Orange Chicken vs. General TSO – What’s the difference?

Americans love deep-fried, syrupy chicken takeout dishes like General Tso and orange chicken from Chinese restaurants. And if you’re a chicken lover, you may be wondering if there are any differences between the two.

So, what’s the difference between orange chicken and General Tso?

General Tso chicken and orange chicken aren’t very different. Both contain breaded chicken coated in sweet sauce and fried. The main difference between Tso’s chicken and orange chicken is the sauce. General Tso sauce is chili and soy-based, while Orange chicken is orange-based.

Compared to General Tso, orange chicken has a lighter-colored sweet and savory glaze. It’s not as spicy and hot because dried red chilies and peppercorns aren’t used as heavily in this dish. All variations of orange chicken recipes include orange in some form — juice, dried peel, or zest.

This article will cover some important differences between orange and general Tso chicken, including taste, texture, appearance, ingredients, and overall flavor profile.

Let’s get started.

What is General Tso’s Chicken?

General Tso is a quintessential Chinese dish that many Americans have come to love. It’s freaking delicious and popular across most Chinese restaurants in the United States.

While General Tso’s chicken looks simple, there are many surprising ingredients in this takeout food! The best recipes call for mushrooms, chicken, and bamboo shoots braised with dark soy sauce and dry sherry wine to create General Tso’s chicken’s signature sweet and savory taste.  

Origin of General Tso’s Chicken

The origin of General Tso’s chicken dates back to 1952 when a chef named Peng was cooking dinner for a diplomatic envoy to China. He wanted to make something very unique. So he made a special chicken dish, naming it after General Tso Tsung-t’ang, who is revered in mainland China.

After his chicken took off in Taiwan, Peng introduced General Tso’s chicken recipe to the United States. It also became a big hit here, largely thanks to media coverage.

As word spread, many imitators popped up. They added sugar, sauces, and spices to the original recipe — to the point that the Americanized version of General Tso’s chicken doesn’t even taste like the authentic dish.

What Does General Tso’s Chicken Taste Like?

General Tso’s chicken has a savory, umami flavor profile. It’s the perfect blend of sweet, sour, and spicy elements in a simple dish. The unique taste of General Tso’s chicken results from the salt, hoisin sauce, and soy sauce combination.  

The sweetness comes from the sugar, and the addition of hoisin sauce gives the dish a smokey aroma. Additionally, vinegar adds a refreshing twist.

General Tso’s chicken is flavorful and spicy, thanks to the addition of fresh chill peppers or chili flakes.

What is Orange Chicken?

The versions of orange chicken commonly found at North American restaurants feature battered and fried chicken pieces coated in a sweet and spicy orange sauce. This glazed chicken dish is nutritious and very popular in the United States.

While orange chicken is popular in North America, it’s rarely found in China. According to Andrew Cherng, owner of Panda Express, orange chicken is just a variation of General Tso’s chicken.

Origin of Orange Chicken

There are many recipes for this dish. But Panda Express, the country’s largest fast-food chain, claims to have introduced this sweet and sour concoction a few decades ago.

According to Chef Jimmy Wang from Panda Express, orange chicken is one of the best creations in the past 30 years. Their signature dish has everything Americans love, including crispy fried chicken and sweet and sour sauce. Orange chicken really hits all the taste buds in your mouth.

The Panda Express Recipe for Orange Chicken includes:

  • Dark chicken meat covered with a light batter.
  • Sweet and sour sauce with brown sugar and honey.
  • Chinese black vinegar and soy sauce.

Chef Andy Kao was credited with creating orange chicken in 1987. He was trained in French cuisine and worked as Panda Express’ executive chef.

According to Panda Express CEO Andrew Cherng, Kao invented orange chicken at one of the company’s locations in Hawaii, inspired by the flavors of Hunan cuisine.

What Does Orange Chicken Taste Like?

 The taste and recipes of orange chicken differ due to cultural and geographical factors. In general, most orange chicken variations taste sweet and savory. Orange chicken is crispy fried chicken cooked in a sweet and spicy orange sauce to cater to American tastes.

Panda Express – General Tso’s Chicken vs Orange Chicken

Nutrition Information for General Tso’s Chicken vs. Orange Chicken

This table contains a nutritional value per 100 g serving of General Tso’s chicken.

Protein13 g
Carbohydrate24 g
Fat16 g
Sugar12 g
Fiber0.9 g

This table contains a nutritional value per 100 g serving of orange chicken.

Protein14 g
Carbohydrate22 g
Fat13 g
Sugar14 g
Fiber0.8 g

Nutritional Comparison of Orange Chicken & General Tso’s Chicken

Compared to General Tso’s chicken, orange chicken contains fewer calories and more protein. Both dishes provide almost the same amount of carbs per 100g serving. Keep these nutritional facts in mind before ordering orange or General Tso’s chicken. In general, orange chicken is a healthier option, and General Tso’s chicken is more saucy and flavorful.

Key Differences Between Orange Chicken and General Tso


General Tso is a dish that originated in mainland China, while the orange chicken is an Americanized version of the dish.

Over time, General Tso’s chicken has also been changed to fit American tastes. Many people order General Tso as an appetizer with their takeout orders because the taste is so addictive, and the dish is easy to eat on the go.

Orange Chicken became popular when Chinese restaurants were introduced into America during the 1970s and 1980s by chefs who traveled from mainland China.


General Tso chicken has a more flavorful taste. You’ll feel an explosion of flavors in your mouth while eating General Tso’s variety of numerous ingredients and spices.

Choice of Meat

General Tso’s main ingredient is dark chicken meat, making it more flavorful than orange chicken because of its higher fat content.

On the other hand, the orange chicken recipe calls for light-colored or white chicken meat.

See also the differences between Tong Cho chicken and General Tso’s chicken.

Are there any similarities between Orange Chicken & General Tso’s Chicken?

If you’re wondering whether General Tso’s chicken is the same as orange chicken, you’ll find the answer here.

We already mentioned that they’re not very different. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that they have so much in common.

But what makes General Tso’s chicken and orange chicken similar? The primary ingredient common in General Tso chicken and orange chicken is – you guessed it – chicken!

Both dishes include orient-style fried and crispy chicken covered in glaze-like sauce, which can be found in many dishes in every Asian restaurant.

Both dishes are often served with white rice, sautéed broccoli, or other vegetables. The marinade usually consists of soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, dry sherry wine, and sometimes egg whites and cornstarch. The chicken is dipped in a dry cornstarch coating with salt and pepper or a combo of cornstarch, baking soda, and flour.

Another thing General Tso’s chicken and orange chicken have in common is that they’re both delicious!

Note: Authentic Chinese-style orange chicken isn’t battered and deep-fried, and it’s not glazed with fresh oranges or orange juice. Instead, the original orange chicken recipe uses dried orange peel.

Which Dish is More Popular?

Orange chicken is the signature dish of Panda Express, which sells over 100-million pounds every year. Also, orange chicken is a personal favorite of Sheldon in the TV series The Big Bang Theory.

Compared to orange chicken, General Tso is very popular in America’s Chinese restaurants, making it easy to get delivered to your door at midnight on a Saturday. A former secretary of state helped make General Tso’s chicken popular in the US. But it never really became a hit in China.

Orange Chicken Vs. General Tso’s Chicken – Which Dish is Better?

Like any other food, this choice depends on your preferences and taste. Nevertheless, we can still help you decide on your next order.

The orange chicken will better suit people who like extra sweet sauces, whereas Tso chicken is better for those who enjoy spicy flavors.

Final Thoughts

Although there are countless dishes in every Asian restaurant, only a few of them are as popular as General Tso chicken and orange chicken.

These famous dishes both use fried chicken pieces in crispy breading, mixed with delicious sauce and some rice and veggies.

And this sauce is exactly what makes General Tso and orange chicken different – the former uses a dark, spicy sauce made using peppercorns.

On the other hand, the orange chicken sauce is lighter and sweet, with a light sour flavor profile. That is because the sauce is made primarily from oranges.

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