Whether it’s a healthy lunch or some greasy late-night chow after you’ve been burning the midnight oil, your local Chinese joint delivers on all fronts. Regardless of what led you to reach for that takeout menu, there’s a good chance you’ll be eyeing the appetizers. What’ll it be? Spring rolls or egg rolls? Here’s everything you need to know in order to settle the spring roll vs. egg roll debate once and for all. (And if you want the TL;DR, egg rolls are an American Chinese dish that have a thick wheat shell and generous cabbage filling. Spring rolls are a type of dim sum with wrappers and fillings that vary based on region.)
Spring Roll vs. Egg Roll: What’s the Difference?
What Is a Spring Roll?
There’s a good chance you’ve never pondered the definition of a spring roll—namely because you’re usually too busy sinking your teeth into it to be bothered by such matters. So what is a spring roll exactly? Let’s start on the outside and work our way to the heart of the matter.
According to Bryan (Huy) Vu of the food blog Hungry Huy, spring rolls are thought to have originated from mainland China during the Jin Dynasty, 266 to 420 CE, when they rolled seasonal spring vegetables in a pancake-like wrapper to celebrate the Spring Festival.
Now, spring rolls are a type of dim sum that are eaten all over East and Southeast Asia, and they can vary greatly depending on their region. For example, Chinese spring rolls can be baked, fried or non-fried and filled with vegetables or meat, and some are even filled with sweet red bean paste. Meanwhile, Vietnamese spring rolls (like these summer rolls) have a soft rice wrapper and are filled with fresh herbs, rice vermicelli and slivers of meat or seafood. There’s also Filipino lumpia, and the fresh popiah spring rolls eaten in Taiwan, to name a few.
Compared to egg rolls, spring rolls are typically lightly stuffed (i.e., no more than what the thin shell can accommodate) with cooked or raw veggies, like shredded cabbage and carrot. That said, there are endless spring roll varieties, including chicken, pork or shrimp.
What Is an Egg Roll?
Chewy, crispy egg rolls are another takeout menu staple, but unlike spring rolls, this appetizer originated stateside. According to Andew Coe’s Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, egg rolls were probably invented at a Chinese restaurant in New York City in the early 1930s.
The origin of the “egg” name is just as murky, since the predominant flavor of egg rolls is typically cabbage. Per a 1979 Washington Post article titled “Inside the Egg Roll,” there are two predominant theories: that the Chinese word for “egg” sounds similar to the Chinese word for “spring,” and that southern Chinese chefs added eggs to the dough when trying to make the thin noodle skin from flour and water.
Egg rolls are plenty crispy, but considerably chewier and more substantial than spring rolls. And thanks to that sturdy wheat wrapper, egg rolls can handle a heavier load. They tend to be stuffed more generously and almost always feature meat in the filling, since the shell can hold up to all those meaty juices. Another distinctive feature of egg rolls? They often feature flavor profiles you wouldn’t find in an authentic spring roll (like banana’s foster or avocado). And if you want to try your hand at home, here’s a recipe from The Woks of Life.
What’s the Difference?
The key difference between egg rolls and spring rolls is that the former is a Chinese-American invention and the latter is a vast and varied group of dim sum dishes originating in Asia. Aside from that, egg rolls are made using a wheat wrapper and spring rolls vary by region. This distinction also extends to what ends up going inside: Spring rolls are often lightly stuffed with vegetarian fare, meat or seafood, whereas egg rolls are usually a heartier bite and are most often filled with cabbage. But from our experience, neither one is likely to let you down.