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What are the differences between dumplings, potstickers, and wontons?

Updated: Mar 11

When it comes to simple and comforting food, nothing is more versatile or delicious than Chinese dumplings. In Chinese cuisine, you can find several different types of dumplings, including classic dumplings, potstickers, and wontons, each with its own unique characteristics and cooking methods. They each have their own unique significance in history, and there are many different recipes and flavors to enjoy during family gatherings or celebrations with friends.


饺子、锅贴、和馄饨有何不同?

Although dumplings, potstickers, and wontons share many similarities, understanding their unique characteristics and how to make them at home will help ensure that every recipe you try is delicious. Of course, we also provide spices and oils that can enhance flavors and create delicious dipping sauces. Here are some considerations about your unique dumpling choices in Chinese cuisine.


There are a few key differences between dumplings, potstickers, and wontons that will help you decide which dish to make and how to create the ultimate Chinese cuisine right at home. Whether you're just beginning your Chinese home cooking journey or you're an old hand, these simple definitions will make it easy to achieve the taste profiles you love and to add your personal touch to flavorful dishes.



Potstickers, dumplings, and wontons are among the most popular dim sum dishes in Cantonese or Asian restaurants worldwide. These three beloved foods are made by wrapping sweet or savory fillings in dough. Due to their similarities in appearance and filling, these three foods are often mistaken for each other. What makes them different from one another? In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences in dough, filling, and cooking methods.



Dumpling


Nearly every culture has its own version of dumplings, which involve filling wrapped in dough and then fried, boiled, or baked, but Chinese dumplings are perhaps the most iconic. Dumplings come in different shapes, sizes, and fillings. There are many variations around the world, including jiaozi in China, gyoza in Japan, mandu in Korea, and buuz in Mongolia, among others. It's easy to see why potstickers and wontons are often classified as a type of dumpling, but there are some necessary distinctions to consider.


饺子

Chinese dumplings have a history of nearly two thousand years, initially introduced by a person named Zhang Zhongjing, who is widely regarded as a healer, sometimes even referred to as a medical saint. It is said that upon returning to his village on a bitterly cold winter day, he found that an epidemic had afflicted many villagers, with frostbite particularly severe around the ears.


To combat this, he concocted a small formula of herbs, cooked lamb, and black pepper, wrapping it in dough shaped like ears. He distributed two to each villager, along with hot soup. Modern science suggests that these spices may have helped promote blood circulation to the ears, and the dish provided nutrients that boosted the villagers' immune systems. The epidemic was eradicated, and the villagers were no longer troubled by frostbite.





Over the generations, dumpling recipes have evolved and changed. They can be made with any type of meat or vegetable filling. Heating methods include boiling, steaming, and pan-frying, making them an easy and delicious dish to try at home.

In addition to being a simple and tasty dish, dumplings also carry special connotations. The fillings hold significant meaning for families, especially during the Spring Festival and the Chinese Lunar New Year, symbolizing wealth and good fortune. You may even find a gold coin tucked into a dumpling, symbolizing a year of prosperity.


Potsticker


Potstickers are essentially a type of Chinese dumpling, but with a specific pan-fried method. In North America, potstickers are a common term for Chinese dumplings. The term "potsticker" comes from the Mandarin word "guotie," meaning sticking to the pot or pan stick. They are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. They are also crescent-shaped, like typical dumplings or Chinese dumplings. Generally, potstickers are Chinese dumplings, but not all dumplings are considered potstickers because of their different cooking methods.


Similar to dumplings, potstickers can be made with many unique and delicious fillings, ranging from meats to vegetables. They also share some symbolic meaning with dumplings, blessing each bite with health, wealth, and good fortune for the new year.



What sets potstickers apart from dumplings is the use of a thin wrapper, sometimes referred to as a dumpling skin. This is because they are steam-fried to achieve a golden bottom layer and ensure that the filling is juicy and delicious.


According to legend, a chef left his dumplings in the pot for too long, causing all the water to boil off, and he found his dumplings stuck to the pot. He served these crispy dumplings to his guests—some stories say the Emperor—and thus, potstickers were born.


锅贴

Potstickers are a dish that is perfect for learning to make at home because they are very versatile. In addition to having many unique filling options, you can also create a variety of dipping sauces to accompany your potstickers.


Wonton


Wonton is a type of dumpling wrapped in wonton skin or wrapper. When boiled, the skin is smooth and more transparent. It is commonly served as fried pork dumplings or wonton noodle soup. Wonton noodle soup is a classic dish, showcasing the most obvious difference between wontons, dumplings, and potstickers. Wontons use another type of wrapping, although it is more similar in thinness and texture to potstickers than dumplings. They are rolled into balls or sometimes shaped more elaborately and specifically served in broth.


馄饨

Shrimp wontons are one of the easiest to make and most common types of wontons, but you can also choose your favorite meat or vegetarian filling to stuff your wontons. Wontons can be traced back hundreds of years and were initially served to nobility and more upper-class families, but after World War II, they became a widespread dish, soon appearing in market stalls and shops. The name "wonton" is a loose translation of the Cantonese word "cloud," a reference to the image of wontons floating in soup.


In summary, potstickers and wontons are both types of dumplings. Potstickers are steam-fried, while wontons are boiled or deep-fried. When it comes to dough ingredients, potstickers or traditional dumplings generally use wheat flour and water. In contrast, wontons use flour, egg, and water. They all share one thing in common: the filling. Depending on your taste, it can be ground pork, beef, seafood, or vegetables.

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