Every time you sink your teeth into a juicy xiao long bao (Shanghainese dumpling), it’s easy to ignore just how sinful it really is. Xiao long bao are traditionally filled with pork, but modern variations include seafood and vegetarian fillings. At some restaurants, though, the filling is made from pork, minced crab meat and roe.

The signature soup in the dumpling is created by wrapping meat aspic together with pork filling, and placed inside the dumpling skin. Aspic is meat stock that congeals due to the natural gelatine found in meat (pork, in this case). When the dumplings are steamed, the aspic melts and becomes the ubiquitous soup.

High In Saturated Fat And Sodium
Nutrition-wise, most people assume the dish is relatively healthy. After all, it’s steamed and minimal oil is used in the preparation process. But think again, warns Chong Ai Heong, a dietitian from Singapore General Hospital. “The meat and soup filling in xiao long bao is high in fat, especially saturated fat,” she says. In fact, one xiao long bao contains as much saturated fat as a piece of fried chicken drumstick. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels and causes fatty deposits to accumulate on the insides of blood vessels. Over time, these will obstruct blood flow to the heart and possibly lead to heart attacks as well as stroke.

“Folks who enjoy eating xiao long bao should also take note of their high sodium content,” adds Chong. Each dumpling has 97mg of sodium. And given that a standard serving is five dumplings, that’s 485mg of sodium – almost 20 per cent of the recommended daily intake of 2,000mg. According to her, there isn’t much nutritional benefits to xiao long bao, save for the fact that they are steamed without oil.

Eat With Caution
While xiao long bao wouldn’t make it on a dietitian’s list of recommended foods, that doesn’t mean you should stop eating it. “Some common sense is called for. If you consume it regularly and have big portions each time, then there’s cause for concern. Otherwise, it’s all right to indulge occasionally,” says Chong. As for the ginger-vinegar dip that accompanies xiao long bao, she notes there’s some nutritional benefits to be derived. “Vinegar promotes better digestion and lowers blood sugar levels, and ginger helps boost your immune system,” she says.