Bao Vs Steamed Bun: Understanding The Key Differences

Bao and steamed buns – two soft, pillowy Asian breads that look so similar, yet have distinct differences. With their doughy exterior and savory or sweet fillings, it’s easy to confuse them. If you’re wondering what sets these popular snacks apart, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s the key difference in a nutshell: Bao buns are made from yeast-leavened dough that gets folded and pleated around fillings before steaming. Steamed buns use baking powder or baking soda instead of yeast, with the dough wrapped around fillings.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about bao buns and steamed buns, from their ingredients and cooking methods to how to tell them apart by look and taste. You’ll also learn about popular regional variations of each bread and get recipes to make them at home.

Defining Bao Buns

Bao buns and steamed buns are both popular Chinese dishes, but they have distinct differences that set them apart. Let’s start by defining what exactly bao buns are.

Origins and History

The origins of bao buns can be traced back to China, where they have been a staple in Chinese cuisine for centuries. These fluffy and pillowy buns are believed to have originated in the Jiangnan region of China, specifically in Shanghai and its neighboring provinces.

Bao buns have a rich history and cultural significance in Chinese culinary traditions.


Bao buns are typically made from a combination of wheat flour, yeast, sugar, and water. The dough is then left to rise, resulting in a soft and fluffy texture. The fillings for bao buns can vary widely, ranging from savory options like pork, chicken, or vegetables to sweet fillings like red bean paste or lotus seed paste.

Cooking Method

The cooking method for bao buns involves steaming. Once the dough has risen, it is typically divided into small portions and shaped into round discs. These discs are then filled with the desired filling and sealed before being placed in a steamer basket.

The buns are then steamed until they become fluffy and cooked through.

Common Types and Fillings

There are several common types of bao buns, each with its own unique filling and flavor profile. Some popular types include:

  • Char Siu Bao: These buns are filled with juicy and flavorful barbecued pork.
  • Xiaolongbao: These soup-filled buns are known for their delicate skin and savory broth inside.
  • Mantou: These plain buns are often served as a side dish or used as a base for other dishes.

Besides these traditional options, there are also modern twists on bao buns that incorporate ingredients like seafood, tofu, or even chocolate.

Appearance and Texture

Bao buns are easily recognizable by their characteristic shape and puffy appearance. They are typically round or oval-shaped and have a slightly glossy exterior. When you bite into a bao bun, you’ll experience a soft and fluffy texture that melts in your mouth.

The combination of the fluffy bun and the flavorful filling is what makes bao buns so enjoyable to eat.

All About Steamed Buns


Steamed buns, also known as “bao” or “baozi,” have a rich history that dates back centuries. These fluffy and pillowy treats originated in China and have since become popular throughout various Asian countries.

The exact origin of steamed buns is difficult to trace, but they are believed to have been created during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) in China. Over time, steamed buns have evolved and spread to different regions, each with their own unique variations.


Steamed buns are typically made from a basic dough that consists of flour, yeast, sugar, water, and sometimes a pinch of salt. The dough is kneaded until it becomes elastic and then left to rise, allowing the yeast to ferment and create air pockets.

This fermentation process gives the buns their soft and fluffy texture. The filling options for steamed buns are endless and can include anything from savory ingredients like pork, beef, or vegetables to sweet fillings like red bean paste or custard.

Cooking Techniques

Steamed buns get their name from the cooking method used to prepare them. They are placed in a steamer basket and steamed over boiling water until they are fully cooked. This gentle cooking process ensures that the buns remain soft and moist.

The steaming time can vary depending on the size of the buns and the filling, but it usually takes around 15-20 minutes. Steamed buns can also be pan-fried after steaming to create a crispy bottom, giving them a delightful textural contrast.

Popular Varieties

There are numerous varieties of steamed buns found across different Asian cuisines. In China, some popular types include “Char Siu Bao” (barbecue pork bun), “Xiaolongbao” (soup dumpling), and “Nai Huang Bao” (custard bun).

In Japan, “Nikuman” is a popular steamed bun filled with pork, while “Anman” is filled with sweet red bean paste. In Taiwan, “Gua Bao” is a steamed bun filled with braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, and peanuts. Each variety offers a unique flavor and texture experience.

Look and Feel

Steamed buns are typically round or oval in shape, with a smooth and slightly shiny surface. They have a light and fluffy texture that melts in your mouth. When you bite into a steamed bun, you’ll be greeted with a burst of flavors from the filling, whether it’s savory or sweet.

The softness of the bun combined with the contrasting textures of the filling creates a delightful eating experience. Steamed buns are often enjoyed as a snack, appetizer, or even as a main course in some cases.

How to Distinguish Bao Buns from Steamed Buns

Leavening Agent

One of the key differences between bao buns and steamed buns lies in their leavening agents. Bao buns are typically made using yeast, which gives them a soft and fluffy texture. The yeast helps the dough to rise, resulting in a light and airy bun.

On the other hand, steamed buns are made using baking powder as a leavening agent. This gives them a denser texture compared to bao buns.

Dough Texture

The texture of the dough is another distinguishing factor. Bao buns have a slightly chewy and elastic texture, similar to that of bread. This makes them perfect for holding fillings and sauces without becoming soggy. Steamed buns, on the other hand, have a smoother and softer texture.

The dough is often more delicate, making them melt-in-your-mouth when you take a bite.

Fillings and Shapes

Both bao buns and steamed buns can be filled with a variety of delicious ingredients. However, bao buns are often filled with savory fillings such as pork belly, barbecue chicken, or vegetables. They are typically folded into a half-moon shape or formed into a round bun with pleats.

On the other hand, steamed buns can be filled with both savory and sweet fillings. They are often shaped into a round bun without pleats.

Steaming Methods

The steaming process also differs for bao buns and steamed buns. Bao buns are traditionally steamed in bamboo steamers, which helps to enhance their flavor and texture. The bamboo allows the steam to circulate evenly, resulting in perfectly steamed buns.

Steamed buns, on the other hand, can be steamed in various types of steamers, including metal steamers or electric steamers.

Understanding these key differences can help you distinguish between bao buns and steamed buns. Whether you prefer the soft and fluffy texture of bao buns or the smooth and delicate texture of steamed buns, both are delicious treats worth trying.

Regional Specialty Recipes

When it comes to regional specialty recipes, both Bao and Steamed Buns have their own unique variations that are loved by people around the world. Let’s explore some of the most popular regional specialty recipes:

Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Xiaolongbao)

One of the most famous types of Bao, Shanghai Soup Dumplings, also known as Xiaolongbao, are a must-try for any food lover. These delicate dumplings are filled with a flavorful broth and a mixture of minced pork and spices.

The magic lies in the thin, delicate skin that holds the broth inside until you take a bite. The explosion of flavors and the satisfying texture make Xiaolongbao a true culinary delight.


Originating from Taiwan, Guabao is a unique and delicious version of Bao that is loved by many. It consists of a fluffy steamed bun filled with braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, and crushed peanuts.

The combination of savory, sweet, and tangy flavors creates a mouthwatering experience that will leave you wanting more. Don’t forget to take a picture of this beautiful and tasty creation before taking a bite!

Char Siu Bao

Hailing from Cantonese cuisine, Char Siu Bao is a beloved Bao variation that has gained international recognition. These soft and fluffy steamed buns are filled with tender char siu (Chinese barbecued pork) that has been marinated in a sweet and savory sauce.

The contrast between the melt-in-your-mouth pork and the pillowy bun is simply irresistible. Whether enjoyed as a snack or part of a meal, Char Siu Bao is a crowd-pleaser.


In Japan, Nikuman is a popular street food that satisfies both locals and tourists alike. These steamed buns are usually filled with a mixture of ground pork, cabbage, and other vegetables, seasoned with soy sauce and other spices.

Nikuman is a popular choice during the colder months, as its warm and comforting nature brings a sense of coziness. It’s not uncommon to see people enjoying Nikuman while walking through the streets of Tokyo or Osaka.

So, whether you’re craving the delicate flavors of Shanghai Soup Dumplings, the unique combination of ingredients in Guabao, the sweet and savory experience of Char Siu Bao, or the comforting warmth of Nikuman, these regional specialty recipes have something for everyone.

Don’t miss out on the chance to indulge in these culinary delights from around the world!


While bao buns and steamed buns share similarities, they have distinct ingredients, textures, shapes and cultural origins that set them apart. Now that you understand the key differences, you can start whipping up these delectable Asian breads at home.

Got a craving you can’t satisfy? Try our tasty bao bun and steamed bun recipes to experience these melt-in-your-mouth breads anytime.

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