Chinese food is a very popular dish around the world. Whether you are enjoying an authentic Chinese dish, or a Chinese inspired American plate, you will notice various tastes and flavors. From sweet and savory to hot and spicy, there is a dish on the menu for every set of taste buds—even when the flavor you are craving is peanuts.
Peanuts are a common ingredient used in many ethnic cuisines, including a wide variety of Chinese foods. In this article, we will review the dishes to order if you are looking for the perfect meal with a dash of peanut—which are the same ones to steer clear of if you suffer from peanut allergies.
Chinese Meals That Contain Peanuts
Whether you are vacationing in Beijing and looking for something you can recognize at a local restaurant or cooking a family dinner right in your kitchen, these dishes are great choices. These 15 Chinese inspired recipes are made up of many common ingredients, but the main ingredient they share? Peanuts.
Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao Chicken is one of the most popular Chinese meals offered around the world. Kung pao chicken is a delicious stir fry meal combining a mixture of peanuts, chicken, and many other spices and ingredients that may vary from recipe to recipe.
Despite the variation in ingredients, Kung Pao Chicken will usually contain the following main ingredients:
- Garlic cloves
- Peanut oil
- Dried red chili pepper
- Sichuan pepper
- Roasted unsalted peanuts
- Diced chicken
For those with peanut allergies, try this homemade, peanut-free alternative. Most of the ingredients will be the same (minus the peanuts, of course), although it may not be as spicy as the original.
Kung Pao Tofu
No matter which diet you follow, there is a delicious Chinese dish for everyone. Kung Pao Tofu is a vegan-friendly alternative of Kung Pao Chicken that takes tofu to a whole new level and could fool even the non-vegan pallet into believing they are eating an authentic Chinese chicken meal.
Besides tofu, you can expect the following main ingredients in Kung Pao Tofu:
- Dried peppers
- Blanched, skinless peanuts
For a peanut-free alternative, simply ask to remove the peanuts when ordering or leave them out when creating this meal from scratch.
Kung Pao Mushroom
Another vegan-friendly dish is the Kung Pao Mushroom. If you are not familiar with the King Oyster Mushroom, this will be quite the experience for you; there is so much texture and flavor with the King Mushroom you won’t have a bland “meat alternative” meal.
Some of the main ingredients of the Kung Pao Mushroom dish include:
- King Oyster Mushroom
- Dried Chili peppers
- Red bell peppers
- Peanuts (skinned and already roasted)
Like the previously mentioned Kung Pao meals, Kung Pao Mushroom can substitute peanuts with another nut or protein.
This classic Chinese dish is a spicy combination of Chili-peppers and Sichuan pepper, offering a kick of heat but not enough to overwhelm the senses.
Gong-Bao is related to Kung Pao, but the ingredients differ, including the meat choices. Whereas Kung Pao is usually created with chicken, Gong-bao includes pork, chicken, or shrimp.
Other main ingredients found in Gong-Bao include:
- Garlic cloves
- Spring onions (white parts only)
- Sichuan pepper
- Roasted peanuts
Like Kung Pao Chicken, there is a peanut-free alternative of Gong-Bao as well. You could make a homemade recipe at home without peanuts or request no peanuts are added to your meal when ordering take out or dining in.
Shrimp Pad Thai
Although a Thai cuisine favorite, Shrimp Pad Thai is a mouth-watering combination of shrimp, dried noodles, bean sprouts, lime, and crushed peanuts offered by many Chinese restaurants. Every chef will add their own oils or spices to the dish, resulting in a meal that will always be slightly different from restaurant to restaurant.
Most Pad Thai recipes will contain peanuts, but there are a few alternatives that can be peanut-free. Just keep in mind that removing the peanuts will take away from the sauce’s flavor, so consider a replacement ingredient if you’re cooking this dish at home.
Shanghai Hot Sauce Noodles
This spicy dish combines pork and tofu with a hot kick from doubanjiang, or spicy chili sauce, and a five-spice powder. Chinese restaurants may serve this meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. However, if you choose to order this in the morning, it will usually be served with less pork, more tofu, and more broth than sauce.
Main ingredients in Shanghai Hot Sauce Noodles include:
- Cubed pork shoulder
- Raw shelled and skinned peanuts
- Dried Noodles
Unfortunately, a peanut-free version of Shanghai Hot Sauce Noodles is unavailable because it uses peanuts as the main ingredient to create its unique sauce and flavor.
This dish is a vegetarian appetizer that is a unique combination of even more unique ingredients. Most Chinese restaurants or traditional Chinese households serve this appetizer cold.
The ingredients found in Hong-Shao-Kao-Fu include:
- Dried wheat
- Dried wood-ear mushrooms
- Dried lily flower
- Raw or roasted unsalted peanuts
- Soy sauce
Because this dish has few ingredients, the peanuts are necessary for its flavor. However, you do have the option of substituting peanuts with an alternative if you’re cooking this meal from scratch.
DanDan Noodles are one of the more complicated Chinese meals to master. This dish will have you in the kitchen for quite some time, putting together many layers of ingredients and mixtures. However, once you can get the recipe down right, it is worth the effort for sure. Feel free to move around the kitchen and add other ingredients and spices to make it your own.
Some of its main ingredients include:
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Chinese Cinnamon
- Ground Pork
- Five-spice powder
- Leafy greens
- Dried Noodles
- Chopped peanuts
- Chopped scallions (optional)
The peanuts are necessary throughout this dish, so removing them will take away a significant part of the meal’s flavor.
Peanut Butter Chicken
This is a crunchy peanut butter covered chicken dinner that is found in many Chinese restaurants and buffets. If you are looking for the perfect example of a sweet and savory mixture of items, this will be a delicious choice.
Main ingredients of this meal include:
- Boneless chicken breast
- Corn flakes
- Peanut butter
Peanut butter is a crucial ingredient to this dish, so no alternative will replace it without sacrificing the taste.
Peanut Dumplings in Ginger Syrup
These delicious treats are most popular around the New Year in China, bringing everyone together around the table to enjoy the combined flavors created from the dough, filling, and syrup it rests in.
Some of the main ingredients you’ll find in peanut dumplings and ginger syrup include:
- Ground peanuts
- Peanut butter
- Rice flour
- Pandan leaves
The peanut is a primary source of flavor in this recipe; therefore, there are no alternatives. However, there are plenty of other types of Chinese dumplings, so finding another kind to enjoy is easy.
Chinese Wok Roasted Peanuts
Standard fried peanuts are a popular snack in China, sometimes used as a quick and simple side dish to meals. Depending on your preferences, you have the option to add your own ingredients and spices to personalize the flavors.
To make Chinese Wok Roasted Peanuts, you’ll need these key ingredients:
- Fresh peanuts with the skin
Naturally, you won’t be able to swap out peanuts for this light snack, but you’re welcome to experiment with a similar recipe with other types of nuts!
Coconut Peanut Mochi
We couldn’t complete this list without at least some sweet peanut inspired desserts. This coconut peanut mochi is a delicious, sweet treat for everyone to enjoy; these sticky rice ball morsels are a fantastic combination of sweet rice flour, peanuts, and coconut oil. Other ingredients include coconut milk and coconut flakes.
It’s easy to create a peanut-free version of this meal—just ditch the peanuts.
Sweet Peanut Soup
This is a popular dessert served hot or cold and can be enjoyed throughout all seasons. This dish uses the whole peanuts for a unique texture once you start to eat it.
The main ingredients in Sweet Peanut Soup include:
- Rock sugar
- Coconut milk (optional)
Peanuts are the high point of this soup, so no peanut-free alternatives are available for this dish.
Chinese Sweet Peanut Cream Dessert (Fah Sang Wu)
This dessert is a peanut-flavored dessert with a pudding-like texture. If you are looking for something sweet and velvety to enjoy after a spicy dinner meal, whether at a family gathering or just for a small snack—this is a treat you are sure to love.
Some of this dessert’s main ingredients include:
- Roasted peanuts
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Himalayan salt
- Rice flour
Fah Sang Wu’s flavor is heavy on the peanut side, so finding an alternative without peanuts can be difficult, if not impossible.
Chinese Peanut Cookies
This sugary treat is a traditional cookie commonly used to celebrate during holidays. In China, peanut cookies are served during the New Year to celebrate with family and friends.
Some of its key ingredients include:
- Roasted peanuts
- Powdered sugar
- Lard (or butter)
Like some of the other dishes mentioned above, this dessert is peanut-based, so there is not quite an alternative. You do have the option of swapping the peanuts out with a different type of nut if you’re making these cookies at home, though the flavor may dramatically change.
Why Are There Many Chinese Dishes with Peanuts?
Peanuts are delicious raw, but they can unlock various flavors when included in traditional Chinese dishes. You can also prepare peanuts by roasting, baking, or frying them in addition to covering them in sweet or savory seasonings. At the end of the day, peanuts are very versatile, and there are endless ways to prepare them with different Chinese meals.
However, being versatile is not the only reason peanuts are a frequent ingredient in Chinese food. Another reason why peanuts are prevalent in Chinese cuisine is culture-based:
- Peanuts are considered to symbolize longevity.
- In China, the peanut is believed to bring good luck in childbearing; some households will lay out peanuts to attract good luck in bringing more children into a family.
- During the Chinese New Year, families will leave out bowls of peanuts to bring peace and wealth into their home. They also cook many cakes and cookies at this time (some including peanuts) to offer to their guests when they come to celebrate.
Additionally, peanuts are an easy resource to obtain—not to mention they’re quite affordable for restaurants and households alike to purchase for food preparation.
Finally, the peanut offers a lot of healthy elements to your daily diet. Some of the nutritional value peanuts bring to a meal include:
- B vitamins
- Healthy fats
What If You Have Peanut Allergies?
Believe it or not, there is a downside to a great Chinese meal—if you have a peanut allergy, that is. Many main dishes found in Chinese food use peanuts as a flavorful ingredient. So if you have allergies to peanuts, the foods listed above are definitely ones to steer clear of.
Are Peanut Allergies Common in China?
It is believed that there is a very low rate of peanut allergies in China because of how early peanuts are introduced to children. With such an abundance of peanuts and tree nuts, cooking with them frequently is necessary.
Because nuts are used for cooking often either as a whole or as cooking oil, exposing children to them early is normal in China. Some believe this builds up an immunity over time in children, making them not allergic.
Chinese Restaurants to Avoid if You Have Peanut Allergies
Although you should use caution anywhere you go when you suffer from allergies, there are a few Chinese eateries to consider skipping if you don’t want to accidentally ruin your night with a terrible allergic reaction.
Before diving into this list of Chinese restaurants to avoid, it is important to note that these places do not have to be a no-go zone if you take proper precautions and know the right questions to ask (and the correct way to ask them). Checking that each pan is washed in-between usage, knowing how to request no peanuts or peanut products, and knowing which Chinese words to watch out for are vital to having a great eating experience.
Chinese Malatang-Style Restaurants
A malatang restaurant allows its customers to collect a basket of ingredients to include in their meals. You then take your basket of items to the counter, and the restaurant will boil them for you in different broths. These broths can be cilantro oil, chili oil, sesame sauce, and peanut oil. (Other sauces and oils may be available at different places.)
If you decide you would like to visit one of these restaurants, you can simply request no peanut in the broth. Unfortunately, you still risk the chance of cross-contamination, so ideally, you want to steer clear from Malatang-style restaurants if you can.
Chinese Hot Pot Restaurants
The Chinese hot pot is a standard pot used at every Chinese dinner party. There is a pre-made broth placed in the middle of the table. Every diner can then add any ingredient they like to the pot for cooking. Once the ingredients are cooked, you then retrieve the food and dip them in your personal chosen dipping sauce.
When attending one of these restaurants or dining events, ask for a personal pot of broth without any peanut products. This way, your dining companions can enjoy whatever they like without having to accommodate your allergy, and you will be worry-free by having control over all ingredients involved.
Local Chinese Bars
Although it may no longer be as common in America as it once was, peanuts in local bars are still a thing in China. Depending on the bar cleaning standards, peanut skins and shells may be on the floors, tables, and chairs.
With that said, try to find a Chinese bar or restaurant that does not serve peanuts at the tables or counters. After all, there is no way to honestly know how well each business sanitizes its space.
Luckily for us, there are plenty of ways we can enjoy Chinese cuisine around the world. But, if you are unable to sit in a restaurant in Hong Kong, you can always order take out from the local China buffet, or—even better—lookup an amazing peanut-based recipe and prepare the meal for yourself or your family on your own.
By making the dish yourself, you can avoid the risk of cross-contamination from peanut usage or accidentally ordering a meal with peanuts or peanut oil to avoid an allergic reaction. And if you are a peanut lover, consider ordering or creating one of the fantastic dishes mentioned in the list above!