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What Are Haw Flakes?

By A.M. Boyle
Updated May 16, 2024
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Haw flakes are a type of fruit-based confection that is a popular treat in many Asian countries. The thin, round candies are made from the berries produced by the hawthorn tree. The product itself has a sweet, slightly tart taste and is available at many Asian markets and through various online retailers.

The hawthorn tree, also known by its formal name, crataegus, is sometimes called a thornapple bush. It is actually a member of the rose family and, as its name suggests, does have prominent thorns. The tree grows in many locations including the U.S. and Asia. While it is quite broad, it doesn’t typically grow over 30 feet (9 meters) in height. As a result of its short stature, wide width, and lush green foliage, it is a popular landscaping plant.

Although many people in the U.S. use the hawthorn tree primarily as an ornamental shrub, it produces sweet, edible berries. The bushy tree blooms with fragrant white or pink flowers that later yield batches of red berries known as haws. Some people do harvest the berries to make jams or preserves, but most people in the U.S. leave them for the birds to enjoy. In quite a few Asian countries, and particularly in East Asian locations such as China, Korea, and Mongolia, people often harvest the berries in order to make the popular candy called haw flakes.

The main ingredients in haw flakes are haw berries and sugar. Makers of the candy mash the berries with a generous amount of white sugar and mold them into a distinctive shape. Commercial manufacturers might also add artificial dye to give the confections a more colorful appearance.

Sold in small rolls that look like coin wrappers, haw flakes are paper-thin wafers that are usually a little smaller than a poker chip. The candies are dark peach in color and have a mildly sweet yet tangy taste that some people liken to guava or apricot. Generally, haw flakes have a pliable, grainy texture, very much like fruit roll-type snacks popular in the U.S. While the wafers themselves are not sticky to the touch, when eaten, haw flakes can become very gooey, almost like a caramel candy.

Also known by their Cantonese name, sahn sah ban, haw flakes are a popular treat for many Asian children. Due to their shape, easy-to-eat size, and unique packaging, they are often considered something of a novelty by the young ones. Adults, for the most part, view them as a healthy treat because they are made from the nutritious haw berry.

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Discussion Comments
By anon971779 — On Sep 29, 2014

I used to love these treats as a child. I finally found them again over twenty years later. Brings back memories.

By kris2011 — On Jul 05, 2013

The key reason why the haw flakes are popular is that they help a child to improve/build food digestion. It is the same thing as parents giving child vitamin candies today.

Raw haw berries taste sour. People boil them into a daily drink, as a natural way to lose weight and control blood pressure.

By anon335251 — On May 19, 2013

I am living in China and I am obsessed with the Hawthorne berry itself. I must say that it is because I first ate it in the shape of a kind of candy that reminded me of mexican traditional candy "Ate". Still then I saw the flakes so I decided to try it! I just tasted it a few hours ago, and it is delicious! I am so happy to have discovered this!

But still I just can not believe that this candy is so healthy. I mean, probably the fruit itself is really, really healthy, mainly because it is a berry. I mean, I can eat 500 gr. of strawberries and a really low amount of calories for that feast. But in the shape of candy, and this candy, it has to have tons of sugar on it, and I am going to find out.

By ddljohn — On Jul 15, 2012
@fBoyle-- I think haw flake cake is still pretty popular. I have friends who make it. Not only is it tasty, but it's also healthy, especially if you make a steamed cake with low sugar. The flakes have sugar in them, but I don't think it's as bad as most confectionery we eat today.

I've also read that hawthorn berries are good for the heart and is recommended to people who have high blood pressure. So there is no reason why adults shouldn't enjoy haw flakes.

I wonder if haw flakes can be made at home, naturally? That would be great because you could control how much sugar is added. It would reduce calories and if it was made with sweetener, diabetics could have it too. Has anyone tried making homemade haw flakes before?

By fBoyle — On Jul 14, 2012

@burcinc-- I was exactly the same as a child, completely obsessed with haw flakes. I still am to some degree!

When you had a lot of haw flakes, would your urine turn reddish? Mine used to whenever I had too many! At first I was really worried and told my parents. Then they asked me how many haw flakes I had and I said "Oh. Never mind!" I've always wondered if I was the only who experienced that!

I also remember that for my ninth birthday, I told my mom that I want a haw flakes cake. She first said no, but then ended up making one for me. It was a vanilla, berry cake with haw flakes placed between the slices! It was so good! I learned the recipe for that cake and continue to make it for birthdays and special events.

By burcinc — On Jul 14, 2012
I lived in China until I was seven years old and haw flakes were my favorite treat during those years. I used to eat so much of it! I even got a tummy ache one time because of it, I think I had had six or seven rolls in just a few hours! My mom didn't give me pocket money for a couple of weeks so I wouldn't go buy more. Haw flakes bring back so many great memories!

I actually bought a packet of it a couple of months ago from the Asian grocery. I don't like eating candy any more but I just wanted to be reminded of how haw the flakes tasted. They still taste exactly the same, a little sweet, a little sour, perfect! The only difference is that the rolls are bigger and the flakes seem to be a lot thicker than they used to be when I was a kid. But the flavor, the color and packaging is basically the same.

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