Two of the most popular dishes at any Chinese restaurant are orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken.
Since both dishes feature chicken, you may wonder what makes each of them different from one another.
Both recipes come from China and are a staple in Chinese restaurants.
That said, there are quite a few differences between them.
Here are a few differences between orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken.
Orange Chicken Vs. Sweet And Sour Chicken (What’s The Difference?)
Perhaps one of the main differences between orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken is the flavor.
When you first bite into a piece of orange chicken, you’ll experience a sweet and spicy flavor that may surprise you.
The various ingredient used to make orange chicken mixes the meaty flavor of chicken with a sweetness that many Chinese food enthusiasts have come to love.
However, some prefer a more sour and less spicy taste to their chicken.
That’s where sweet-and-sour chicken reigns.
Sweet-and-sour chicken combines elements of both sweet and sour flavors in its recipe.
When you bite into sweet-and-sour chicken, you get the meaty taste of chicken mixed with hints of both sourness and sweetness.
This makes it ideal for those who believe that chicken shouldn’t be as sweet as orange chicken can sometimes be.
When you bite into both orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken, you’ll know the difference between them immediately due to their flavor.
2. Chicken Meat
Although both orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken feature chicken in their recipes, they do sometimes differ in which part of the chicken is used.
Orange chicken, for example, tends to come from white meat.
That means that the breast is the primary part of the chicken that’s cooked and made into the orange chicken.
Cheaper dishes will replace white meat with dark meat.
In this instance, the meat comes from chicken legs and thighs.
However, most recipes that are higher in quality will use chicken breast meat.
This is slightly different from sweet-and-sour chicken.
Its meat can equally be either white or dark.
It can come from either the breast or the thighs depending on what’s available.
When you order orange chicken, the meat is most likely going to be from the chicken’s breast.
However, if you order sweet-and-sour chicken, then you have an equal chance to receive meat from either the chicken breast or thighs.
3. Orange Juice
If you’ve ever wondered why orange chicken has that name, then you only need to look at its list of ingredients.
One of the key differences between orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken is the presence or absence of orange juice.
It may seem odd to use orange juice in a recipe for meat, but that’s exactly what the orange chicken recipe calls for.
When chefs make orange chicken, they either create a sauce that has orange juice, orange zest, or both in it.
Cheaper orange chicken dishes will usually use orange zest since it’s cheaper than orange juice.
This tends to make the resulting orange chicken a little less flavorful than chicken that uses orange juice to make its sauce.
This is also why, when you bite into orange chicken, you receive hints of a citrus flavor.
That’s entirely absent in sweet-and-sour chicken.
The recipe used to make that dish doesn’t contain either orange juice or orange zest.
There isn’t anything orange in sweet-and-sour chicken.
Whereas orange chicken may use orange juice to give it its defining flavor, sweet-and-sour chicken uses sugar.
You can tell that, between the two, the sources of the sweetness are a bit different.
Orange chicken tends to have a tangy sweetness because of the orange juice or orange zest.
Sweet-and-sour chicken relies on sugar to make its flavor sweet.
When cooking sweet-and-sour chicken, the chef will put sugar into the sauce which then covers the chicken.
When you bite into sweet-and-sour chicken, you’ll immediately taste the sugar that gives the meal the type of sweetness that you expect.
Both orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken have some sweetness to them, but the source of that sweetness is different.
Although not all sweet-and-sour chicken recipes use pineapple, many do.
Pineapple reinforces that sweet flavor you expect in sweet-and-sour chicken.
It’s not used in orange chicken.
Sometimes chefs will replace pineapples with peppers to make their sweet-and-sour chicken a bit spicier.
However, many consider pineapples a staple in the recipe since it gives the chicken a particularly sweet taste.
While orange chicken may use orange juice or orange zest to give it a sweet and tangy flavor, sweet-and-sour chicken uses pineapple.
6. Spicy Heat
Another element that makes orange chicken that is different from sweet-and-sour chicken is its spiciness.
One of the essential ingredients in the orange chicken recipe is chili flakes.
This gives the tangy meat a bit of heat to it.
Depending on the recipe, you may have a lot of chili flakes or very few.
The more flakes there are, the spicier the orange chicken is going to be.
That’s why, at some restaurants, you’ll see a few different options for your orange chicken.
Those who love a lot of heat in their chicken have the option of ordering a dish with more chili flakes.
This is different from sweet-and-sour chicken which doesn’t contain a lot of heat at all.
The emphasis on sweet-and-sour chicken is to bring out the vinegary sourness and sugary sweetness of the meat.
It isn’t supposed to be hot or spicy.
That said, some chefs are willing to put some chili flakes into the dish if you do want some heat in your sweet-and-sour chicken.
In the original recipe, however, sweet-and-sour chicken does not have chili flakes whereas orange chicken does.
This makes orange chicken the spicier or hotter of the two dishes.
To the untrained eye, orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken may look the same.
However, if you were to look closer, you’d see a difference between the two.
Orange chicken tends to be lighter in color than sweet-and-sour chicken.
There are a few reasons this is the case.
Orange chicken uses orange juice or orange zest in its recipe.
This tends to be a lighter color than many other juices or zests.
The rest of the ingredients also tend to be lighter in color.
Sweet-and-sour chicken uses darker ingredients like soy sauce and brown sugar.
When mixed together, it makes the chicken appear a slightly darker brown than orange chicken.
Like its namesake, orange chicken hints towards the orange shade of the color spectrum whereas sweet-and-sour chicken hints towards brown.
Although the difference may be subtle, you can usually tell the difference between each one by looking at their colors.
One final difference between orange and sweet-and-sour chicken is the cost.
Orange chicken tends to be a bit more expensive than sweet-and-sour chicken.
That may be because orange juice tends to be on the more expensive side.
Orange chicken also uses more ingredients than sweet-and-sour chicken.
As a result, the cost of producing it is higher.
To make up for the cost, it has to have a more expensive price.
Although the difference between the two is only a few dollars, you can usually expect to pay a bit more for orange chicken than sweet-and-sour chicken.
What Are the Similarities Between Orange Chicken And Sweet-And-Sour Chicken?
Although there are a few differences between orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken that distinguish them, they also have many similarities.
Here are some similarities between orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken.
1. Type Of Meat
An obvious similarity between the two is that they both use chicken in their recipe.
Although they differ on the main area of the bird that they source the meat from, when you bite into either orange chicken or sweet-and-sour chicken, you’re eating chicken.
Both recipes use the same types of chickens, too.
Another similarity between orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken is that both recipes originated in China.
Although the recipes have differed slightly over the years and in the transition to America, they retain many of the same elements.
Orange chicken can trace its roots back to the Guangdong district in China.
During the 1800s, the Chinese were experiencing a rebellion and major unrest.
Many of them had to find new ways to make the most of their food.
One way they did this was to use leftover orange peels to make new sauces for their chicken.
They’d mix the orange peel with soy sauce, then cover their chicken with it.
Originally, the orange chicken didn’t come with breaded crust either.
The sauce simply covered the chicken meat.
Some Chinese fled the district and headed to the United States in the 1800s.
They eventually opened restaurants that became known as “Chow Chow” restaurants.
One of the recipes they served was orange chicken.
Over time, the recipe would adapt to American palettes which preferred strong flavors and rich sweetness.
They also did away with serving chicken heads and feet with their dishes.
The existence of sweet-and-sour chicken dates back to at least the 18th century although many believe it was around before then.
One of the likely areas it originated from was the Hunan province.
Like orange chicken, the recipe for sweet-and-sour chicken came through Chinese immigrants on their way to America.
Originally, the Chinese used it as a simple dipping sauce for fish and other types of meat and vegetables.
Some of the provinces would also adapt the recipe to add pineapple and other types of fruit.
Once it crossed the Chinese border, other types of sauces were mixed into it like Worcestershire sauce and honey.
As Chinese immigrants adapted the recipe to better suit American tastes, the dish rose in popularity.
Both orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken originate from China.
Without Chinese immigrants, Americans would have never discovered the delicious dishes.
Orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken are also prepared in similar ways.
Both undergo a deboning process first.
When you bite into orange chicken or sweet-and-sour chicken, you’ll notice that it doesn’t contain any bones.
That’s because the butcher or chefs will remove any bones lingering in the meat before moving on to the next step.
Both dishes also have the skin removed from the meat.
Although you may be familiar with the breading on the chicken, it isn’t the skin that’s breaded.
Chefs remove the chicken’s skin to add the breading later.
To ensure the chicken cooks fast and thoroughly, the chefs then cut each slab into bite-sized pieces.
Then they batter it and deep-fry the chicken.
Some chefs also choose to skip breading and only fry the chicken as it is.
While the chicken cooks, the chefs will work on the sauces.
Since each sauce recipe is different, it takes different amounts of time to create each sauce.
However, the process is similar again when the chicken finishes cooking.
The chef will soak the chicken in its respective sauce for a certain amount of time.
Although orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken have two distinct flavors, they’re made in almost the same way.
4. Serving Style
Besides being cooked the same way, orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken are also served the same way.
Some elements may differ, but the traditional way to serve orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken is on steamed white rice.
Both dishes tend to include fresh vegetables on the side as well.
Some chefs also prefer to cook the chicken and keep the sauces separate.
This allows the diners to dip their meat into the sauce as they see fit.
This style is closer to the traditional method of eating orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken in China.
Although most dishes serve them on rice, there are variations.
Some like to use orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken as an element of a stir fry dish.
Others like to serve it with some form of a potato side or pasta side.
When considering its traditional form of serving, however, both orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken use the same steamed white rice side with vegetables.
How To Cook Orange Chicken
If you want to save money on your takeout budget, then you may want to figure out how to make orange chicken at home.
Here’s a recipe that you can follow to make a delicious orange chicken dish.
1. Gather Your Ingredients
You’ll need a few ingredients both to cook the chicken and to make the sauce.
For the chicken, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- 3 whisked eggs
- 4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1/3 cup of flour
For the sauce, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- 1 cup of orange juice
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon of red chili flakes
- Orange zest
Once you have your ingredients, you’ll want to make life a little easier and pre-cut your chicken into bite-sized pieces.
2. Cook The Orange Sauce
You can start by making the orange sauce.
That way, if you mess it up, you haven’t wasted your chicken by cooking it beforehand.
You’ll need to begin by taking a medium-sized pot and adding the following ingredients into it:
- Orange juice
- Soy sauce
- Red chili flakes
Let these ingredients heat in the pot for three minutes.
In another bowl, a small one, you’ll need to whisk one tablespoon of cornstarch and two tablespoons of water together.
This will create a paste.
When you create a paste, pour it into the medium-sized bowl and whisk it together.
Let this cook for another five minutes.
Once the mixture starts to thicken, you can remove it from the heat and add the orange zest to it.
3. Cook Chicken
With your sauce ready to use, it’s time to prepare and cook the chicken.
You’ll want to use either a shallow dish or some form of plate to mix flour and cornstarch together.
You can also add a bit of salt for flavoring.
Then stir it together.
You’ll need another shallow dish to whisk your eggs.
Then take your chicken pieces and place them in the bowl with the eggs.
Dip each piece of chicken in the egg mixture, shake off the excess, then roll it into the flour and cornstarch mixture.
Next, you’ll need to take a heavy-bottomed pot and cover the bottom of it with cooking oil.
There should be at least two to three inches of oil on the bottom.
Place the pot on the stove on medium-high heat.
Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the oil.
You want it to reach 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can cook several pieces of chicken at the same time in the pot.
You’ll want to place each one at the bottom of the pot and let it cook for two or three minutes.
Keep them cooking until they turn a golden-brown color.
When it’s done, put the chicken on a plate covered with a paper towel.
Once all the pieces finish cooking, you’ll need to toss the chicken in the orange sauce.
You can use any remaining sauce when you’re done to drizzle over it and a cooked rice dish.
You have yourself an orange chicken dish ready to eat.
There are a few differences between orange chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken.
Most can tell the difference between the two through their flavors and colors.
That said, they have some similarities as well, like where both recipes originate from.
You can use the traditional recipe listed above to cook a delicious orange chicken meal.