What Is Bok Choy—and What Do You Do With It?
Though it was introduced to North America relatively recently, bok choy has been a staple in Chinese cuisine for thousands of years. Here’s what makes the leafy green vegetable so special:
What Is Bok Choy?
Bok choy, also called pak choi or pok choi, is one of two main types of leafy green vegetable known as Chinese cabbage. The cruciferous vegetable belongs to the mustard family along with cabbage, turnips, broccoli, and kale.
Though its closely related to the headed cabbage you’re likely familiar with, bok choy looks kind of like a celery/lettuce hybrid.
The entire plant is edible, from its thick, clustered stalks to its dark green leaves.
It seems bok choy has been an essential ingredient in Asian cuisine for a very long time: Archaeologists discovered 6,000-year-old Chinese cabbage seeds in China’s Yellow River Valley.
The ancient vegetable has been slowly growing in popularity in the U.S. ever since it was introduced to North America in the 19th century.
Bok Choy vs. Napa Cabbage
“Chinese cabbage” can refer to two types of leafy green veggie common in Chinese cuisine: the Pekinensis Group (napa cabbage) and the Chinensis Group (bok choy).
Both plants are variant cultivars of the turnip, and they’ve both been used as food and medicinally for thousands of years.
Of the two, napa cabbage is most common. Napa cabbage looks more like the Western cabbage that originated in Europe, but it is slightly oblong. It’s made up of green leaves with white petioles (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) that are wrapped in a tight bunch.
Bok choy, on the other hand, does not form a head.
In terms of flavor, napa cabbage is milder.
What Does It Taste Like?
Bok choy tastes similar to cabbage. It has a mild, fresh, and grassy flavor with a slight peppery kick.
The stalks have a celery-like crunch, while the leaves are soft and crisp.
Bok Choy Nutrition
The Chinese staple has been used medicinally for thousands of years for a reason: It’s incredibly healthy.
Here are some bok choy nutritional highlights:
- Bok choy is rich in vitamins A (supports eye health), C (boosts immune function), and K (promotes bone and heart health).
- It’s also a good source of potassium, which can lower your blood pressure and risk of stroke, and calcium, which is essential to build and maintain strong bones.
- Though it’s packed with vitamins and nutrients, bok choy is extremely low in calories (about 9 calories per cup).
How to Prepare Bok Choy
How to Buy
Look for vibrant colors with little to no browning. Avoid bok choy with wilted leaves. You may be tempted to buy too much at the store, but here’s some good news: Bok choy doesn’t lose much volume as it cooks (like spinach), so what you see is pretty much what you get.
How to Clean
Before you wash bok choy, trim the tip of the stem. Rinse the vegetable under cold water, using a vegetable brush to scrub away any remaining dirt toward the base of the stems.
How to Cut
While both the stems and the leaves are edible (and quite tasty), you’ll want to separate them before cooking. The leaves cook much faster than the stems, so they should be added later.
The leaves can stay intact, but the stalks are usually cut into ½-inch pieces.
How to Cook
One of the most common ways to cook bok choy is in a stir-fry, as it’s super quick and easy. Our most popular bok choy stir-fry recipe is as delicious as it is simple to make: All you need is a wok or frying pan, a few simple ingredients, and about 10 minutes.
Pro-tip from the test kitchen: Thoroughly drying the bok choy before cooking ensures that you don't end up with a watery sauce.
Bok Choy Recipes
Hector Manuel Sanchez
Ready to try your hand at cooking with bok choy at home? Here are a few of our best recipes: