The name “bok choy” originated from the Chinese word for “soup spoon” because of the shape of its leaves. Bok choy has a crispy texture one expects from a member of the cabbage family and a grassy flavor that increases in nuttiness as you cook it. It was first cultivated in China thousands of years ago. Bok choy, pak choi or Chinese white cabbage, belongs to the cruciferous family of vegetables. Other cruciferous vegetables include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, rutabaga, and turnips.
Bok choy are low in calories. It is a deep green vegetable with leaves that resemble the top of a lettuce and a large celery on the bottom. The entire vegetable can be used, and is often added raw to salads.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, 1 cup of raw bok choy contains:
- 9 calories
- 1.05 g of protein
- 1.53 g of carbohydrates
- 0.7 g of dietary fiber
- 0 g of cholesterol
- 0.067 g of polyunsaturated fat
- 74 mg of calcium
- 0.56 mg of iron
- 13 mg of magnesium
- 26 mg of phosphorus
- 176 mg of potassium
- 46 mg of sodium
- 0.13 mg of zinc – aids collagen production
- 31.5 mg of vitamin C
- 46 micrograms (mcg) of folate
- 156 mcg of vitamin A (RAE)
- 31.9 mcg of vitamin K – helps to maintain the balance of calcium in bones
According to the National Institutes of Health, for adults eating 2,000 calories per day and children over 4 years old, 1 cup of raw bok choy provides:
- 3.7 percent of daily potassium needs – excellent source for healthy muscles and nerve function and lowering blood pressure
- 17 percent of vitamin A – good for the immune system
- 5.7 percent of calcium – good for building and maintaining bone structure and strength and lowering blood pressure
- 26.5 percent of vitamin K – good for building and maintaining bone structure and strength
- 3.1 percent of magnesium – good for building and maintaining bone structure and strength and lowering blood pressure
- 3.1 percent of iron – aids collagen production
- 35 percent of vitamin C – an antioxidant that shields the body from free radicals
Studies have shown that some people who eat more cruciferous vegetables have a lower risk of developing lung, prostate, and colon cancer. Bok choy also contains folate. Folate plays a role in the production and repair of DNA, so it might prevent cancer cells from forming due to mutations in the DNA.
Unlike most other fruits and vegetables, bok choy contains the mineral selenium. Selenium helps to detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Selenium also prevents inflammation and decreases tumor growth rates.
Cruciferous and other vegetables also offer protection because they provide fiber. Fiber keeps the stool moving. This keeps the bowel healthy and reduces the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Fibrous foods also feed healthy gut bacteria, which affects overall health, metabolism, and digestion.
Bok choy’s folate, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B-6 content, coupled with its lack of cholesterol, all help to maintain a healthy heart. A National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES) published in 2011 found a “significantly higher” risk of cardiovascular disease among people who consumed too much sodium and not enough potassium. Vitamin B-6 and folate prevent the buildup of a compound known as homocysteine.
Choline in bok choy helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. It also helps cells in the body to keep their shape and helps absorb fat and reduce chronic inflammation.
The selenium found in bok choy has been found to improve immune response to infection by stimulating the production of T-cells that identify and kill invading bacteria and viruses.
Some studies have suggested that cruciferous vegetables can help people with diabetes to maintain their blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association describe non-starchy vegetables, including cruciferous vegetables, as “one food group where you can satisfy your appetite.”
How to Buy
Look for fresh, vibrant bunches of bok choy. Avoid any bok choy that has much browning around the cut “stem” section or wilted leaves. Unlike other greens, bok choy doesn’t lose its volume when it cooks, so a large bunch will serve 2 to 4 people.
Baby bok choy is popular because it has a more delicate flavor than adult varieties.
How to Store
Store bok choy loosely wrapped in a tea towel or place in a linen bag in the fridge for up to a week.
How to Cook
Bok choy can be stewed or braised, but the stir-fry approach seems to be the most popular way to cook it. When shredded, it makes great coleslaw.
Here are some quick tips:
- shred raw bok choy and toss with other fresh vegetables to make a salad
- add chopped bok choy to hot and sour soup
- stir-fry bok choy with a variety of vegetables, some tamari sauce, and sesame oil
- sauté fresh garlic and ginger in olive oil until soft, then add bok choy and continue to sauté until desired tenderness
- mix minced bok choy, mushrooms, chives, and tamari sauce to make a homemade dumpling filling
This is the quickest and easiest way to cook bok choy.
- Separate the bok choy into leaves. Chop larger leaves into bite-size pieces.
- Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add enough oil to coat the surface and when the oil is hot, add the bok choy and cook, stirring constantly, until the bok choy is wilted and tender, about 3 minutes for crisp-tender bok choy and up to 8 minutes for fully tender and browned leaves.
- Add tamari sauce to taste and serve.