What's The Difference Between Orange And General Tso's Chicken?

Orange chicken and General Tso's chicken are popular Chinese dishes that most of us are familiar with and enjoy. Popular chain restaurant Panda Express is supposedly credited with the creation and popularization of orange chicken, according to NPR. In 1987, Taiwanese chef Andy Kao was the executive chef for Panda Express, and while working at a Panda Express in Hawaii, he drew flavor inspirations from China's Hunan Province and invented the popular orange chicken dish. As of July 2022, Kao's orange chicken continues to be Panda Express' signature dish, and around 115 million pounds of the popular chicken was sold in 2021, per NBC News.

General Tso's chicken is very similar to orange chicken, but it was actually invented earlier in the 1970s by Peng Chang-kuei, who is also a chef from Taiwan just like chef Kao (via NPR). Interestingly, General Tso was actually a real person; he was from China's Hunan Province and was a statesman and military leader during the Qing dynasty. Tso played a part in the Taiping Rebellion of 1851, where around 20 million people sadly perished, and obviously inspired the name for chef Chang-keui's dish. While both orange chicken and General Tso's chicken have Asian roots, they are considered heavily Americanized dishes by many people. Let's dive deeper into the true difference between these popular American-Chinese dishes.

The difference between orange and General Tso's chicken is in the sauce

Orange chicken and General Tso's chicken are extremely similar dishes that are both made with breaded pieces of chicken that are fried and coated in a thick sauce, per Greatist. Both dishes are typically served with white rice and may also include vegetables such as broccoli. Of course, there are slight variations in recipes based on personal or regional differences, but the chicken starts out the same, either being marinated in soy sauce and rice wine or being coated with an egg white and cornstarch mixture. The chicken is then tossed in cornstarch, with some recipes also adding flour and baking soda.

The biggest difference between the two dishes is the sauce that coats the fried chicken. Truthfully, both sauces start out with the same ingredients, including soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, rice vinegar, and rice wine. Various aromatics, such as garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and scallions, are sometimes thrown into the mix as well. Then, cornstarch is added to the sauce to make it thick. The key difference is that the General Tso's sauce has more pepper flakes in it to give it that kick, while the orange chicken sauce has either orange zest, orange juice, or orange peel included to give it that bright zing of orange flavor. Interestingly, the sauce for Panda Express' orange chicken is made with honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, and orange peel oil, according to NPR.