Bok choy is another member of the Brassica family — we’ve already met cabbage, kale, and collards — and is also known as Chinese cabbage, bak choi, paak choi, Chinese mustard cabbage, white celery mustard, and petsai. Bok choy’s thick white stalks are crisp, juicy, and slightly sweet with a mild mustard flavour. The stalks hold their water well, which makes them refreshing and crunchy to eat. Its dark green leaves are more like collards in taste and texture and can be eaten raw or cooked.
There are over twenty varieties of bok choy. Pak choi has succulent white stems and dark green leaves; Choy sum is a small, delicate version of Pak choy, sometimes also called Flowering Chinese cabbage as it produces small yellow flowers at its centre; and baby or Shanghai Pak choi refers to a smaller, greener variety (this baby bok choy is commonly found in North America).
Originally cultivated in China, this vegetable is more than 6000 years old! Prior to the Ming Dynasty, bok choy was largely confined to the Yangtze River Delta region. As it started spreading north, bok choy was exported along the Grand Canal of China to Zhejiang and as far south as Guangdong. Bok choy soon spread to Korea, becoming a staple ingredient in kimchi. Bok choy made its way to Europe in the 18 th century and to Japan in the 20 th century and is now widely cultivated around the world.
Bok choy is a flexible vegetable with many uses: soups, salads, stir fry, in fillings for spring rolls, pot stickers, steamed buns, and dumplings, and in juice form for medicinal purposes. In ancient Chinese texts, bok choy is often praised in poetry and other writing, for it was (and is) believed to have many medicinal qualities including battling fever, inflammation, infections, and sore throat.
Bok choy contains a high amount of vitamin A, as well as vitamins C and B. It is also a good source of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and potassium. In Chinese medicine, bok choy is thought to contain Yin energy, which helps to balance energy in the lungs, stomach, gall bladder, brain, and kidneys as well as improving metabolism.
Fun fact: Some Chinese cooks also dip the leaves in boiling water and hang them out to dry in the sun for several days. Drying enables this highly perishable vegetable to be stored for winter months.