The Best Sweet and Sour Chicken Meatballs πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³

Recipe Story
Origins of the sauce

Sweet and sour sauce, integral to dishes like sweet and sour chicken meatballs, has its origins in Chinese cuisine, specifically in the Guangdong province. It’s believed to have originated thousands of years ago during the Qing Dynasty.
The sauce typically combines sweet and tangy flavours, by mixing sugar or honey with vinegar, along with other ingredients such as soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sometimes pineapple sauce.
It was used as a dipping sauce or a glaze for various dishes, including meat, poultry, and fish. It did not have the vibrant orange hue that is commonly associated with this popular sauce today.
This traditional sweet and sour sauce has a more subdued colour, often leaning towards brown or amber tones. This is due to the ingredients used, such as soy sauce, vinegar, and caramelized sugar, which contributed to a darker appearance.

Sweet and sour chicken pieces covered in traditional sauce
Sweet and sour chicken with the traditional sauce
The dish

Over time, the sweet and sour sauce became popular in the West, particularly in the United States, where it ended up as a staple menu item in Chinese-American restaurants. Variations included ingredients like ketchup or food colouring, resulting in the brighter orange colour that is prevalent in many modern versions of sweet and sour dishes that we all enjoy today. Adaptations were made to suit local tastes and ingredient availability. Pineapple, bell peppers, and carrots were added to create a more colourful and flavourful dish that appealed to Western palates.

Even more popular sweet and sour pork, known as “Gu Lo Yuk”, is a timeless favourite in Chinese cooking, particularly in Cantonese cuisine. This dish consists of small pork (or chicken) pieces that are battered and deep-fried until crispy, then coated in a delicious sweet and sour sauce. The sauce is made from a combination of vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and other seasonings and gives this dish its signature tangy sweet flavour profile.

You can serve crispy battered chicken pieces on their own, with the sweet and sour sauce served separately for dipping. This way is more traditional and simple, with no added vegetables.
Alternatively, you can coat the chicken pieces in the sauce and serve them over a bed of rice or noodles for a fulfilling meal.

Crispy battered chicken pieces served with sweet and sour sauce
Chicken in a crispy batter served with a simple sweet and sour dipping sauce.

For a hearty dish, cook vegetables with the sauce and add fried meat to the sauce before serving alongside rice or noodles.

Chicken pieces cooking in a sauce with pineapple and peppers
The most popular sweet and sour chicken, prepared with peppers, carrots and pineapple
Chicken pieces cooking with peppers, carrots and pineapple in a thin sauce
Sweet and sour chicken in thin sauce
Personal Reflection

The sweet and sour chicken has a special place in my heart because it marked my first Chinese takeaway experience when I moved to London years ago. It holds a cherished spot in Chinese cuisine, beloved by many. I remember getting it from Chopstix, a popular eatery in Camden Town, now closed down. Every Saturday, before heading out to the clubs, I’d treat myself to this delicious dish. There were two meat options, chicken and pork, both equally satisfying. Since that first taste, I’ve recreated sweet and sour chicken countless times at home, keeping the memories alive.

This recipe is a slightly different version, more elegant and perfect for special occasions.
Instead of chicken pieces, I prepared chicken meatballs with an oriental twist, not the usual Italian-style meatballs. These are delicious!
If you’ve got minced chicken ready to go, great! If not, no worries – just buy some mixed chicken meat and blitz it in a blender.
Making meatballs takes a bit more time, but they look yummy and fancy. Plus, because we mix in different ingredients with the minced chicken, they taste amazing too.

sweet and sour chicken meatballs served in a blue chinese bowl
Close up of sweet and sour chicken meatballs cooked with chunks of pineapple and green peppers
Ingredients & Substitutes
  • chicken – For richer flavours, choose a mix of chicken breast and leg meat. Alternatively, consider using turkey or pork mince as a substitute.
  • onions – Use a yellow or brown variety of onions, steering clear of the red ones for this recipe. Chop them into large pieces.
  • peppers – Add a burst of colour and crunch with vibrant bell peppers. Choose a variety of colours such as red, green, and yellow to enhance the visual appeal of your dish.
  • pineapple – Sweet and juicy pineapple chunks add a tropical twist to the dish. Pineapple not only offers natural sweetness but also a hint of tanginess. Both fresh and canned pineapple chunks are good.
  • carrots – Carrots add a vibrant orange hue to the dish and provide a satisfying crunch. Slice them thinly to ensure quick and even cooking.
  • ginger – Use ginger paste. If you can’t get it, buy fresh ginger and chop it before adding to the blender. Avoid using powdered ginger, as it is not as good as fresh or in paste form
  • oil – Use peanut or sesame oil. For frying, use peanut oil, and to add flavour to meatballs, use sesame oil. If you can’t find either, simply use sunflower oil, but I strongly suggest peanut for a specific oriental flavour to the dish.

Sauce ingredients

  • vinegar – Choose a good quality white vinegar, it provides the tangy acidity that balances the sweetness of the sauce.
  • sugar – Opt for brown sugar instead of white for a richer flavour profile. The molasses in brown sugar adds depth and complexity to the sauce.
  • ketchup – Use your favourite brand of ketchup for this recipe, but avoid special flavours (BBQ, tex-mex, hot chilli etc). It adds sweetness and a hint of tomato flavour to the sauce.
  • soy sauce – Select a high-quality soy sauce, preferably low-sodium or reduced-sodium, to control the saltiness of the sauce. Soy sauce adds savoury umami notes to balance the sweetness.
  • cornflour (cornstarch) – acts as a thickening agent in the sauce, giving it a smooth and glossy texture. It helps to achieve the desired consistency of the sauce.

Vegetarian option – This dish is just as tasty without meat. In addition to peppers and carrots, add as many vegetables as possible, using whatever you have in your fridge. Simply slice them thinly so they cook quickly, and prepare them the same way as the peppers and carrots in this recipe.

Cooking Tips
  • Chop, mince, and prepare all your ingredients before cooking. Have all your ingredients within reach before you start cooking to avoid last-minute rushes or interruptions.
  • When combining the minced chicken with other ingredients, avoid overmixing as it can result in tough meatballs.
  • Before forming all the meatballs, fry a small portion of the mixture to taste for seasoning. Adjust the salt, pepper, and any other seasonings accordingly.
  • Try to make your meatballs uniform in size so they cook evenly. Use a spoon or your hands to measure out the mixture for each meatball.
  • A non-stick pan works best for frying meatballs as it prevents them from sticking and ensures they brown evenly.
  • Avoid overcrowding the pan, which can cause the meatballs to steam instead of brown. Cook them in batches if necessary, giving each meatball enough space to cook properly.
  • Chinese cuisine is known for cooking vegetables extremely briefly so that they remain crispy and retain a large portion of nutrients, which greatly differs from our cooking where vegetables are often overcooked and lose almost all nutritional value.
  • Pay attention to the consistency of the sweet and sour sauce. It should be thick enough to coat the meatballs.
Presentation & Serving
Chicken meatballs with sweet and sour simple dipping sauce
Crispy chicken meatballs served with sweet and sour sauce and decorated with chilli flakes and chopped spring onion

Serve these meatballs over a bed of plain or egg-fried rice or plain or stir-fried noodles for a complete meal.

For visual appeal, flavour and texture garnish with chopped green onions, coriander leaves, or thinly sliced red chillies.

To complement the sweet and tangy flavours of the meatballs, consider serving them alongside refreshing beverages such as iced tea, lemonade, or a fruity cocktail.

Recipe Card

The best Sweet and Sour Chicken Meatballs

Delicious chicken meatballs infused with aromatic spices, cooked in a tangy-sweet sauce together with onion, green pepper, pineapple, and carrot for a satisfyingly tasty Chinese meal.
Servings 4 people
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes



  • 450 g boneless chicken - breast and leg mix
  • 2 tbsp spring onion
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/3 tsp white pepper


  • 12 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • 7 tbsp ketchup
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)


  • 1 onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 3 slices pineapple - fresh or canned
  • 1/2 carrot
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • A few tablespoons of cooking oil



  • Combine the meat with all the other ingredients for the meatballs in a blender and blend until it forms a sort of paste, but be careful not to overblend; you don't want it too smooth. It's best to blend it just until everything is mixed well and the texture is uniform, but still slightly coarse.
    Blended chicken meat in a blender ready to prepare meatballs
  • Shape small meatballs, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour before frying.
    Perfectly shaped small chicken meatballs ready to fry and prepare for sweet and sour sauce
  • Dust with flour before frying. Heat the oil and fry the meatballs in batches. Fry for 3-4 minutes until golden in colour.
  • Place fried meatballs on a paper towel and cover.
    Perfectly fried golden chicken meatballs on a black plate resting


  • Cut onion into larger pieces, peppers into squares, the carrot into thin sticks or slices, and the pineapple into small pieces.
  • In a small saucepan, add rice vinegar and sugar, heat while stirring until the sugar dissolves. Then add soy sauce and ketchup, mix well, it shouldn't boil. Remove from heat after 1-2 minutes.
  • In a wok or deep frying pan, add oil and heat. When hot, add onions, peppers, and carrot pieces and fry while stirring for no more than 4-5 minutes. Add 50-100ml water.
  • In the last minute, add pineapple pieces and fry for a minute or two.
    Add the sweet and sour sauce and cornflour and mix. Add more water if necessary.
  • Finally, add the meatballs and mix everything carefully. Allow to simmer for another minute or two. Remove from heat.
    If the sauce is too thick, dilute by adding 1/2 glass of water. Be careful, the sauce mustnt be too thin. If you added too much water,just let it simmer for a few minutes until extra liquid evaporates.


  • Wash the rice and cook it in salted water until al dente. It should not be overcooked. Drain and chill for at least 30 minutes,
  • Fry spring onions and chopped garlic in 1-2 tbsps of peanut oil for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add well-drained rice and fry for another minute.
  • Serve hot with sweet and sour chicken meatballs


The provided calorie estimates are approximate and based on typical values for similar ingredients. Actual calorie content may vary depending on factors such as the specific brands of ingredients used and variations in preparation methods.
Each portion of the dish contains approximately 320 calories, based on a serving size of one-fourth of the total recipe. The entire dish serves four and has a total estimated calorie count of approximately 1,280 calories.
Calories: 320kcal
Course: dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: Chinese
Diet: Low Fat

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