There are three very similar dishes I see on Chinese restaurant menus:

  • Orange Chicken
  • Sesame Chicken
  • General Tso's Chicken

I know Orange Chicken is at least a little bit different (it's typically spicier, I can see the orange rind pieces, I can taste a difference), but with General Tso's and Sesame, it's not so clear.

Anecdotally, a while back I ordered Sesame Chicken from my local place, and when I got there they were still making it. She asked me "General Tso's?" and I said, "No, sesame" and she proceeded to just sprinkle some sesame seeds on it.

More recently, I ordered Sesame Chicken, but upon opening it at home, it had no seeds, and I assume I got General Tso's instead. I kind of feel like it had a slightly different color and flavor, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

So I guess I'm asking a few things:

  1. Is there supposed to be a difference between General Tso's and Sesame besides just adding sesame seeds on top?
  2. If yes, what is the difference?
  3. If yes, is it standard procedure to just use General Tso's and add Sesame seeds for simplicity/laziness/cost reasons?
  • 1
    i wonder if the lady doing the seed sprinkling was not the same person who cooked the dish initially, and just visually couldn't tell whether it was sesame (thus requiring the finishing seeds) or general tso's, since they are both dark, thick sauces on breaded chicken with broccoli
    – Tara
    Commented May 29, 2016 at 15:06
  • I would avoid eating at that place in the future, or, at least, would stay away from the interchangeable Sesame/General Tso's. Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 17:03
  • @AndrewMattson I've since moved, but interchangeable or not, it was quite good there and I miss it. I now have probably a half-dozen Chinese restaurants within walking distance and they're all quite mediocre, if reviews are to be believed (I still have to personally try them) :(
    – briantist
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 17:04
  • Finding a good one is tough to do. Over the years, I've almost removed the need (learned to make my own Kung Pao, which is good because I'm down to one place, from four, that makes it well - that I know of - in my town). That anecdote just set off a bunch of warning lights, for me, but if you know personally that it's good, I have no reason to doubt it. Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 17:11

4 Answers 4


These recipes aren't very standardized. Your mileage will vary greatly from one restaurant to another.

That said, generally these are three distinct dishes.

  • Orange chicken is... Orangey.
  • Sesame Chicken is typically salty with a hint of sweetness, served with sesame seeds.
  • General Tsos is typically sweeter with a little more heat and served with broccoli and carrots. The sauce is usually more red in color than the brown sauce served with sesame chicken.

I would say it is not widely accepted practice to sprinkle sesame seeds on General Tso's to create sesame chicken.


None of these are authentic Chinese dishes, so it's hard to say what is supposed to go into each one. Every restaurant is free to give their own interpretation. In truth, Chinese restaurants tend to believe quantity on the menu trumps quality. In that spirit, they will likely offer many similar-tasting things under vastly different names. (I've seen places where Szechuan Beef and Hunan Beef contain essentially ingredients.)

  • 5
    I'm under no illusion that the dishes at typical American Chinese food restaurants are traditional, but that doesn't mean there isn't a generally understood recipe or ingredient list or preparation. In fact, given the ubiquity of the menu items at these places across the country, I would think the opposite is true.
    – briantist
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 18:06
  • 4
    The dishes not being standardized in traditional chinese cuisine does not mean them not being standardized in american chinese cuisine... Commented May 30, 2016 at 13:40

In my experience sesame chicken is more sweet and generals is more spicy. I do believe them to be similar and suspect most take out places have very similar recipes for both.


In many Chinese takeout places, the three dishes you mention are essentially made from the same base, i.e. coated deep fried chicken nuggets, using the dark meat.The difference is only in the sauce and other additions. Since these are not traditional Chinese dishes, there's really no standardization, as Preston Fitzgerald noted, apart from that. You can appreciate how, in a fast-food operation, starting with a common base for multiple recipes can be cost- and time-effective. This is really why it's done here, and in fact, my favorite local Chinese takeout restaurant here in Chicago does this exact thing with the three dishes. Not fooling me, but I still like to eat the variations, nonetheless, knowing I'm not getting anything truly authentic (Check out the Wikipedia entry on General Tso's Chicken, along with the Netflix video).

Bottom line: don't sweat it.

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