Sesame Chicken Vs General Tso’s Chicken – What’s The Difference?

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General Tso is a popular Chinese dish that is hugely popular in a lot of Chinese restaurants in North America and Asia.

It is the quintessential Chinese dish that has cemented itself as a mainstay for many people and menus across the globe.

On the other hand, sesame chicken is another similarly popular dish known and loved by many foodies around the world too. Some might even say that these two dishes share a lot of similarities – that’d be true but not quite right. 

What’s the difference between sesame chicken and General Tso? General Tso and sesame chicken are fundamentally the same dish but with a few variations. General Tso is a mix of sweet and spicy while sesame chicken is noticeably sweeter without the heat. 

They’re both considered to be close cousins but since every restaurant tries to add their own twist to the dishes, you may find them to either be extremely different or very similar. 

However, one thing is for sure. If it’s more sweet than spicy then it’s highly likely to be sesame chicken but if it’s spicy and tangy then you are most definitely looking at General Tso.

Of course, there’s more to these two dishes than just sugar and spice. Read on to find out more about why these two similar tasting dishes are not quite the same. 

General Tso’s Chicken

There’s a popular myth attached to this recipe where many believe that the name of this delicious Chinese dish comes from a military leader by the name of General Tso Tsung-t’ang. 

So much so, there is even a documentary called “The Search for General Tso” that explores the origins of this delicious recipe and is dedicated to Chinese-American cuisine in North America!

Regardless of its origin though, this is a highly popular and beloved delicacy. 

General Tso is made from boneless chicken pieces that are battered and deep-fried to perfection. They are then tossed with vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, whole dried red chili peppers, and garlic

While the ingredients may seem basic, when they are put together with the right technique, it creates something that’s truly delicious.

General Tso has been a staple for many people around North America and you can easily find this dish in any Chinese restaurant.

Its spice profile mixed with tangy and sweet undertones is what makes this recipe iconic. While it bears a lot of similarities when compared to sesame chicken, they are different in how they taste

Understandably so, most chefs apply a bit of their own twist when making General Tso.

Some serve it with different cuts of meat while others may add in different vegetables, although traditionally, General Tso is best served with broccoli

There are also regional differences that make this dish even more different from sesame chicken too.

For example, the Taiwanese version isn’t sweet and employs more soy sauce than the original recipe. This version is cooked with the skin of the chicken intact along with a few veggies. 

Many people find General Tso to be a comfort food because of how sweet and tangy it is. It pairs extremely well with fried rice and can also be had on its own. Most people agree that this dish is best served flaming hot. 

Because it’s made with cornstarch and sugar, General Tso can be troublesome when cooled down or refrigerated. The sauce may clump up and you may not be able to get the same consistency in the chicken once the dish is reheated. 

Sesame Chicken 

If you are wondering how sesame chicken is different from General Tso then the answer is pretty simple: spice.

Both dishes have more or less the same basic ingredients and are cooked similarly. However, sesame chicken leans more towards sweet than spicy. Of course, that isn’t to say that this dish doesn’t have its own history. 

Sesame chicken has been an equally popular Chinese dish all around the world. Its versatility and simplicity make it one of the best-tasting recipes in Asian cuisine. 

The origins of sesame chicken are largely unknown except for the fact that it was popularized in North America thanks to many Chinese-American restaurants. 

Cooking sesame chicken is simple. Here’s what you need:

  1. Egg and cornstarch for chicken batter
  2. Soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and chicken stock
  3. Boneless thigh cut chicken 
  4. Sesame seeds for garnish

This is the most basic and stripped-down version of sesame chicken. Most people will add in baby corns, broccoli, sake, or more to amplify or change the flavor profile of this humble recipe

We know you might be thinking that both sesame chicken and General Tso seem to be based on the same ingredients – and you might be right.

Except, sesame chicken doesn’t have any added spice to it, unlike General Tso that has whole dried chili peppers. 

Of course, you can also create a hybrid of sorts by adding in spice and other herbs as well.

Most people will easily be able to tell apart both dishes and it usually comes down to personal preference but generally speaking, the sweeter of the two is more likely to be sesame chicken. 

Sesame chicken can be cooked in multiple ways too. Many people employ the use of chicken powder or broth for a range of umami flavors. Interestingly, you can also use different types of sugar to bring out the sweetness in the sauce. 

Both these dishes have a thick sauce. However, because of its sweetness, you may find sesame chicken to be a bit less sauce-intensive but very flavorful. While General Tso may have some extra sauce for that tangy and umami flavor.

Needless to say, both of them pair well with rice and other Chinese sides.

Variations And Similarities

Both General Tso and sesame chicken have a lot of variants. 

For example, there is a variant of sesame chicken called “almond shrimp” where the meat is, you guessed it, shrimp, and instead of sesame seeds, this dish is seasoned with shaved almonds. The rest of the ingredients are the same. 

Some people also compare Kung Pao chicken to General Tso even though both dishes are largely different. In terms of spices, Kung Pao is considered to be a hot and spicy dish whereas General Tso has a spicy and sweet flavor profile. 

Kung Pao chicken also has peanuts in it whereas you will never find any nuts in the original General Tso recipe.

Even then, you may come across “hybrids” where some chefs may blend in different flavors and seasonings to alter the dish completely. 

As previously mentioned, sesame chicken is considered to be sweeter than General Tso but you may easily come across some variation of this dish that calls for either dried round chilies or green chilies. 

It’s all in the details but if you aren’t looking for authenticity, then we believe you will enjoy what all the variants have to offer for both these delicious dishes. 

Spice Levels

We simply can’t discuss both dishes without mentioning their spice profile. 

As mentioned above, General Tso has a spicier flavor thanks to the added dried spices and herbs. However, the spice level of both dishes is greatly varied. 

For example, in one restaurant, you might find the spice levels for General Tso to be more intense while in the other you might find sesame chicken with sauteed green chilies, despite the sweetness. 

However, if we were to describe the level of spiciness in both dishes then we would rate General Tso to be a 6 out of 10 while sesame chicken would be a solid 2 out of 10. This rating is only for the most basic version of the dish.

Understandably so, most chefs and restaurants may change the spice profile to match the community and locale so that more people can enjoy both dishes.

It is said that General Tso wasn’t a successful or noteworthy dish in the province of Hunan because the locals found it to be too sweet for their liking.

Interesting fact: Hunan is a landlocked province in China that also happens to be the home province of the great military leader, General Tso (the person this dish is named after).

Ironically, the dish was altered by adding in more spice so that it would be acceptable for the people of Hunan. 

In contrast, sesame chicken has a deep-rooted connection with Asian-American culture.

The sweetness and approachable flavor and look of this dish had captivated a lot of people in North America. It wasn’t long until sesame chicken had cemented itself as a fan-favorite in many Chinese restaurants. 

If we are talking about popularity then it would be safe to say that both of these dishes are equally popular and well-known by many.

In fact, there is a good chance that you might have already tried both these dishes without even knowing it! 

General Tso and sesame chicken are so versatile that you can literally add any type of meat, veggie, or ingredient to make it different.

Most Chinese restaurants even have different names for them. However, for an avid foodie, these two dishes are easily detectable. 

Since both dishes are kosher, halal, and can also be had without meat, they are available to almost anyone without restrictions. This is another reason why these dishes are so popular around the world. 

An Easy Comparison

Here’s a chart to explain the spice level and General flavor profile of both these dishes:

TraitGeneral TsoSesame Chicken
Spiciness🌶 🌶 🌶🌶
FlavorSweet, Spicy and TangySweet and Tangy
Protein Chicken, breast, boneless thighChicken thighs (Cubes)

It’s clear that both these dishes have a lot of similarities but are fundamentally different in how they are seasoned and how they taste.

If you are looking for a little more kick, then General Tso should quell your cravings for a spicy and sweet-sauced dish

On the other hand, if you like neutral or non-spicy flavors then sesame chicken is going to be the right fit for you.

Also, the reason why we have given a one “spice” rating to sesame chicken is because of the number of variations this dish has.

If you remember, we mentioned above that the original recipe for General Tso was altered in the province of Hunan because of how sweet the dish was at first.

It just so happens that many restaurants will tweak the spice level of both dishes to make them more appealing to the masses. Generally speaking, sesame chicken is always going to be way less spicy than General Tso. 


General Tso and Sesame chicken are the cornerstones of Chinese-American cuisine in North America and all around the world. Both these dishes are hugely popular and have a similarly large fan following too. 

General Tso is considered to be a sweet and spicy dish that has noticeable tangy undertones thanks to rice vinegar and other ingredients. Whereas sesame chicken is also the same but sweeter and with sesame seeds

Both dishes have a lot of variations and you are likely to come across a range of spice levels and flavor profiles due to the variations in chicken broth, soy sauce, and spices.

Even though General Tso is slightly more popular and ubiquitous, sesame chicken follows behind closely and is a mainstay on many menus.

In the end, it depends on your personal preference and how you like your sauce.

Sesame chicken is a great way to enter the world of Chinese-American cuisine but if you are more inclined towards spicy food then we highly recommend that you set foot with General Tso. 

Related Questions

Now that we’ve gone over the differences between sesame chicken and General Tso’s chicken, let’s have a look at a few more related questions we thought you might’ve had while reading this article!

Is General Tso’s chicken an authentic Chinese dish?

While the origins of this dish come from China, the dish has been altered greatly to fit the flavor palette of Americans.

A lot of Chinese immigrants introduced their own twists to this dish to make it more appealing to different communities.

However, due to how diluted the recipe has gotten over the years, it’s hard to say that it’s “authentic” but since this dish has become so hugely popular, many people use the standard General Tso flavor as a yardstick for other variants. 

Is sesame chicken the same as orange or Kung Pao chicken?

No. Sesame chicken is considered as a sweet and tangy dish with umami undertones. Kung Pao chicken is an authentic, hot, and spicy chicken dish that is cooked with peanuts.

Similarly, orange chicken also comes from Hunan and shares a lot of ingredients but has the use of orange peels. 

Sesame chicken is only usually seasoned with sesame seeds with some variations to the dish.

For example, the seeds can be roasted and then seasoned onto the dish, or you could also substitute chicken with other types of proteins, like shrimp. 

Where can I find General Tso and sesame chicken?

Both of these dishes can easily be found in any Chinese-American restaurant. These dishes are commonly used and added to menus in many restaurants because of their popularity. So, you can find them almost anywhere. 

If you are looking for authentic taste, we highly recommend that you check out a good Chinese restaurant near you. 

You can also try out different restaurants to see how they add small variations to both these amazing dishes. 

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