Bok choy is native to China, specifically to the Yangtze River Delta, which is one of the oldest agricultural regions in the world. In Cantonese, bok choy means ‘white vegetable’ and belongs to the Brassica rapa species which also includes turnips, collard greens, kale and various types of cabbages.

The vegetable was brought over to Korea during the Joseon Dynasty where it was widely adopted for culinary uses. The vegetable was later introduced to the United States and Europe. Bok choy is popular across Asia and is available from grocery stores in Europe, Canada, the United States and Australia.

Growth and harvest

Bok choy flourishes in the ground or in pots and is typically a fast-growing vegetable. Large clumps of dirt should be removed from the area before sowing. Seeds can be directly planted 6-13mm deep into rich, fertile, well-drained garden soil. The plants prefer to be placed in areas where rainfall creates saturated conditions and seedlings should be 15cm apart.

Maintenance throughout the growth stage includes watering every second day and regular weeding. Liquid fertiliser should be applied every few weeks to promote growth. It is also important to ensure the plant gets full sun.

Bok choy is biennial and can be harvested after six or seven weeks. Leaves should be picked from the outside of the plant and sliced with a sharp knife around 3cm above the ground.  The inner shoots that are left behind should continue to grow.

Flavour profile and appearance

Bok choy is round and bulbous at the bottom and has long white stems with deep green leaves. Standard varieties of bok choy can reach 30-61cm in length. Some varieties such as Shanghai bok choy are shorter and rounder in shape while others are thinner and more elongated.

The overall flavour of bok choy is mild and neutral whilst also being slightly bitter. The texture is crunchy and crisp and is often likened to celery. Some varieties can be watery when bitten into.

Culinary applications

Bok choy is a highly versatile vegetable but is often used in stir fries. Other cooking methods include steaming and boiling, which generally only takes a few minutes. The leaves cook faster than the stem if cooked whole. Bok choy is usually seasoned with soy or oyster sauce, sesame oil and garlic.

The vegetable is a welcome addition to soups and noodles but can also be consumed as is. It is an ingredient that is commonly included in dishes such as wonton noodle soup and used to make kimchi. Sometimes, bok choy is added to curries or eaten as an accompaniment to rice.

Image credit: I Really Like Food