A somewhat obscure and neutral little vegetable is an absolute star in a multitude of Asian dishes. Bok Choy, whose scientific name is Brassica chinensis certainly doesn't look all that impressive- somewhat like a stick of celery, but not quite as stringy, topped with dark, crackly leaves that, and in the most popular variety, looks a bit like Romaine lettuce. Although a member of the cabbage family, nutritious Bok Choy, at first glance, certainly does not like the cabbage typically found at the local market. The Chinese often call it ‘white vegetable'- a label of demure distinction, for such a nutrient dense leafy green vegetable.
Bok Choy is popular in Korean, Thai and other Asian cuisines, but it's in Chinese cuisine that it is most famous. Bok Choy was studied by the Ming Dynasty pharmacologist Li Shizhen who was mesmerized by its medicinal qualities. It is fairly well represented in Philippine cuisine, but that's largely due to Chinese immigration to the Island during the 1500's. Bok Choy found its way to Europe a few centuries ago and eventually filtered its way to the USA with the influx of the Chinese population. It is generally classified in American supermarkets as an “exotic vegetable.” Although one can easily find Bok Choy in the USA, it is not a typical component of the American diet. This is a disservice as Bok-Choy has a light, somewhat sweet flavor, a somewhat crunchy texture- and is easy on the palate.
One might be almost tempted to say that the innocuous Bok Choy is a “filler” vegetable- sort of like iceberg lettuce in a salad, however, it much more nutritious. Bock Choy is one of the powerhouses of Chinese vegetables- packing a solid nutritional punch under its inconspicuous, stalky and unassuming little uniform. Bok Choy is heavily laden with phytochemicals, a highly valued component of plants that help augment the function of the immune system, lower cholesterol, and fight cancer. Like other members of the cabbage family or crucifer as sometimes called, Bok Choy posses a significant amount of nitrogenic compounds (referred to as indoles), which is the basis of its cancer-fighting reputation. It is also richly endowed with natural vitamins including Vitamin A and C.
Due to modern nutritional science and its recent discoveries, anti-oxidants as derived from green foods are deemed highly prized nutrients, armed with a natural mission to destroy out-of-control free radicals, whose oxidation-causing processes accelerate the forlorn consequences of aging. Bok Choy to the rescue! – Bok Choy has an abundant contingent of carotenoids and flavonoids, two valuable forms of nature's anti-oxidant mercenaries. Carotenoids are also a type of plant pigment that are revealed by research to target eye problems, particularly glaucoma and age-related ocular degeneration. The addition of Bok Choy to the diet can only help one maintain a healthful nutritional agenda.
When it comes to beta-carotene, Bok Choy aces out other members of the cabbage family and delivers a knock-out portion of calcium. In a half-cup of Bok Choy, one reaps 84 milligrams of calcium, about 1/3 of the amount you would find in a full glass of milk. It's no secret that obtaining enough calcium is a problem for Americans. Unfortunately, 73% just don't get enough. Consuming Bok Choy regularly can certainly help insure healthy bones, teeth, and blood pressure.
In that same half cup of Bok Choy, one is also rewarded with potassium, magnesium, folic acid, and fiber. In addition to providing phytochemicals that help fight cancer, Bok Choy can prove a powerful and natural component in ones nutritional arsenal against heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It also has an innocuous amount of calories, about 15 calories in a ½ cup. For those trying to regulate their weight, Bok Choy and plenty of it included in the diet simply can't be beat.
Bok Choy is an excellent addition to juicing recipes, resulting in the best liquid vitamin Mother Nature has to offer. Bok Choy can be boiled or steamed, but probably it is most revered as an essential component of a robust, stir-fry. At most Wok-based restaurants, Bok Choy is always well presented on vegetable trays. Bok Choy is also the staple cabbage for the delicious kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage dish introduced by Koreans.
Bok Choy, sometimes referred to the “Chinese Cabbage” has been cultivated in China for over six thousand years. And rightfully so. It is a favorite amongst vegetable gardeners as a space saver given that Bok Choy grows up instead of out like the common large head cabbage varieties. Because Bok Choy does not require must root space, it can even be grown in a kitchen container on the windowsill. Bok Choy is a healthful and welcome addition to many delicious recipes.
Dr. Linda Posch MS SLP ND