The Nuts in Kung Pao Chicken: Peanuts or Cashews?


[Flickr: Spy On Pea]

Yesterday, our new nut columnist Lee Zalben wrote about Kung Pao chicken, exploring the use of nuts in this and so many other Chinese dishes. He casually mentioned the peanuts in his Kung Pao dish, which set off a mini debate. What about cashews? Or are peanuts more common? We tweeted and Facebooked the question, and the consensus seems to be with peanuts.

  • "traditionally, only peanuts are used" (@kattebelletje)
  • "Peanuts or no nuts. Never cashews." (@GarySoup)
  • "peanuts for sure, says the girl who grew up in a Chinese restaurant" (@aliciac)

Chinese cuisine mystery-solver Jenny 8. Lee directed us to this New York Times piece by Howard W. French from 2005. Apparently in south-central China, the ancestral home of the dish—where it actually goes by gong bao chicken—there are no nuts added at all. "Unlike Sichuan or American versions, the dish was indeed peanut-free," notes French. But the assumption here is that peanuts would be added. Clearly cashews sneak into plenty of versions—the fancier ones as some would argue.

"We have always used cashews in my family when we could afford them. Cashews are the fancier peanut," notes our Facebook friend Jessica. Do you have a preference? Or believe one is better?