Brown rice, chicken zongzi

I have been making traditional zongzi for many years, especially close to the dragon boat festival.  However, being prediabetic, I recently decided to develop a healthier zongzi substituting the white sticky rice for sweet brown rice and the big chunks of pork for big chunks of chicken.  I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome and decided to share this healthier version just in time for the dragon boat festival. This brown sticky rice with chicken in bamboo leaves (zongzi 粽子) has the same great taste but is healthier with more texture and a lower glycemic index from the brown rice!

Brown rice vs white rice

According to healthline, brown rice is generally more nutritious than white rice.  Brown rice is a whole grain that is less refined, keeping the  fribrous bran and the nutritious germ which is normally removed to create white rice.  As a result, brown rice has more fiber and more vitamins than white rice.

Because brown rice is considered a whole grain that is high it magnesium, it is said to help control blood sugar levels.  Brown rice also has a much lower glycemic index (GI) of 50 compared to white rice's GI of 89.  This means that white rice increases the blood sugar levels much faster than brown.  The carbohydrates in brown rice is SLIGHTLY lower than white rice, but not much to write home about.  However, the overall nutrition of brown rice is higher than white rice and in my opinion, worth the substitution.

Tips for making brown sticky rice with chicken in bamboo leaves (zongzi or joong).

The number of zongzi being made determines the amount of rice and fixins needed. Each zongzi has the following ingredients:

  • 2 leaves 
  • 2/3 cup brown sticky rice and mung bean mixture
  • 1/4 - 1/3 stick of Chinese sausage
  • 1 piece of marinated chicken thigh
  • 1/2 rehydrated shitake mushroom
  • ~ 3 rehydrated medium-size dried shrimp
  • 1/2 salted duck egg yolk
  • peanuts (optional)

Bamboo leaves.

Purchase dried bamboo leaves from any Asian grocery store. They need to be cleaned and soaked overnight so that they become supple and more pliable.  Leaves that have small splits can still be used if positioned correctly.  However, the leaves are so cheap that an additional leaf can be used.  See video on wrapping.

Dried bamboo leaves

Dried bamboo leaves

In the video, I use 2 leaves per zongzi and soak a few extra to replace blemished leaves. If you have a few leaves left over, line the pot with the blemished leaves for extra bamboo flavor!

Ingredients for zongzi

Ingredients for zongzi


Use brown sweet rice so that the zongzi becomes uniform and sticky.  It must be "sweet" rice so that the rice will stick together. To make fairly uniform sized zongzi, I like to use 2/3 cups of the rice-mung bean mixture.  I actually scoop out the rice mixture with a 2/3 measuring cup when making each zongzi!

sweet brown rice

Sweet brown rice is different from brown rice. Look for "sweet" rice.

Rice, mung bean ratio.

I don't like the mung bean overpowering the zongzi so this is the rice, mung bean ratio I use. 3 zongzi requires a little less than 1 cup of brown sweet rice and for every cup of rice needed, I add 1/4 cup of peeled mung beans.

For those who are mathematically inclined-

Divide the (number of zongzi required) by 3 = Number of cups of rice needed and number of cups of water needed for soaking.

Divide the (number of cups of rice needed) by 4 = Number of cups of mung beans needed.

The amount of rice and mung beans needed doesn't quite add up to 2/3 cups per zongzi because the mixture does expand during soaking!

split mung beans

Split and peeled mung beans.

Rinse the rice and mung bean prior to adding the salt and water. I like to hydrate the rice with salt.  I add 1 teaspoon of salt for every cup of rice in the water.  Add the required amount of water for soaking.  

Combine the rice, mung beans, salt and water together with the rice for four hours. Unlike with the traditional white glutintous rice zongzi, brown rice requires a longer time to hydrate as a result of the bran and germ that surrounds the rice. 

Drain the water from the rice through a sieve before wrapping.  Do not soak the rice for longer than four hours, because if the raw rice is completely hydrated, the zongzi will not expand and be turgid when cooked. Four hours allows the rice to partially hydrate and expand. The rest of the expansion occurs during the cooking process.  If the rice is not partially hydrated before cooking, it will expand too much during boiling, causing the bamboo leaves to split and burst open.

Uncooked zongzi

Uncooked zongzi

Cooked zongzi

Cooked zongzi


Traditionally, peanuts, dried shrimp, dried shitake, Chinese sausage, salted pork belly and salted duck egg yolk for savory zongzi are used.  I like large prizes of tasty morsels.  


You can add raw, peeled peanuts if you like. 

Dried shrimp.

Rehydrate medium sized dried shrimp. I use about 3 per zongzi.

Dried shitake mushrooms.

For added flavor and umami, rehydrate dried shitake mushrooms in a water and soy sauce mixture.

Chinese sausage.

The size of the fixins is the most rewarding part of making your own zongzi.  Each zongzi gets a quarter to a third stick of Chinese sausage, depending on how generous you want to be!

Chinese sausage

Salted duck eggs.

You can purchase salted duck eggs that are cooked and come whole in the shell. These are a lot of work!  Trust me.  It is worth every penny to purchast the salted duck egg yolks that come de-shelled and without the egg white.  They come twelve yolks to a pack which when cut in half, would be sufficient to make 24 zongzis. If you use whole duck eggs, putting the egg whites in the zongzi results in a rubbery, tough texture! Salted duck eggs can be found in the refrigerated section of Chinese grocery stores.  If you cannot find them, you can always omit them.  My daughters do not like them because they have a pasty, dry mouthfeel.  I on the otherhand, love them!

salted duck eggs

Salted duck eggs come already peeled with the whites removed. Worth every penny if using it for zongzi!

whole salted duck eggs

Whole, salted duck eggs. These require peeling and removing the egg white. This is an option if the peeled salted eggs are unavailable.


Salt is added when soaking the rice.  Both salt and chicken bouillon powder is added when boiling the zongzi.

Marinated chicken chunks.

Chicken thighs have a little more fat and is better to use than chicken breasts. Cut the chicken into one and a half inch cubes.  Marinate it overnight with the Basic Chinese meat marinade.

String or twine.

Use 100% natural cotton string.  The dye in colored string may come out in the water so don't use it.  Do not use nylon string as it is difficult to work with.

100% cotton string

Boiling the Chinese sticky rice in bamboo leaves.

The zongzi has to cook for about 3 1/2 to 4 hours to get the rice sticky.  Arrange the wrapped zongzi in the pot in a way to minimize the amount of space between the zongzi.  This prevents the zongzi from floating and rice from escaping during the boiling process. The rice will expand so do not tightly stuff the pot!  Constantly monitor the water levels of the cooking zongzi. Continue to replenish the water with BOILING water to just above the the tops of the zongzi to maximize and not dilute the flavor of the water solution as well as prevent the zongzi from unravelling by keeping it from moving and floating.

Boil zongzi in a salt, chicken stock solution

Boil zongzi in a salt, chicken stock solution. Keep the water solution level barely above the top layer of the zhongzi.

Saving extra zongzi.

I freeze extra zongzi in freezer bags and simply microwave them in a covered container when needed.

I would love to know how your zongzi turned out after watching my step-by-step Chinese sticky rice in bamboo leaves wrapping video.  Please let my know in the comment section.  Enjoy!

Closeup of brown sweet rice zongzi

Closeup of brown sweet rice with chicken zongzi

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