pieces are covered in the sauce.
- Top with some grated orange zest and green onions and serve with white rice.
Note: you may alternatively use the readymade Orange Sauce by Panda Express to add to the chicken for a restaurant-like flavor.
Now that you know all about mandarin chicken and orange chicken and how they are similar to and different from one another, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have!
What is the difference between orange chicken and General Tso’s chicken?
Compared to General Tso’s, orange chicken is not as spicy and has a light-colored sweet glaze. Both recipes, however, use orange in some form: juice, zest, peel, dried, or a combination of them.
What is tangerine chicken?
Tangerine chicken is another popular Chinese dish that is similar to mandarin and orange chicken in its use of orange in some form or the other.
Tangerine chicken tastes fresh and spicy whereas orange chicken has a sweeter and sourer flavor.
How are orange chicken and sweet and sour chicken different?
Both dishes come from China and feature chicken as the main ingredient. However, when it comes to the flavor, orange chicken has a sweeter taste whereas sweet and sour chicken has elements of both sweet and sour.
Also, the latter doesn’t use any orange juice and many variations use pineapple to reinforce the sweet flavor.