Florida Heritage Foods

Bok Choy

Common name

Bok Choy

Scientific Name

Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis L.

Other Common Names

Chinese chard, Chinese mustard, celery mustard or  spoon cabbage (English), pak-choi, toy-choi, 白菜 (bái cài, Mandarin), chou de Pékin (French), Shanghai Qing, Qingjiang Cai, or Xiaoqing Cai (Mandarin), ડાઇકોન મૂળો (Hāya cō’ī, Gujarati)

Bok choy has been cultivated in China for more than 2000 years. The cold-tolerant plant spread to Northern Europe during Roman times and was brought to the U.S. by immigrants from Asia. Its mild yet rich flavor and crunch makes it a popular ingredient in many stir-fry dishes, soups and fermented foods such as kimchi. Bok choy is a nutrient-rich vegetable that grows well in Florida during the cold season.  

Historical Significance

Farmer Eng Harvests Bok Choi in Hobe Sound, Florida (1957). Florida Department of State Archives

Bok choy originated in the Chinese Yangtze River Delta more than 3000 years ago, and earliest evidence of cultivation dates to the 6th century in China. Long-term cultivation in different regions of China and throughout Asia led to the development of several varieties with different colors, textures and flavors. The cabbage spread into the colder, northern regions of Europe through trade during the Roman era. It did not gain popularity in the United States until the mid-twentieth century during the arrival of immigrant populations from Asia. Today, bok choy is a common vegetable found in restaurants and homes throughout Florida. 

Cultural Significance

Bok choy is the main vegetable ingredient in a wide variety of regional stir-fry dishes and soups throughout Asia such as laksa in Malaysia, hokkien in Singapore, curries in India, karaage chicken in Japan, and in raman variations worldwide. Nearly 700 years ago it spread to Korea where it was integrated into popular fermented vegetable preparations such as kimchi. Today, bok choy is featured in a broad spectrum of fusion cuisines throughout the world, and it is gaining popularity as a key ingredient in quick and nutritious meals at restaurants and in homes throughout Florida.

Farmer Eng with his bok choy harvest in 1970, Hobe Sound. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Cooking With Bok choy

Taking only a few minutes to saute in a stir-fry, bok choy is an ideal ingredient for quick and easy nutritious meals.

Bok Choy Plant Card Photo
Bok Choy Plant Card Photo

Growing Tips

Bok choy grows well in cool and cold weather making it best to plant in November through February. It can be started in trays to transplant outdoors, or the seeds can be sown directly into the garden. Seeds or transplants should be approximately six to eight inches apart. The soil should be well-drained. Bok choy shares the same needs as cabbage and broccoli, and they can be grown together in the garden. Harvest Bok choy when there are 10-15 leaves, and before it begins to flower. To plan a heritage garden, download the ‘Planning a Florida Heritage Garden (PDF).’

Bok Choy