As early as the Shang (17th century BC - 1046 BC) and Zhou (1046 - 256 BC) dynasties in what today are Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, there was a kind of “grand preceptor cookie” thick at the center and thin at the edge, which was the “first ancestor” of the moon cake. In the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), sesame and walnuts were introduced into China, and round cookies filled with these ingredients appeared. In the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), the name “moon cake” was used for the first time and gradually became well-known nationwide. It was not until the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD) that the custom of eating these cookies during the Mid-Autumn Festival formed. It was also during this period that the cookie makers printed the famous story “Chang E’s Flying to the Moon” on the moon cake, which made the cookie much more popular among common people and gradually a must for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Types and Features
Traditionally, moon cakes are divided into four types: Guangdong-style, Suzhou-style, Beijing-style and Yunnan-style, and the fillings are usually five kernels, lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, jujube paste, and egg yolk. Nowadays, more and more ingredients are used in making moon cakes and they are classified into various types based on places of origin, flavors, fillings, crust and shapes. Here below are some of the most popular ones.
Beijing-Style: Claiming origin from Beijing, Tianjin and surrounding areas, it is representative of northern moon cakes. One of the main features is the great balance between crust and fillings; makers use lots of sesame oil. It tastes crispy outside, soft inside and not too sweet as a whole.
Suzhou-Style: Having its beginning in Suzhou area, its highlight is the soft crust. It tastes sweeter than other types.
Guangzhou-Style: Originated from Guangzhou, the main features are a thin crust and rich fillings. The fillings are mostly local products like coconut shreds, olive seeds, orange cakes, Guangzhou-style sausage and roasted pork, salted eggs and sweetened fat meat, etc.
Yunnan-Style: Originated and popular in the Yunnan and Guizhou area, the main feature is Yunnan-style sausage in the fillings. Its crust is loose and soft and the fillings are neither too salty nor too sweet.
Huizhou-Style: Huizhou here refers to modern-day Huangshan City and Jixi County in Anhui Province, and Wuyuan County in Jiangxi Province. This style of cookie is small, delicate and white as polished jade. The crust is made from wheat flour and vegetable oil, and the fillings consist of edible wild vegetables, fresh lard, sugar, etc.
Quzhou-Style: It is a local product of Quzhou city in Zhejiang Province. One of its main ingredients is sesame, so it is also called “Quzhou Sesame Cookie”.
Chaozhou-Style: Originally a local product of Chaozhou city in Guangdong province, it has a thin crust with a spiral-shaped pattern and tastes delicious and soft. Lard is one of its major ingredients.
Bamboo Charcoal Moon Cakes: This is a kind of new-style cake in recent years. As indicated by its name, edible bamboo charcoal is used during the cooking process, usually in the crust. So they are generally black. This kind of cookie is low-sugar, low-fat, low calorie and non-greasy. They also help clear away poison and fat, relieve constipation and supply minerals.
In addition, there are many other types of moon cakes such as Taiwan-style and Hong Kong-style. Also, more types have been created in recent years, such as sugar-free, ice cream, tea, fruit, vegetable, vegetarian, flower, coarse cereals and edible fungi moon cakes for the needs of different people.
Moon cakes are usually oily, so a cup of tea is a perfect "mate”. Generally, oolong is the best choice for salty ones and flower tea for sweet ones.
Although these cookies are delicious and bring nutrition to the human body, some people , such as diabetics, over-weight people, kids and seniors, should not eat too many or avoid them completely. They are high-calorie food containing not only much oil, but also sugar or salt.
1. Shape: The surface and side of a good moon cake are slightly convex. The pattern is clear; the fillings have not leaked and there are no air bubbles.
2. Color: Choose those with a glossy and golden-yellow surface and ivory yellow sides. Avoid those with black burnt circle at the bottom.
3. Feel: Good cakes are soft rather than hard.
4. Aroma: It should be delicious with no bad odor.
5. If possible, buy from large supermarkets or stores and choose the well-known brands.
1. Keep in a cool, dry, ventilated place and avoid storage in direct sunlight or near sources of heat. Moon cakes contain rich oil and sugar, so both heat and humidity can cause them to go bad.
2. Store them in a separate place so they don't pick up odors from other foods.
3. Handle gently. Some types of the cookies, such as Yunnan-style, have soft, loose crusts. Any mishandling may break them.
4. Generally, five kernel moon cakes can be kept for about 15 days at a temperature below 25℃ and those filled with sweet bean paste, lotus seed paste and jujube paste less than 10 days; if the temperature is higher than 30℃, the storage period should be no longer than 7 days; for fillings of fresh meat, chicken shreds and ham, one should buy them just before eating.
Further Reading: More Chinese Festival Food