The Mid-Autumn Festival, also referred to as August Moon Festival for its lunar date of August 15, celebrates the full harvest moon. Families gather for moon watching (賞月) and to enjoy quality time together.
However, moon watching is no longer the main event. Instead, moon cakes now represent the holiday. There are four traditional types of moon cake, which are rich, decadent and caloric nightmares. What’s inside a moon cake and how can you watch your weight?
Moon cake is generally round and stuffed, which are purchased as gifts rather than for personal consumption. A dough wrap is stuffed with sweet fillings of lotus seed paste or red bean paste, which encase nuts or salted egg yolks. There are four different types of dough used to wrap moon cake.
The most common moon cake is the Cantonese style, with sweet fillings wrapped in oily dough. Traditionally, the wrapping dough consists of nearly 20 percent fat from pork fat or peanut oil, along with flour, syrup, salt, baking soda and water. A 150-gram or 5.3-ounce Cantonese moon cake stuffed with a salted egg yolk and lotus seed filling (蛋黃豆沙餡廣式月餅) clocks in at 500 calories, according to a 2013 study conducted by the Taiwan Health Promotion Administration’s Ministry of Health and Welfare (HPA 台灣衛生署國民健康局). A 150-gram or 5.3-ounce Cantonese moon cake stuffed with date paste (棗泥廣式月餅) goes up to 620 calories.
Taiwanese moon cake also uses a rich dough wrap made from butter or pork fat, along with flour, syrup, milk powder, salt, eggs, malt extract, baking soda. A Taiwanese moon cake weighing 140 grams or 4.9 ounces is roughly 400 calories, according to the HPA study.
Egg yolk pastries are not technically moon cakes, but are still given during August Moon as stuffed pastries. The dough wrap is also oily, with flour, sugar, shortening, unsalted butter, water and oil. The HPA study found an egg yolk pastry weighing 60 grams or 2.1 ounces is about 280 calories.
Finally, translucent “ice skin” moon cake dough is made from powdered sugar, shortening, cold water, and fried rice powder. This newest iteration of moon cake was found to be about 180 calories for a 60-gram or 2.1-ounce moon cake.
All wrappers are high in fat and sugar, making moon cake an indulgence. For comparison, a bowl of rice is about 280 calories, making a Cantonese date-stuffed moon cake equivalent to 2.2 bowls of rice.
Moon cakes are certainly a wonderful treat. However, the HPA recommends eating lighter meals if you indulge in a moon cake. Happy August Moon!