Pak choi (also known as bok choy or pok choi) is a type of Chinese cabbage. Chinese varieties of cabbage do not form heads, have green leaf blades with bulbous bottoms, and have the nickname of ‘soup spoon’. Pak choi is derived from the Chinese word for ‘soup spoon’, ‘pak’ or ‘bok’ means ‘white’ while ‘choi’ or ‘choy’ corresponds to the small size of the vegetable. You may also find it called ‘buk choy’, ‘Chinese chard’, ‘white cabbage’, ‘Chinese savoy’ or ‘Chinese mustard’.
The origins of pak choi
Bok choy descended from China, or more precise, from the Yangtze River Delta, the place of original cultivation for thousands of years. In the 14th century, it wandered off to Korea and became the essential ingredient in a variety of national staples, including kimchi. In the beginning of the 18th century, when Chinese immigration to the United States boomed, the vegetable moved with them. Not long after, pak choi gained popularity in Japan after it was brought home by native soldiers after the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905. Nowadays, this cabbage is becoming more and more popular all around the world, especially within the Caribbean islands of Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, and Cuba, where is often called ‘joy choy’.
Cooking pak choi
Bok choy can be eaten raw, sautéed, and fried. With a few weeks time, you can ferment the cabbage with some chilli and other ingredients and turn it into a delicious kimchi. The leaves are thin and have a spinach-like consistency. Stalks provide more crunchiness. Because of the difference in firmness, it is recommended to split the leaves and stalk part from another to avoid overcooking the fragile leaves. Short blanching or steaming helps in prevention of flavors escape. The most famous and delicious way of preparing is stir-frying. Heat up the oil (pumpkin seed, soybean, olive, hazelnut, rape seed), add garlic, ginger, or onion, and stir fry shortly. Add the cabbage and cook ‘al dente’. Sprinkle with sea salt and sesame. Steamed pak choi accompanied with braised dried shiitake mushroom is a common dish served during Chinese New Years.
Fresh pak choi is characterized by green, fatty notes. Some faint nutty and earthy flavors with a herbal nuances are noticeable. Cooking changes the aroma profile. Short stir-frying at high temperatures causes Maillard reactions that intensify the greeny, fatty aromas and creates new vegetable fragrances, like potato, onion and mushroom. Nutty, caramellic and roasted notes also appears. Additionally, a fried smell can be detected thanks to (E,Z)-2,4-decadienal, which is also present in crab meat, fried chicken, black olive, popcorn, french fries, potato chips, whole wheat flour, and peanut or hazelnut oil.
Pak choi earns sixth place on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), which ranks the value of food ingredients based on the amount of delivered nutrients (34 essential parameters) per calorie. Pak choi is great source of vitamins (A, B6, C, E, K) and different minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron. Folate helps in production and repairing DNA. The high fibre content ensures correct digestion and good metabolism. It contains also antioxidant capacity and phytochemical composition.