Lunar New Year Candy Tray guide

The Candy Tray is an important feature of the Lunar New Year – so here is our guide to the treats in store…

“Eat sweet things and think sweet thoughts to ensure a fabulous year lies ahead” is a popular Vietnamese adage that locals live by, especially during Tet.

Visit any Vietnamese home during the holiday and a colorful tray full of candies sits in the middle of the living room table. The candy tray can also be used as an offering at the altar to ancestors and deities, little snacks for children, tea confections for adults and vegan treats for those who refrain from eating meat at the year’s beginning.

These candied fruits are unique to Tet but despite its ubiquity, the mứt tết can look a little confusing between the dusty swirls, wrapped colored sticks and miniature dried fruits.

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A mứt tết tray consists of candied fruits, candied vegetables, custard candy, seeds of different varieties and candied nuts. Generally, preparation for each mứt tết candy is similar and simple. Fruits and vegetables, like coconut and ginger, are boiled, quickly preserved, and cooked with oil and sweetening agents such as pectin, sugar and honey – sometimes all three ingredients.

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Mứt can be divided into two types: wet and dry. Visit any beef jerky (khô bò) and salted plums (xí muội) stalls at any market during the holiday and you’ll see a swarm of mứt in glass jars, the wet kinds wrapped in crunchy paper and the dry kind laying bare. The two most common wet mứt are tamarind (me) and soursop (mãng cầu). The former is kept in its scrawny form, with a few rope-like fibrous strings along the fruit’s length, which is to be discarded when eating, of course. Tamarind mứt should be amber brown, chewy, and a little more sour than sweet. Tamarind is notorious for its medicinal effect, so be careful not to consume too many sticks at once. A similar chewy wet mứt is the soursop, but it’s always milkish white, doesn’t retain the fruit’s shape, and people tend to put too much sugar in the churning process.

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On the dry side you can find some 20 common kinds, spanning both fruits and non- fruits (nuts and roots): coconut, persimmon, lotus seed, tomato, sliced ginger, carrot, winter melon, apple, lemon, guava, water chestnut, etc. I’m particularly fond of the crunchy, aromatic coconut ribbons which as a kid I liked to hold in my mouth for hours to melt off all but the coconut itself; but this year I refrained from buying them to try the other kinds instead.

If you don’t want to look confused the next time you’re in a Vietnamese house, we’ve got you covered, from the candied coconut to the sugar-glazed peanuts.

Candied Veggies

Sweet Potato, Ginger, Potato

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Combining veggies with sugar sounds like an awful idea, but when boiled and cooked with sweetening agents, the end products are pretty damn good. Among the entire tray, the candied veggies offer the greatest elements of surprise. Candied sweet potatoes are sweet potatoes that are even sweeter than sweet. Candied ginger actually makes ginger look really good. And, in the case of candied potatoes, we get to witness potatoes trying real hard to become sweet potatoes.

Candied Nuts

Peanuts, Water Chestnuts

Unlike candied vegetables, candied nuts offer the least elements of surprise: they are just as good as they sound. Sugar-glazed peanuts, which taste a lot like Cracker Jack, are blocks of peanuts bonded together with sugar. Candied water chestnuts are similar to candied fruits and vegetables, except that when you bite into them, you get a softer, moister texture.

Custard Candy

Tamarind Candy, Custard Apple

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Custard tamarind candy and custard apple candy are sweet, chewy candies with a consistency similar to Gushers. Each custard candy tastes respectively close to the fruits they were made with. Unwrap a custard candy and you will notice immediately that they’re bodiless: without their wrappers, they’re so gushy they lose form. But that’s all part of the fun. Be careful, because they can be kind of sticky. But they’re oh so good.

Candied Fruits

Coconut, Flower-Shaped Candied Kumquat

Candied coconut comes in white, light green and light pink varieties and tastes like dried, sweetened coconut (surprise!). The candied kumquat, on the other hand, is simultaneously bitter and sweet, with a tart-citrusy flavor and hints of sugar from the coating. Candied kumquat is usually shaped into a flower for Tet, reflecting the traditional usage of flowers as decoration for the New Year.


Candied Lotus Seeds, Melon Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds

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It may be because seeds represent growth that they make an appearance in mứt tết. Whatever the significance though, one thing is for sure: start with one or two and you will be addicted soon enough. Both melon seeds and pumpkin seeds taste like you would expect, but candied lotus seeds, because of their texture and coats of sugar, taste more like a candied fruit or vegetable than anything else.

To even out the sweetness, take mứt tết with either black or green tea.

Chúc mừng năm mới and happy eating!

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1 thought on “Lunar New Year Candy Tray guide”

  1. Where can I buy these sweets in time for TET? We live in a college town in Maine, and have several Vietnamese students coming to celebrate their new year with us, and we want to be as authentic as possible for them. Can you help me?


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