hunan vs szechuan

Hunan vs Szechuan – What Are The Differences?

Have you been to a Chinese restaurant and wanted to order everything? That can be the case when you see Hunan and Szechuan chicken or beef on the menu. It is time you figure out what each of these dishes is and how they differ. 

Let’s dive into the world of szechuan vs hunan chicken, take a look! 

What Is Hunan?

hunan chicken

Hunan is an authentic Chinese cuisine from the Hunan region. This region traditionally uses chili peppers and the use of sour ingredients. This dish is considered a stir-fry that is both hot and sour and contains various ingredients.

The meat in this meal is first coated with cornstarch and then pan-seared until it browns. After the meat is ready, the vegetables are added, which include shallots, and scallions. Other ingredients are shredded ginger, red chili peppers, chicken broth, soy sauce, wine vinegar, sugar, and sherry.  

Hunan cuisine is also called Xiang, and it comprises foods from the Xiang River, Dongting Lake, and Western Hunan regions. Every dish is different, but they are all tied together by a spice mix called “Mala.” While Hunan chicken is the most common dish, Hunan sauce can be added to any meat or protein, and it is what makes this dish unique. 

Nutrition Facts

One cup (217 g) of Hunan beef has the following nutritional content (*): 

  • 228 calories
  • 171 g water 
  • 15.4 g protein
  • 11.5 g fat
  • 15.8 g carbohydrate
  • 3.26 g fiber 
  • 5.23 g sugar
  • 47.7 mg calcium 
  • 2.41 mg iron 
  • 888 mg sodium 
  • 25.2 mg vitamin C
  • 137 µg vitamin A 

Which Hunan Dish Is Better?

Hunan cuisine is extremely rich in flavors and spices. The distinctive characteristics of Hunan cuisine are that the food is spicy, there is sauteing, stir-frying, steaming, and even smoking. The main ingredients in Hunan dishes are chili peppers, making these dishes much hotter than other Chinese ones. 

Many Hunan dishes contain crunchy vegetables that are sauteed in vegetable oil, which makes them healthier than other preparations. Most meats are accompanied by vegetables and served over steamed rice or rice noodles. In some cases, honey may be added as well to numb the hotness a bit.  

When it comes to picking the best dish, it depends on your taste. Some people prefer Hunan chicken because it is safe and very tasty. Others will choose Hunan beef because it can help numb the spice a little.  

Other Hunan dishes worth noting include pork tripe soup, steamed fish, shredded pork, steamed ribs with chili peppers, and braised eel with cucumbers. The flavors are somewhat different, but the base of the dishes remains the same. You will find yourself drinking lots of water, but the meal will be unforgettable. 

If you are still not sure what to order, go with the traditional Hunan chicken or beef first. This dish is considered an introduction to Xiang cuisine and will be relatively healthy to try. You can then adventure into some of the more complex flavors. 

Keep in mind, though, that given the nature of the ingredients in the sauce, Hunan recipes are high in sodium. They can also be high in fat depending on the dish you choose and how it is prepared. You may want to try it at home using low-sodium alternatives, and less oil.  

What Is Szechuan?

szechuan chicken

Also spelled Szechwan or Sichuan, this type of cuisine comes from the Sichuan province of southwest China. 

While Szechuan chicken is the most famous dish, there are many others, all with a distinct flavor characterized by the use of Sichuan peppercorn. The flavors and aroma may also be citrus-like, and there is a tongue-numbing sensation. 

The ingredients for Szechuan meals include Worchester sauce, dry sherry, soy sauce, egg whites, cornstarch, brown sugar, chili paste, and sesame oil. Some vegetables are added such as garlic, red bell peppers, chopped green onions, carrots, cayenne pepper, and red chili. 

For meat, most dishes use chicken, beef, or pork, or another source of protein. The battered meat is usually fried, and the rest of the ingredients are combined with the sauce. 

The center of Szechuan cooking is the Szechuan pepper, which unlike others is lower on the heat scale. Because it contains peppercorn, it gives a tingling sensation that numbs the heat away. Mashed garlic is often also included in large quantities combined with soy sauce and chili bean paste. 

Nutrition Facts

One serving size (200 g) of Szechuan beef has the following nutritional content (*): 

  • 272 calories
  • 8.58 g protein
  • 7.14 g fat
  • 41.4 g carbohydrate
  • 2.8 g fiber 
  • 24.2 g sugar
  • 18 mg calcium 
  • 10.2 mg magnesium 
  • 0.52 mg iron 
  • 514 mg sodium 
  • 1.8 mg vitamin C
  • 286 IU vitamin A 

Which Szechuan Dish Is Better?

As with Hunan cuisine, Szechuan dishes are varied, but the most common in Chinese restaurants across the world is Szechuan beef or chicken. The main star of this dish is a five-spice mix that contains fennel, pepper, aniseed, cinnamon, and clove, chili, and Sichuan pepper. Other ingredients are broad bean chili paste, shallots, ginger, and garlic.

When it comes to meat or protein, Szechuan dishes contain pork, chicken, beef, fish, or tofu. The main cooking methods for this cuisine include stir-frying, steaming, braising, baking, and fast-frying. Vegetables include soybean sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms, broccoli, and more. 

Some traditional Szechuan dishes include steamed pork, mapo tofu, dan dan noodles, kung pao chicken, boiled fish, sesame oil chicken, and cuttlefish. While the flavors may vary, these dishes are all based on the use of Szechuan pepper. The five-spice mix is also present in most of the recipes in this cuisine. 

You may be better off starting with a traditional Szechuan stir-fry meal, such as vegetables, pork, chicken, or beef. You can then work up the courage to order something different, like Szechuan hot pot, Fuqi Fei Pian (lung slices), or stir-fried green beans. Most of these dishes will be available at a traditional Chinese restaurant. 

Keep in mind that fast-food chains may have bastardized some of these dishes, like the traditional stir-fry or kung pao chicken, but the meal is not supposed to be oily and dense. If you want to save calories, you may want to prepare them yourself. While some of the recipes are higher in fat and sodium, they are for the most part

As with Hunan cuisine, Szechuan meals can be high in sodium, fat, and sugar. Most of the added salt comes from things, like soy sauce, so choose a low-sodium variety if possible. In some cases, people add sugar to increase flavor, but you can skip it when cooking at home. 

Hunan Chicken vs Szechuan Chicken

The main difference between these two types of cuisines is the ingredients they contain. Unlike what people believe, pork is the preferred meat in the Hunan kitchen, as are fresh chili peppers, and crunchy vegetables. On the other hand, Szechuan cuisine uses Szechuan pepper as the main ingredient, and beef is often preferred with pork after. 

Another difference between these two styles of cooking is the region where they come from. As the name suggests, Hunan cuisine comes from the Xiang River, Dongting Lake, and the western Hunan province of China. Szechuan cuisine comes from the southwestern regions of China known as Sichuan or Szechuan province. 

In Hunan meals, the crunch factor comes from tons of vegetables that are sauteed. In Szechuan meals, the crunch can be due to peanuts, cashews, or sesame seeds added. You will see fewer vegetables in traditional Szechuan dishes.

The way that recipes are prepared also varies in these two cuisines. In Hunan cuisine, the methods of cooking include stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising, and smoking. In the Szechuan kitchen, most dishes are prepared either by stir-frying, steaming, or braising. 

Both cuisines like to use preserved foods in their dishes. However, Hunan cuisine uses smoked and cured foods as part of the recipes. Szechuan uses pickled, dried, and salted foods in their dishes instead. 

Main DifferencesHunanSzechuan
Origin Xiang River, Dongting Lake, and Western Hunan regions of ChinaSichuan or Szechuan province in southwest China
Aroma Hot, aromatic, and citrusCitrus, slightly sweet
ColorOrange, light redBrown, orange sauce
Protein Choice  Pork, chicken, beef, or tofuBeef, pork, chicken, or tofu 
Taste Tart and spicy flavorSlightly pungent, acidic, and aromatic
How To CookCover your protein of choice in cornstarch and pan-fry it until brown. Cook the rest of the vegetables with the sauce. Cover your protein of choice in cornstarch and stir-fry it. Add the sauce and vegetables slowly and in intervals. 
Cook TimeCooking time: 30-40 minutesCooking time: 30-40 minutes 
Calories per 100 gram serving105 calories136 calories

Is Hunan or Szechuan Better?

While both these types of cuisines are Chinese, the flavors and ingredients do vary. For those that want to experience intense heat and eat traditional foods, Hunan cuisine may be better. The Szechuan kitchen offers a bit of a milder spice level and is a more common style of cooking. 

Both cuisines offer a similar amount of fat, protein, carbohydrate, sugar, and sodium. You should prepare the dish at home and use less sugar and sodium to make the dish healthier. 

Be careful when you order either Hunan or Szechuan dishes at a restaurant, as they can contain a lot of sodium. 

Start by trying either Hunan or Szechuan beef, pork, or chicken to see if the flavors are of your liking. You might end up liking one over the other, and that is probably the best one for the future. Once you know, you can begin ordering more adventurous dishes from either cuisine. 

Choose either Hunan or Szechuan cuisine recipes based on your taste. For those that like spicy food, Hunan recipes are for you! If you like a milder and more rich flavor, Szechuan dishes are the right choice.


Never look at a menu in confusion again when you go to a Chinese restaurant. You can now pick either a Hunan or Szechuan dish based on these differences. Enjoy your favorite Chinese recipes knowing exactly what they contain and how to make them at home!

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*image by bhofack2&ezumeimages/depositphotos

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