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A mainstay in Chinese stir fry, key ingredient in Korean kimchi, and subtle flavor in a steaming bowl of Japanese miso soup, bok choy (or Chinese cabbage) dates back to Egyptian times. This cabbage didn't reach China until about 500 AD, when the ancient Chinese enjoyed this leafy green as a nutritious vegetable and valued it for its medicinal qualities, such as fighting fever and infections. (See the renowned herbal guide book Compendium of Materia Medica, by 16th century Chinese pharmacist, Li Shizhen.)
Bok choy (Brassica rapa chinensis) is one of two subspecies of Chinese cabbage. Napa cabbage (Brassica rapa pekinensis) is the other. Cultivars of the turnip, these members of the brassica family are kin to broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Unlike the Napa variety, however, bok choy ("white vegetable" in Cantonese), does not form a head, but is more celery-like in appearance -- 8 to 11 inches tall, with white stalks and a dark green cluster of leaves. Dense in vitamins and minerals, yet slim on calories, one cup of cooked bok choy packs 144 percent Daily Value of vitamin A, more than 70 percent DV of vitamins C and K, and more than 10 percent DV of calcium and iron -- in only 20 calories.
A cruciferous vegetable, bok choy is considered a source of powerful antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E and carotenoids. Along with other cruciferous vegetables, bok choy is rich in glucosinolates, well known for their role in cancer prevention. According to a 2012 Polish laboratory study in the scientific journal, Roczniki Panstwowego Zaktadu Higieny, the glucosinolates in brassica vegetables may affect the elimination or neutralization of cancer cells and mutations, and may inhibit cancer development. A meta-analysis of 35 studies in a 2013 issue of Annals of Oncology, found a significantly inverse association between consumption of cruciferous vegetables, cabbage and broccoli specifically, and risk for colorectal cancer.
Bok choy has various aliases -- pak choi, Chinese chard, Chinese mustard and spoon cabbage -- and is also available as baby bok choy, a younger, smaller and sweeter version with a more delicate texture, which is sometimes preferred. Look for firm stalks with vibrant green leaves, free of age-related brown and yellow spots. Refrigerate in damp paper towels or in mesh bags up to three days. Separate and cook thick stalks before leaves in a stir fry or sauté, or add whole to broths and stews. Try bok choy in slaws, on sandwiches, or wrapped around tuna salad for a fresh and healthy crunch.
Bok choy, cooked, 1 cup, shredded
Vitamin A: 7,223 IU (144 percent DV)
Vitamin C: 44 mg (74 percent DV)
Vitamin K: 58 mcg (72 percent DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.3 mg (14 percent DV)
Folate: 70 mcg (17 percent DV)
Calcium: 158 mg (16 percent DV)
Iron: 2 mg (10 percent DV)
Potassium: 631 mg (18 percent DV)
Manganese: 0.2 mg (12 percent DV)
(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition.com.)