No Refined-Sugar: Date Glutinous Rice Cake (Zhao Nian Gao – 無糖棗年糕)

I am in full swing getting ready for Chinese New Year, which is a big eating festive celebration (like Thanksgiving and Chrustmas). A nice coincidence, this year CYN’s Eve is on the same day as Superbowl 50 (setting right in our hood). Call for a double feast, don’t you think?

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Chinese New Year was my favorite childhood festival for many reasons. One of them is having a new outfit to wear, getting red envelopes stuffed with fortune money, playing with fireworks, lion dancing right in front of our house and eating lots and lots of special sweet treats and candies. My mom, aunts and grandma would be busy cleaning the house, getting rid of every spiderweb, cooking and steaming, stuffing red envelopes, mail greeting cards to family and friends with well wishes. In tradition, this is called the “many nian” (忙年), which starts on the 23rd or 24th of December on Lunar Calendar. It is symbolic of saying goodbye to the olds and bad lucks and to wish upon a new year of happiness and fortune (辞旧迎新).

Such big festival is celebrated with lots of sweets. I will be sharing some traditional and specialty sweet dishes from my hometown with you, family and friends. And to introduce the customs of Chinese New Year to Zara through goodies.

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First, “nian gao” (年糕) is a very important and must have sweet for the celebration. It is symbolic of “nian nian gao sheng” (年年高升), which translates to “getting higher year after year” in English. It implies the promise of a higher income, a higher position, the growth and height of children, advancing to a higher level of students, etc.

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Nian gao requires only 4 ingredients: sugar, glutinous rice flour, water and oil. However, my version uses 3 different types of dates as the sweetener to replace processed sugar. It adds extra fragrant and health benefit to the rice cake. Dates are rich in fiber, iron, vitamins, potassium, magnesium, and a great source of energy replenishment. 

The rice cake is chewy, sticky and fun to eat for kids because you could pull on it like gummies. It taste sweet but not thick, with a light fragrance of dates and coconut (from oil).

Let me know and leave a comment if you get a chance to try it out. Have a beautiful day! 

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Date Glutinous Rice Cake (No Processed Sugar)


Serve: 10
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes


2 1/2 cups of warm water
10 dried black dates
10 dried red dates
3 dried honey dates
1 tbsp coconut oil
3 cups glutinous rice


Fill bowl with warm water. Soak dates for an hour or till soft.


Remove dates from water. Pour water into a pot and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, pit dates. Add pitted dates to boiling water and simmer for 30 minutes with lid on. Remove dates and any crumbs through a sifter. Set aside. Add coconut oil to water (now become date juice) and stir to combine. Turn off heat.


Pour juice into flour while hot. Stir to mix with chopsticks until smooth. Set aside batter.


In a food processor, ground dates into a paste. Then add paste to batter. Stir to combine.


Pour batter in a pan coated with coconut oil and steam for 50 minutes. Let cool completely. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and serve.

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This entry was posted in Chinese, Dessert, Food & Drink, Snack, Vegan, Vegetarian and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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