All The Reasons Why Bok Choy Belongs In Your Next Stir Fry

·6 min read
Photo credit: The Washington Post - Getty Images
Photo credit: The Washington Post - Getty Images

From Women's Health

First, spinach had its heyday in the early aughts. Then kale became trendy (remember when people would throw kale in the oven and have the audacity to call it chips?!), and now cauliflower is having a moment.

The next type of produce that's poised for fad-dom? Bok choy.

“Like other leafy green vegetables, bok choy is a rich source of antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin A,” explains nutritionist Jennifer McDaniel, RDN. She notes that bok choy contains a trove of heart-healthy and potentially cancer-preventing and bone-building benefits. The list really goes on, making it an all-around veggie powerhouse.

And while McDaniel adds that bok choy is in the cabbage family, don’t let that categorization fool you. Unlike cabbage’s semi-bland, watery taste and texture (no shade to cabbage, but it had to be said), bok choy contains two very unique different bites in a single plant.

“The dark, velvety leafy greens have an earthy flavor, while the white stalks, while less flavorful, have a crisp, crunchy bite when eaten raw,” McDaniel explains. “Both pair well with a variety of vegetables, as well as oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil.”

New to the bok choy bandwagon? We’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about this multi-use vegetable—and how best to prepare it.

Where Bok Choy Comes From

Hailing from China originally, bok choy falls under the Brassica cabbage family, which also includes kale, turnips, mustard, and broccoli. As far as its connection to the United States and other western countries, you have immigrants to thank for that. When Chinese populations settled in California in the 1800s, they brought their crops (including bok choy) with them, according to the Real Food Encyclopedia.

As McDaniel notes, bok choy likely became a staple in Chinese cooking due to its versatility. The green is quick-cooking (making it a key part of a busy weeknight dinner) and can be cooked with a variety of methods, like grilling, stir-frying, baking, stewing.

Bok Choy's Nutrition, Broken Down

Although boasting a ton of flavor, bok choy is fairly minimal as far as calories, fat, sodium, and sugar go. Here’s what a 1-cup serving of the veggie looks like:

  • Calories: 9

  • Fat: 0.1 grams

  • Carbohydrates: 1.5 grams

  • Protein: 1.1 grams

  • Sodium: 45.5 milligrams

  • Sugar: 0.8 grams

  • Fiber: 0.7 gram

Despite its low stats, bok choy is loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. A single cup contains vitamins C, K, A, and B6, as well as folate, calcium, and beta-carotene.

5 Ways Bok Choy Boosts Your Health

With a measly 9 calories and 1.5 grams of carbs, a single serving of bok choy isn’t going to fuel your next workout—let alone qualify as a super-filling snack. But what it lacks in sustenance it makes up for in other benefits:

1. You could be less likely to develop cancer.

Studies from the National Cancer Institute have found a tie between leafy green (including bok choy) consumption and a lower risk of developing lung, prostate, and colon cancer. “Like other members of the cruciferous vegetable family, bok choy contains sulfur-containing compounds that may reduce the risk of certain cancers and ward off carcinogens,” McDaniel notes.

Another cancer-fighting property contained in bok choy? Selenium. Studies show it can boost your immunity and cognitive function, too.

2. Your heart will thank you.

“Bok choy is rich in folate and B vitamins that help protect the heart,” explains McDaniel. She says that a single cup of shredded bok choy contains 11 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for both folate and vitamins B6.

The likelihood that you’ll get heart disease may also dip. One study found that a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables could reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 15 percent.

3. You might see clearer.

According to McDaniel, when it comes to eye health, there are two major carotenoids to watch for: lutein and zeaxanthin. She notes that, in addition to being responsible for boosting eye health in general, a diet rich in both can help ward off macular degeneration.

4. Your bones will get the nutrients they need.

“Build better bones with bok choy,” McDaniel says, noting that the vegetable is ideal for vegans who refrain from eating dairy when it comes to getting their fill of bone health-bulking nutrients. “A single cup of shredded bok choy contains 3 percent of your RDA for magnesium, 7 percent for calcium, and 26 for vitamin K.”

5. Your thyroid function might improve.

Think of your thyroid—the little butterfly-shaped gland in your neck—as your body’s project manager. It’s responsible for producing hormones that tell your body how to grow, metabolize, sleep, and eat.

One vitamin that can help it function more smoothly, according to studies? Selenium. Another study found a connection between low levels of selenium and certain thyroid conditions, like hypothyroidism, autoimmune thyroiditis and enlarged thyroid.

How to Select And Store Fresh Bok Choy

Although it’s available year-round at your local supermarket or farmer’s market, bok choy is a cold weather crop, meaning that you’ll find its freshest varieties in the winter.

When shopping for bok choy, McDaniel says that it’s important to look for firm, smooth white stalks and dark, crisp greens—minus any mush or wilting. She adds that baby bok choy will typically have lighter green stalks and smaller leaves (because it was picked earlier in harvest). Expect a slightly sweeter flavor than the full-sized type.

The greens last a decent amount of time in your fridge, too. “Store bok choy in a plastic bag or in your vegetable bins for up to a week,” McDaniel says. “Wash them immediately before using instead of washing ahead of time and then storing,” she adds.

How To Enjoy Your Bok Choy: 3 Recipes to Try

Bok choy preparation techniques will depend on the type you’ve purchased: adult or baby, according to McDaniel. “If you’re working with large bok choy, start by cutting off the leafy green portions, then slice thinly,” she explains. “These slices can then be added to salads or soups, much like lettuce.”

Similar to asparagus, you’ll want to discard the root portion at the bottom of the stalk (roughly 1 inch), McDaniel adds. “The rest of the stalk can be used in dishes like stir-fry or soup.”

Got baby bok choy? You can eat the veggie in its entirety.

A few preparation pitfalls to watch out for: “Make sure you fully rinse and dry the plant before using. It’s relatively easy to overcook bok choy using wet cooking methods,” McDaniel says. Instead, try pan-frying or roasting, she suggests. “This will give you a nice, brown look without overcooking or becoming soggy.”

Ready to whip up your perfect helping of bok choy? Try these recipes:

  • On its own: Sesame Ginger Seared Baby Bok Choy (Killing Thyme). “This is one if my favorite bok choy recipes,” says McDaniel. “They incorporate anti-inflammatory ginger and sear the baby bok choy to get a beautiful brown look with lots of flavor.”

  • As part of a soup: Spicy Feel-Good Chicken Soup (Epicurious). Think of it like your traditional hearty, comforting chicken soup–but a million times more interesting.

  • As part of a stir-fry: Chicken Stir-Fry with Bok Choy and Garlic Sauce (The Spruce Eats). A tangy stir-fry like this one is quick and satisfying (a.ka. perfect for a last-minute meal).

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