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What Is a Dumpling? Meaning and History Behind This Delicious Food

We think about dumplings a lot over here, including the dumpling meaning and the history behind them. That’s because it’s important to know the story behind your food, especially food that’s been passed down generation to generation across many cultures.

Because dumplings have been around for so long and appear in so many different cultural cuisines, the exact details surrounding their origins are cloudy. That being said, we’ve gathered some fast facts for you on what’s generally considered to be the most widely accepted version of the dumpling’s history—including their inventor and how they became such a popular and meaningful food product in both Asia and other parts of the world.

Who Invented Dumplings?

Let’s start with who invented dumplings, since this is where the story of the dumpling begins. Most experts believe that dumplings were invented by Zhang Zhongjing, a Chinese medicine practitioner who lived in the Eastern Han Dynasty, the second imperial dynasty of China that lasted from 206 BC to 220 AD.

As legend tells it, it was a difficult winter and many were experiencing ill effects from the cold. To help people warm up, Zhongjing took mutton, herbs, and chilis and wrapped them in dough, then steamed them to bind everything together and keep them warm. These steaming, pillow-like treats helped people overcome the cold weather, while the herbs that Zhongjing put inside worked to improve blood circulation and prevent frostbite.

The History of Dumplings

While the history of dumplings is often accepted as having started with Zhang Zhongjing, the general idea of dumplings as we know them today followed quite an interesting and varied trajectory.

Because you can find dumpling variations in nearly every culture—Italian raviolis and Brazilian empanadas are just two of the offshoots of the traditional Chinese dumpling—the history of the dumpling has many different starting points, even if their official invention was during the Han Dynasty. Recipes for dumplings appear in later years in ancient Roman texts, with the very first dumpling recipe itself found in Apicius, a Roman cookbook.

While dumplings appeared in many forms for many centuries during ancient times, it wasn’t until the 17th century that they finally got their name. The first use of the term “dumpling” can be found in an English text from 1600, where it was noted that the word was perhaps of German origin. And while Zhongjing may have created dumplings in the first place to help people survive brutal winters, other cultures created dumplings for other reasons, such as to help extend the life of meat and to make use of surplus grains.

What this history of the dumpling tells us about their meaning is that some foods span the length of space and time. Many different cultures invented their own dumplings, and many of those dumplings look quite different than what Zhongjing first created, such as gnocchi and matzo balls. And by understanding this unique history, we understand more about how food has functioned in general throughout the human experience—both as a practicality and as medicine for the mind, body, and soul.

There is simply no food that’s better than the dumpling for illuminating this important point and showing us that for all of our differences, food is one of the primary unifying factors that binds us together.

Where to Buy Dumplings

Dumplings lend themselves to endless creativity which is why we make everything from Chicken Teriyaki Dumplings to juicy and traditional Shrimp Dumplings. Check out our distributor locator page to find a distributor near you or buy now from FoodServiceDirect.

The history of dumplings is as rich as the flavors inside of them. Shop our dumplings today and take your own delicious bite out of their storied past.

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