If you have never had the sheer pleasure of tasting either Hunan or Szechuan spread over your favorite type of meat, you are missing out on some of the most unique, spicy and delicious extra ingredients out there.
Both Hunan and Szechuan are traditional Chinese sauces that over recent years have captured the interest of the entire world for their incredible mixture of ingredients and flavors that make them well worth keeping around the kitchen.
However, while they are well known for their perfect blend of being both spicy and savory, not many people are aware of the major differences between Hunan and Szechuan which can make a dish taste drastically different.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about these incredibly delicious sauces, including how they are different and which you should choose depending on the meal of your choice.
What Is Hunan?
Hunan is the sauce usually applied to a type of meat, while this can be beef or pork, it is most well known for being used on chicken since it soaks up the flavors so well.
The mixture itself is often made up of red chili peppers to add a nice kick of heat to its flavor, chicken broth to make it slightly thicker with a hint of creaminess, soy sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar and chili bean sauce.
Chili bean sauce made from chili peppers and fermented soybean paste helps to bring all the ingredients together while making each one as prominent as possible.
Hunan is most often used as part of a stir-fry that is trying to strike the perfect balance between being both hot and sour.
The chosen meat for the mix is usually thoroughly cooked in the pan until being mixed with a selection of vegetables before then adding in the sauce to finish off the dish with all the chili peppers, chicken broth and soy sauce included.
What Is Szechuan?
Originating from the Sichuan province of southwest China, Szechuan sauce is known for having a much milder and more citrusy taste that can help add some much needed sweetness to a dish while also having a hint of spiciness due to its ingredients.
The sauce itself is made up from a delightful mixture of Tamari soy sauce, sake, water, cider vinegar, honey spices, ginger puree and some garlic powder to give the sauce its distinct and instantly recognisable sweet flavor.
The most prominent ingredient however that gives the sauce its mildly sweet flavor is the Szechuan pepper, a spicy ingredient which is evened out due to the peppercorn it contains that numbs the heat away as soon as it touches your tongue.
Similar to Hunan, Szechuan is most often used as part of a meat based dish, usually being spread over some chicken, beef or pork which makes for a deliciously meaty protein rich meal.
What Are The Main Differences Between Szechuan And Hunnan?
When choosing one of these ingredients for your next dish, it’s always important to know about some of the major differences between the two as it can drastically affect how your meat and other ingredients taste when it finally comes time to serve them.
Therefore, here are all the key differences between Hunan and Szechuan that you need to know about next time you consider using one or the other.
Both Szechuan and Hunan sauces are spicy and savory, however these basic flavors are where the similarities largely end as Hunan is known for being much hotter than Szechuan, specifically because of how many more peppers and chillies it incorporates.
Szechuan has a much milder overall taste that strikes the perfect balance between being tangy and incredibly sweet while still having a great amount of heat to really take the meat to another level in terms of flavor.
It is specifically the chili bean paste that gives Hunan it’s earthy, fiery flavor which may be a little too much for some, but for those who can’t get enough spice in their food, it’s a must try and will probably soon become your go-to when it’s time to ramp up the temperature for your next meal.
It really depends what kind of added flavor you want to add to a dish which should persuade you to use one or the other.
If you like the idea of getting the maximum amount of spiciness possible which blends perfectly with some juicy chicken and some vegetables for a little extra crunchiness, then you can’t go wrong with Hunan.
If however you want a mixture which isn’t too hard to eat and instead provides a much cooler tangy taste that still enhances the flavor of the meat as much as possible, Szechuan is the much better option.
When mixing both Hunan and Szechuan into a dish and fusing it with the meat, the actual preparation can be slightly different for both.
Hunan is usually served with thinly sliced chicken breasts which are marinated and par-cooked in hot oil before being thrown into a pan with a few vegetables as part of a stir fry.
Szechuan chicken on the other hand usually takes a little longer and while it can be used as part of a bigger stir fry, it is mostly used for smaller and more precise meals that include chicken or similar types of meat.
For the Szechuan style, rather than chicken breasts it is instead usually paired with chicken thighs which are cut into pieces, battered and then deep fried before being mixed with a few red chili peppers and other spicy seasonings to make the heat stand out even more.
The benefit and major reason for having the meat be battered when cooking in the Szechuan style is that it adds a much needed amount of crunch to the meat that tastes incredible with the added sweetness.
In terms of overall calorie count, Hunnan is the healthiest option with only around 228 calories with each 200g serving compared to Szechuans 272 calories.
A big reason for this is also because most people will deep fry their meat when preparing it in the Szechuan style which automatically spikes the calorie count up much higher than normal.
It’s not just calories where Hunan is superior however, it also contains nearly double the amount of protein when mixed in with beef or chicken when compared to Szechuan, along with containing more fiber for keeping our bones healthy and strong.
Additionally, part of what gives Szechuan flavored dishes that familiar sweet and tangy flavor is the much higher amount of salt with about twice as much being in a standard serving when compared to Hunan which instead relies on its peppers and chillies for flavor.
The only real way that Szechuan is more nutritionally beneficial than Hunan is in the fat content, to which it contains almost half of that found in Hunan chicken meals, which can make Szechuan the better alternative if you want the meat to be as clean as possible.
When To Choose Hunan
A Hunan styled meat dish is the much better option when you have multiple ingredients that you want to mix together at once.
Sure, it’s definitely known for that tremendous spiciness which may put some people off, however because it’s not thickly concentrated on one area and is instead lightly spread around onto the vegetables along with the meat, it provides just enough of a mouth sizzling sensation to keep the entire meal interesting and a delight to bite into.
As part of a stir fry and when paired up with some vegetables, either with some meat on the side or even as part of a soup, it gives the effortlessly crunchy food a much spicier flavor while still being incredibly nutritious and the perfect option when you want to eat as clean as possible.
When To Choose Szechuan
Szechuan is more so suited to single dishes rather than a big mixture of ingredients packed into a bowl or sizzled up in a pan since while it can be used in this way, to allow it’s deep and rich flavor to stand out as much as possible it’s much better as part of a smaller dish.
While it is most commonly used when preparing some tasty crispy battered chicken, or any battered meat for that matter, it goes just as well with smaller snacks such as fried rice, spring rolls, pasta and even to spice up some french fries.
Rather than elevating the entire dish, Szechuan sauce is therefore more precise and enhances the flavor of whatever it is fused into, you can even use it as a pizza sauce to make these delightful treats taste even better.
If you’re really struggling between Hunan and Szechuan, it’s also important to keep in mind that with Szechuan you will be getting much more salt and sodium, mainly due to the added soy sauce, however if you’re preparing it at home then you can tone these added ingredients down to make the meal as clean and healthy as possible.
How To Make Hunan Sauce
Hunan sauce is usually made as part of the stir fry, making it easy to prepare and allowing it to instantly stick to the meat and vegetables while it retains that deliciously hot and spicy flavor.
Here is what you’ll need to prepare a Hunan styled dish:
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 6 boneless chicken thighs (Can be swapped for other meats)
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 4 green onions
- 1 tbsp crushed red chili pepper
Start stirring the honey, peppercorns, salt and soy sauce in a large bowl and add in the chicken after a few minutes.
Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium heat and add in the chili peppers, garlic, ginger and green onions and after 3 minutes, pour in the soy sauce and chicken mixture for 5 to 10 minutes until the chicken is no longer pink.
How To Make Szechuan Sauce At Home
If you have the ingredients at home, making your very own authentic Szechuan sauce is a lot easier than you might think, here is what you’ll need:
- 1 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp white rice vinegar
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger
- 1tbsp garlic chili paste
Start by toasting the Szechuan peppers over a medium heat in a skillet for 2 minutes. Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly.
Whisk in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for extra thickness and there you have it, a quick and easy Szechuan sauce ready to be layered all over your favorite meals and snacks.
While both sauces have a very distinct spicy flavor to them, the choice of either Szechuan or Hunan really comes down to the spiciness, and how much heat you want packed into your favorite meal, however you really can’t go wrong with either one.