How to make healthy bao buns at home

Bao buns

Ever heard of a bao bun, or wondered what one is? Mélanie delves into its origins, tries to make them and explores different delicious fillings.

What is a bao bun?

A bao bun, also known as a steamed bun or baozi, is a type of Chinese bread that is kneaded, left to rise and steamed, then filled with ingredients. You can either form them into small balls and stuff them, or, as has become more popular in the UK, make a folded bao bun. I tried the folded version.

The filling for a bao bun can vary widely, a bit like a sandwich, wrap or even sushi, but typically includes savoury ingredients such as pork, chicken, beef, vegetables or mushrooms, seasoned with soy sauce, hoisin sauce or other flavourful sauces or condiments.

As we at World Cancer Research Fund recommend not eating too much red meat, such as pork and beef, below are some alternative fillings.

Make your own bao buns

Bao bun steamer on the hob

I tried making bao buns at home – it’s not dissimilar to making bread or pizza dough. Mine did not puff up as much as I would have liked but they tasted great and my 2 young children enjoyed them and found them easy to eat.

To make your own bao bun dough why not try this BBC Good Food recipe by Jeremy Pang? You could switch the white flour for wholewheat as it’s higher in fibre so a healthier option.

To cook your bao buns, you’ll need a steaming basket. I used a bamboo steamer that goes on top of a pan of boiling water. If you don’t have one of these there are several ways you can steam your bao buns. Find out more about steaming options here.

Different bao bun fillings

  • Prawns and vegetables: for a lighter option, fill bao buns with shrimp or prawns and raw vegetables such as snow peas, thinly cut carrots, red peppers and cucumber.
  • Spicy chicken satay: try adding our chicken satay with sliced spring onions and chilli flakes.
  • Tofu and water chestnuts: for a vegetarian option, tofu makes a great filling. Try our marinated tofu with garlic, ginger and hoisin – this combo really packs a punch.
  • Vegetable curry: if you have leftover curry, why not use it to fill bao buns? It’s a great option for those who like heat and spice.
  • Roasted aubergines: these are delicious, and I love them roasted whole – it keeps all the flavour inside and is simple to make! Why not try Jamie Oliver’s miso version?

Different bao bun sauces

Filled bao bun with lime garnish

A bao bun is not complete without adding a sauce to it – it brings an extra dimension to your filling.

Some of my favourites are:

  • Hoisin sauce: a classic sauce used in Asian cuisine that works well with many bao bun fillings. Shop-bought versions can be very sweet and high in salt so why not try our homemade recipe below?
  • Soy sauce (reduced salt): it can be very salty so opt for the reduced salt option. You can use it alone or mix it with other sauces to adjust the saltiness and flavour.
  • Chilli sauce: one of my favourites! There are so many options here, but I like to make my own from homegrown chillies. Slice them thinly, add thinly grated garlic and ginger, a squeeze of lime and a little oil. And voila, you have that nice little kick to add to your bao bun.
  • Ginger and spring onion sauce: I haven’t tried this one before, but it’s also known as ginger scallion sauce. It’s made from ginger, spring onions, oil and vinegar. I’m told it brings a fresh flavour that complements many bao bun fillings.

Make your own bao bun sauces

Why not try making your own sauce rather than using ready-made options which are often high in salt, sugar and saturated fat?

Here’s a simple recipe to make hoisin sauce at home:


  • 4 tablespoons reduced salt soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoon garlic paste
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chilli paste/flakes (optional)
  • A little water


  1. In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, peanut butter, honey, rice vinegar, sesame oil, garlic paste, chili paste, and black pepper until well combined.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat.
  3. Cook the sauce, stirring frequently, for 5–7 minutes, until it thickens and becomes glossy. Add water if needed.
  4. Remove from heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature before serving.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Hoisin sauce also works well as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, as a glaze for meat or in stir-fries.

So, there you have it – all you need to know to get started on making your own bao buns. Get creative and let us know if you come across some tasty healthy filling ideas like shredded jackfruit!