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6 Easy Ingredient Swaps for a Healthy Yee Sang Toss

Published | 5 min read

The yee sang toss is a delicious Malaysian Chinese New Year tradition for all to enjoy. Try these ingredient swaps for a healthier new year.

Colourful Chinese New Year yee sang platter on a grey table with a glass of tea, carrot strips, chopsticks, and a kitchen towel.

As Chinese New Year approaches, Malaysians will partake in traditions old and new, many of which involve celebration through food. One such tradition is the yee sang prosperity toss. We offer six ingredient swaps for healthier yee sang and share a little history and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspectives on different yee sang ingredients. 

The Origins and Recipe Features of Yee Sang

Yee sang toss in progress with yee sang platter in the middle and friends and family holding chopsticks and tossing high.
The best thing about yee sang is the improvisation allowed in reimagining this traditional recipe.

Yee sang is Cantonese for “raw fish” (yu sheng, 魚生), which has the same sound in Chinese as “prosperous growth”. This dish was invented by a coastal Malayan Chinese settler in the 1930s or 1940s.

The yee sang toss or “Lou Hei Yee Sang” (捞起魚生) on the 7th day (ren ri, 人日) symbolises a new year of growing prosperity in all life matters, including health. These days, it is available weeks before Chinese New Year, all the way until the 15th day of celebrations.

From a culinary standpoint, yee sang ingredients must have the right mix of colour, texture, and flavour. Usually made of raw fish and colourful vegetables, crackers, nuts and seeds, each ingredient symbolises prosperity.

6 Ingredient Swaps for a Truly Prosperous Yee Sang 

Malaysian dishes can contain too much oil, sugar, and salt. Yee sang in the wrong chef’s hands is no different. This is what we can do to make this dish healthy again

1. Almonds

Sliced almonds on a wooden spoon and table.
Almonds are a great alternative to pillow crackers for a healthier yee sang toss.

Yee sang platter containing too many oily pillow crackers is unhealthy as eating too many crackers causes you to develop Heatiness in the body. TCM Physician Lim Sock Ling shares her special tip of replacing crackers with crispy baked almonds instead.

“Almonds are high in fibre, protein, magnesium, and vitamin E. It is also rich in antioxidants. From the TCM perspective, almonds act on the Lungs, Spleen, and large intestine meridians. They are also used in concoctions for alleviating cough, removing phlegm, and promoting bowel movement,” she details.

2. Chinese pear

Chinese pears hanging on a tree.
The texture and flavour of the Chinese pear make it a suitable addition to a traditional yee sang mix.

Rather than overdoing it with seasoned ingredients, consider fresh fruits. “Mango, Chinese pear, dragon fruit, apple, and pomelo can easily replace seasoned ingredients,” suggests Physician Lim.

She particularly recommends Chinese pear. “With its crunchy texture and sweet-sour flavour, this fruit is a lovely complement to the dressing in yee sang. It is nourishing and especially beneficial during Chinese New Year celebrations when one may consume too many Heaty goodies.” 

Even with singular healthy ingredients, be careful with overdoing it. For example, people with diabetes should be cautious with high-sugar ingredients like mangoes.

3. Pomelo

Freshly peeled pomelo flesh served in a bowl carved from the fruit’s skin alongside two unpeeled pomelos on a rattan tray.
Pomelos are highly nutritious and add a zesty flavour to yee sang recipes.

A healthy swap in some yee sang recipes, Physician Lim gives us another reason to double down on this crunchy jelly-like citrus. “Pomelo is nutritious, rich in antioxidants, and full of fibre. From a TCM point of view, it is cooling, acts on Lungs, stomach and Spleen and is often used to clear Dampness, resolve water accumulation, eliminate toxins, and resolve phlegm”. 

4. Lime juice

Man squeezing juice from a lime wedge into a glass bowl placed on a wooden cutting board.
Limes help alleviate Heaty body symptoms like thirst or fever.

Plum sauce is typically used to symbolise a “sweet life” but is often store-bought and therefore loaded with preservatives. Instead of plum sauce, consider lime juice mixed with honey. Not that we’re trying to overdo the citrus category, but limes truly are versatile.

This lime-honey combination gives a tangy-sweet flavour and sticky texture associated with yee sang dressing. “Limes are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. In TCM, lime is known to be cooling and nourishing. It helps to relieve Heaty symptoms such as fever and thirst,” Physician Lim shares. Those with gastric conditions should be mindful of using too many sour ingredients like lime juice. 

5. Honey

Woman using both hands to hold a glass jar of honey that’s covered with a rattan cloth and string.
Combining honey and lime in a dressing is healthier than using either ingredient individually.

Honey is nutritious, rich in antioxidants and may be more beneficial than sugar for diabetic individuals,” adds Physician Lim. It’s also neutral, making it a good option for Chinese New Year food amidst the more Heaty usual suspects. She also says that honey nourishes and soothes a dry and sore throat, something a lot of us experience after all the boisterous laughter-filled merry-making.  

Here’s the most interesting thing about a dressing made of lime and honey. It is not just a culinary hack – it is also very healthy. A 2017 study demonstrated that a mixture of lime juice and honey is not only better than each of those already-healthy ingredients alone. The mixture also yields a significant increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and a decrease in LDL (bad cholesterol). 

6. Black sesame seeds

Black sesame seeds in two different-sized wooden bowls.
Sesame seeds can be used to moderate the use of the ingredient’s oil.

Instead of using too much sesame oil, opt for black sesame seeds (hei zhi ma, 黑芝麻). Research has shown that black sesame seeds are much more nutritious than their hulled cousins – the white sesame seeds.  These flavourful seeds promote cardiovascular health and protect from chronic liver injury. Chock full of antioxidants, these little black seeds are anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing, and anti-cancer. It may also promote healthy hair and skin. 

At the very core, yee sang is a festive Chinese New Year dish that can be made healthy. What’s not to like about the lean proteins in fish, nutrient-dense vegetables, nuts, and seeds? With these six-ingredient swaps, we hope your yee sang toss will be your most prosperous yet.


  1. Tatler Asia. 2016. Yee Sang 101: Why Do We Toss It And What Does It Symbolise? [online] Available at: <https://www.tatlerasia.com/dining/digest/yee-sang-101-why-we-toss-what-does-it-symbolise> [Accessed 8 December 2022]
  2. FoodForThought.com.my. 2021. The Very Malaysian Origin of the Yee Sang. [online] Available at: <https://foodforthought.com.my/the-very-malaysian-origin-of-the-yee-sang/> [Accessed 8 December 2022]
  3. Multi-Disciplinary Publishing Institute (MDPI) – Molecules. 2017. Identification and Analysis of Amygdalin, Neoamygdalin and Amygdalin Amide in Different Processed Bitter Almonds by HPLC-ESI-MS/MS and HPLC-DAD. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6151405/> [Accessed 8 December 2022]
  4. Annual Research and Review in Biology. 2017. Effects of Lime Juice and Honey on Lipid Profile of Cholesterol Enriched Diet Fed Rat Model. [online]. Available at: <https://journalarrb.com/index.php/ARRB/article/view/26190> [Accessed 8 December 2022]
  5. Multi-Disciplinary Publishing Institute (MDPI) – Nutrients. 2018. A Review on the Protective Effects of Honey against Metabolic Syndrome. [online]. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6115915/> [Accessed 8 December 2022]
  6. Multi-Disciplinary Publishing Institute (MDPI) – Molecules. 2018. Identification of Nutritional Components in Black Sesame Determined by Widely Targeted Metabolomics and Traditional Chinese Medicines. [online]. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6100530/> [Accessed 8 December 2022]

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