Lye water sticky rice parcel (sweet)

These are my 102 year old grandmother’s favourite. As previously promised, here’s the sweet version of the sticky rice parcels. To be honest, I don’t really like eating these. But you might. An acquired taste, these lye flavoured (kan sui) parcels have a sweet filling; most commonly red bean paste or lotus seed paste. A snack rather than a meal, these parcels are about a third the size of the regular zongzi. The glutinous rice turns yellow from the lye water as it cooks.

Lye water zongzi with red bean filling

Lye water zongzi with red bean filling

Although it seems like a strange ingredient, lye water (aqueous sodium carbonate) is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking, particularly noodles. I think part of the reason I don’t like these sweet sticky rice parcels is because I’m not a fan of the intense alkaline flavour. If you’re not familiar with these, I suggest buying one to try from your local Chinese grocery store before deciding to make a batch. Not really selling these, am I? Trust me, many people truly like ’em! They’re fun to wrap though and as a result of my labours, I had a very happy little grandmother.

The flavour and texture of the lye water (aka kan sui) zongzi are improved if you let the parcels sit overnight (or at least 8 hours) before cooking them. It’s not a catatrophe if you boil them right away, but if you’re not in a hurry, let them marinate and develop flavour if you can.

Unlike the savoury zongzi, lye water sticky rice parcels should be wrapped relatively loose. This version needs room to expand to cook properly and produce the optimum texture. They are best eaten slightly warm or at room temperature, dipped in a small puddle of sugar or a thick, sugar syrup (or even honey).

Tied looser than savoury zongzi

Tied looser than savoury zongzi, I find it easier to achieve beautiful lye water rice parcels.

There’s a variation of lye zongzi that can be fun to try. I don’t buy them (as I’ve made it quite clear, they’re not really my bag) but my mum sometimes flavours a plain version with shu mok, a kind of stick from a particular tree. You can source shu mok from Chinese herbalists. Simply place a tiny sliver of shu mok in the middle of the lye water marinated glutinous rice. The sliver subtly flavours the parcel and the rice surrounding the tiny sliver of wood takes on a vivid magenta hue.

Shu mok

Shu mok can be sourced from a Chinese herbalist shop. It can be used to gently flavour and colour lye water zongzi.

Shu mok variation of lye zongzi

Shu mok variation of lye zongzi

Feeds: 10 people
Start cooking: About 6 hours before eating

Lye water sticky rice parcel (sweet zongzi)


  • Bamboo leaves, prepped (see previous savoury zongzi posting)
  • 240 grams x glutinous (sticky) rice
  • 2 tablespoons x vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon x lye water
  • Red bean paste/lotus seed paste, rolled into 10 x golf ball sized spheres
  • Sugar syrup or white granulated sugar to serve.
  • Kitchen string


  1. Lightly rinse the glutinous rice until the water runs clear. Drain for an hour.
  2. Mix drained rice with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and lye water. The mixture will turn faintly yellow.
  3. Twist two prepped bamboo leaves and layer a teaspoon of rice at the bottom.
  4. Nestle a ball of sweet filling in the middle and add rice until just covered.
  5. Fold over the bamboo leaves until sealed but not too firm. Lye water rice parcels need some room to expand. Tie with kitchen string.
  6. Heat up a large pot with 4 litres of water and simmer rice parcels for 4 hours.

Serve with a simple sugar syrup or if you’re lazy, just dip in some white sugar. Don’t be tempted to eat it plain; it really needs the sweetness.

Red bean filled sticky rice parcel