A sweet and creamy Chinese recipe, with nutty overtones giving this easy black sesame soup dessert a complex depth of flavour. Moreover, this 3-ingredient traditional Chinese Tong Sui is naturally vegan, gluten-free, delicious, very nutritious and done in under 30 minutes!
⭐ Why This Recipe is a Star
- Black sesame dessert soup is wholesome and good for you: it's long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. For more information, see "Health Benefits" below.
- It's aromatic and delicious: many desserts have a flat sweetness to them. However, the slight bitterness and nutty flavor of black sesame make this Cantonese sweet soup more complex. If done well, the texture should be rich, thick and creamy.
- Inclusive for all diets: this healthy soup is naturally gluten-free and vegan.
Note: for more Asian desserts, try this round-up of Singaporean sweet treats! Also, if you like this tong sui, you'll love Korean Black Sesame Latte and these black sesame dishes!
🥣 What is Black Sesame Soup?
Black Sesame Soup (芝麻糊 zhi ma hu) is an old-fashioned but delicious Chinese dessert which is said to be good you.
Black sesame is thought to improve the kidneys & hair. Apparently it helps white hair turn back to black! Warm and nourishing, it's especially nice to savour slowly when the weather is cold in fall and winter.
This is a popular Chinese dessert in many Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam & Taiwan. You often find it at dim sum restaurants!
Note: If you're interested in Chinese traditional recipes, you may also like these peanut cookies, jujube tea, suanmei tang (sour plum tea) as well as this sea coconut & longan tong sui.
All about Sesame
Also known as benne, sesame is thought to have originated in either East Africa or Asia and has been used by the Chinese for at least 5000 years! Japan and China are the largest importers, as sesame is very common in both cuisines.
Think black sesame ice-cream and black sesame buns!
Besides this black sesame paste soup, the Chinese also use this ingredient in glutinous rice dumplings (tang yuan) & muah chee.
Fun fact: We Chinese didn't just cook sesame in traditional chinese dessert- we also used to burn sesame oil to make the best ink blocks!
Black sesame has always been considered good for one's health in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In particular, it is thought to:
- Help with tired & dry eyes (as do goji berries)
- Strengthen the internal organs
- Beautify the skin & hair
Recent scientific research lends these claims some support as black sesame has been shown to promote heart health, reduce cholesterol, decrease antioxidant stress and offer protection with respect to chronic livery injury amongst other things.
Note: this information is for trivia only and not meant as dietary or medical advice.
You only need 3 simple ingredients:
- black sesame: you can start with the seeds and turn it into black sesame powder or paste. Alternatively, you can buy ready made paste from the Asian grocery stores. You can also make a big batch of homemade black sesame paste or powder and freeze for up to 6 months.
- glutinous rice flour: The glutinous rice flour, also known as mochiko or sweet rice flour, serves as a thickener. (Some people prefer to use regular rice flour, or a combination of the 2.) If you don't add it, the black sesame paste and water won't merge well, and you'll end up with a thinner version of this soup with 2 distinct layers. (See photo below.) However, don't add too much or you'll end up with a lump and not a soup! (If that happens, add more water.)
- Chinese rock sugar (冰糖): rock sugar is traditional for Chinese cooking but it comes in huge lumps which will take more time to dissolve (and is difficult to measure. For substitutes, scroll down but note that you need to use rock sugar if you want the characteristic sheen on this Cantonese tong sui. (The yellow ones are more flavorful than the clear ones. They are available at Asian markets.)
For the optional ingredients, scroll down to the recipe card.
Tip: When I have diabetic guests, I omit the sugar entirely, but serve the dessert with brown sugar syrup on the side. Those who want a sweet dessert can stir it in themselves.
Note: Click here for more recipes which use glutinous rice flour, such as these delicious Nan Gua Bing Pancakes.
- If allergic to glutinous rice (!!): you can replace with regular rice flour, oat powder or 1 of these easy glutinous rice flour substitutes.
- If you find rock sugar too much of a hassle: I sometimes use my homemade brown sugar, maple syrup or honey in this black sesame paste dessert. (Only mix the honey in after switching off the fire as heating honey is though to reduce its health benefits.) In a pinch, you can also use white granulated sugar.
In Asia, there are instant packets of this black sesame soup. It's like the Chinese equivalent of Horllicks or Milo, you could say.
To make your own instant black sesame drink (ready-to-drink mix)
- Toast the black sesame seeds and blend into a powder. Make sure you stop blending before the seeds release their oils. If not, it becomes black sesame paste, which will need refrigeration.
- Stir in toasted glutinous rice flour and sugar and mix well.
- Optional: you can mix in ground-up, toasted walnuts, peanuts or pumpkin seeds.
- It can keep in an air-tight container for 1-2 weeks.
- Anytime you want to have this vegan & gluten-free Chinese dessert, just add boiling water!
Healthier than store-bought as it has no preservatives/ additives and is a classic Chinese breakfast.
Tip: The pre-mix makes a great vegan food gift for lazy friends who enjoy this classic Chinese snack.
Japanese chefs slowly grind the toasted seeds in a Suribachi (traditional Japanese mortar and pestle.)
However, much as I love slow cooking and tradition, I'd recommend having a blender, food processor, coffee or spice grinder on hand when you make this black sesame soup from scratch!
♨️ Step-by-Step Instructions
Making Black Sesame Powder/ Paste
This is an optional step as you can use shopbought.
However, if like me, you prefer to make your own black sesame powder/ paste, these are the steps:
1. Slowly toast the seeds (without oil) on LOW heat.
Tip: you can mix in white sesame seeds for a richer flavor. The white seeds will also help indicate when the roasting is done as they'll turn golden brown. (I use 70% black to 30% white.)
2. Stir continuously for 7- 12 minutes. When done, you should be able to smell the sesame fragrance.
Note: You may hear some seeds pop when they're "done" but, even if you don't, I recommend switching off the fire once you smell the sesame as over-toasting leads to a bitter flavor.
(If that happens to you, you'll need to add a lot more sugar to cover the earthy notes and, even then, you can't cover it completely.)
3. If you plan to store the black sesame powder, allow the seeds to cool before blitzing or pounding. Also pulse intermittently so the machine doesn't get overheated. (If not, the seeds'll release oil and become a sesame butter.)
4. If you use a coffee or spice grinder: you can just grind the plain seeds and you'll get a black-colored paste.
Tip: This sesame sauce/ paste can be stored in the fridge for a week and scooped over pudding and cakes.
If using a blender: you'll need to add some water. If not, the seeds'll fly everywhere and be a pain to process. You'll end up with a watery grey-colored sauce.
Tip: I like to add some sesame oil to make the black sesame paste more fragrant.
Turning the Powder or Paste into Soup
5. Transfer the black sesame paste or sauce into a pot.
6. Mix the glutinous rice flour into 1 Tablespoon of water and pour the rest of the water into the pot.
7. Bring to the boil over medium heat, stirring and slowly pouring the glutinous rice flour slurry in.
Be careful, as bubbles will form and pop quite violently so you may get splashed by the hot soup. (Kind of like when making tomato pasta sauce.)
8. Once boiling (this soup heats up FAST), turn the fire down so that the soup is simmering.
9. Mix in the sugar and salt (if using), to taste, and stir till dissolved. Once thick enough, switch off the fire. (It can be thick like a pudding or thin like a soup.)
Optional: Mix in some sesame oil for a smoother mouth feel. You can also use neutral vegetable oil but it won't be as tasty!
10. As you can see, the soup becomes blacker as it thickens. My bowl is also a little gritty as I don't sieve it. (See Note below.)
11. The black sesame dessert soup can be served both warm or cold.
Optional garnish: toasted white sesame seeds & a drizzle of coconut milk
Note for if you want a super silky smooth sesame paste pudding
You will need to strain the blended black sesame before transferring to the pot and cooking it down (in Step 5.)
I find this quite wasteful- you also miss out on extra fibre- as you end up sieving out quite a lot of the husk etc so I don't do it.
However, if you choose to do so, you could reuse the sieved out ground sesame in your bakes.
🥡 How to Store
Once cooled, the sweet black sesame soup can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days. Some people say you can freeze it, but I've never tried doing so.
Note: You may need to add a few tablespoons of water when reheating! (It thickens very fast if you use glutinous rice flour as the thickening agent.)
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
Tip #1: The sweet soup has a very low boiling point. Once it starts boiling, it will keep boiling even over a low heat. You will need to keep stirring to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
Tip #2: You can add some tang yuan (glutinous rice balls) to the soup, if you want something heartier and more filling. (Boil the tang yuan in a pot of water then serve the cooked balls in the black sesame dessert.)
💭 Recipe FAQs
Black is unhulled, whilst white sesame has had its hull (outer shell) removed, making black sesame crispier. Sesame is like chocolate: dark sesame/ chocolate has a more bitter, intense taste whilst the white counterpart is sweeter.
No, although they're both made from sesame, tahini is ground from raw sesame seeds (or slightly roasted ones) whilst sesame paste is made from deep roasted seeds- a small difference that makes a big difference to the flavour! Weirdly enough, the tahini made from raw sesame is actually stronger in taste than that made from the lightly roasted seeds! Personally, I find tahini much more bitter in taste than sesame paste.
Some people use glutinous rice, but that's more work. You need to start soaking the rice the night before (minimum 4 hours), then blend the grains with the toasted sesame seeds, before bringing the mixture to a boil. Glutinous rice flour shortens to cooking time drastically and allows you to make this tong sui almost instantly!
This depends on how clean they are! In Asia, we usually wash food before cooking as they may have collected a lot of dust sitting around in the open. If you do wash your seeds, you will need to briefly toast them on medium (gas fire) to medium-high heat (induction) to evaporate the water before reducing to low to toast the seeds. (This is to expedite the roasting time.)
🥢 Suggested Accompanying Cantonese Recipes
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Easy Black Sesame Soup Dessert
- Spice grinder, coffee grinder, food processor or blender Substitute if you have a lot of time: mortar and pestle. Only necessary if you are making your own black sesame powder
- Pot & heat proof spatula
- sieve Optional. Only if you want super silky black sesame soup
- ½ Cup Toasted Black Sesame Seeds Substitute: 0.33lb/ 150g shop-bought black sesame paste.
- 1-1½ Cups Water, or to taste (depending on how thick you like your dessert)
- 1 thumb-sized rock sugar, or to taste Substitute: brown sugar, white granulated sugar or brown sugar syrup
- 1-1½ T Glutinous rice flour Substitute: you can use glutinous rice grains. These will have to be soaked for a minimum of 4 hours (or overnight) then blended with the black sesame seeds. Alternatively, you can use regular rice flour, ground oats or 1 of these glutinous rice substitutes.
- 1 Tablespoon Sesame oil Optional but recommended: this is to improve the texture of the soup and make it more silky. Substitute: neutral vegetable oil (but it won't be as fragrant)
- A pinch of toasted white sesame seeds Optional garnish
- A splash of coconut milk Optional topping
Optional: Making Black Sesame Powder or Paste (Alternatively, use shopbought and proceed to the section below)
- Slowly toast the seeds (without oil) on LOW heat.Tip: you can mix in white sesame seeds for a richer flavor. (I use 70% black to 30% white.)
- Stir continuously for 7- 12 minutes. When done, you should be able to smell the sesame fragrance. Note: You may hear some seeds pop when they're "done" but, even if you don't, I recommend switching off the fire once you smell the sesame as over-toasting leads to a bitter flavor. (If your seeds burn, you'll need to add a lot more sugar to cover the earthy notes and, even then, you can't cover it completely.)
- If you plan to make extra black sesame powder to store , allow the seeds to cool before blitzing or pounding. Also pulse intermittently so the machine doesn't get overheated. (If not, the seeds'll release oil and become a sesame butter.)
- If you use a coffee or spice grinder: you can just grind the plain seeds and you'll get a black-colored paste.Tip: This sesame sauce/ paste can be stored in the fridge for a week and scooped over pudding and cakes.
- If using a blender: you'll need to add some water. If not, the seeds'll fly everywhere and be a pain to process. You'll end up with a watery grey-colored sauce.Tip: I like to add some sesame oil to make the black sesame paste more fragrant.
Turning Black Sesame Powder or paste into sweet tong sui pudding (Start here if using shopbought black sesame powder/ paste)
- Start by adding in ½T glutinous rice flour and 1T sugar, stirring continuously to prevent the soup from catching at the bottom of the pot. If you want a thicker soup, add some more glutinous rice flour. (I usually add 1T of glutinous rice flour- start with less as you don't want to end up with a stodgy lump instead of a soup! If it becomes too thick, just add more water to thin it down.) After simmering to your desired consistency, taste to see if the soup is sweet and thick enough. If not, add a bit more sugar and flour. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring continuously. Before switching off the fire, add a teaspoon of sesame oil and mix it into the black sesame soup. Ladle into bowls and serve warm. You may want to garnish each bowl with toasted sesame seeds and a drizzle of coconut milk.
- Transfer the black sesame paste-sauce (or shopbought powder/ paste) into a pot. Note for if you want a super silky smooth sesame paste pudding You will need to strain the blended black sesame before transferringand cooking it down. I find this quite wasteful- you miss out on extra fibre- as you end up sieving out quite a lot of the husk etc so I don't do it. However, if you choose to do so, you could reuse the sieved out ground sesame in your bakes.
- Mix the glutinous rice flour into 1-2 Tablespoons of water and pour the rest of the water into the pot.
- Bring to the boil over medium heat, stirring continuously and slowly pouring the glutinous rice flour slurry in. Be careful, as bubbles will form and pop quite violently so you may get splashed by the hot soup. (Kind of like when making tomato pasta sauce.)
- Once boiling (this soup heats up FAST), turn the fire down so that the soup is simmering. The soup will darken as it thickens.
- Mix in the sugar and salt (if using), to taste, and stir till dissolved. Once thick enough, switch off the fire.Optional: Mix in some sesame oil for a smoother mouth feel. You can also use neutral vegetable oil but it won't be as tasty!
- The black sesame dessert soup can be served both warm or cold. You can garnish it with toasted white sesame seeds & a drizzle of coconut milk if you like.
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Steven Tso says
Great recipe! Quick and easy for sudden sweet cravings 😅
Only suggestion is that I had to turn the stove off completely so that the gluttinous rice flour wouldn't cook too quickly.
Glad u enjoyed it Steven! That's a great tip! I do find the glutinous rice flour thickens the tong sui so quickly (especially on a gas stove!) that it can easily become a pasty ball, so turning off the stove and letting the residual heat cook it is an awesome idea!