Pak Choi: The Easily Digestible Asian Cabbage

Anyone who has never tasted pak choi should dare to go on a date with him. Because the healthy Asian cabbage is rich in vital substances and convinces as raw food as well as in the wok. The spicy vegetable also cuts a fantastic figure in soups, curries, as a filling for dumplings, or in risotto.

Pak Choi: a relative of Chinese cabbage

The bok choy (Brassica rapa subsp. Chinensis) looks a bit like a cross between Chinese cabbage and Swiss chard, with its light green fleshy petioles and long dark green leaves. There is more of a relationship to Chinese cabbage since both Chinese cabbage and pak choi belong to the cruciferous family and both belong to the cabbage family. The chard, on the other hand, is a representative of the turnip genus – not to be confused with turnips, a plant species that in turn now includes pak choi and Chinese cabbage.

The origin of pak choi

The Pak Choi originally comes from China and is therefore sometimes also referred to as Chinese leaf cabbage or Chinese mustard cabbage. According to sources, it was cultivated in southern China as early as the 5th century AD. From there, the coveted cabbage plant made its way through the Middle Kingdom.

The pak choi was once harvested at dawn and then offered at markets. If the valuable, sensitive vegetables could not be sold by the afternoon, they were pickled in brine to keep them for months.

In other Asian countries such as Japan and Malaysia, the pak choi was introduced by overseas Chinese. Because they had the seeds with them and grew the vegetables wherever they settled. Today, Pak Choi is cultivated on a large scale in Asia – especially in China.

This is how Pak Choi came to Europe

Contrary to what is often reported, Pak Choi made its way into Europe as early as the mid-18th century. And curiously enough, we even know exactly who brought the seeds with him back then: the Swedish naturalist and world traveler Pehr Osbeck. But it took centuries for Pak Choi to draw attention to itself in European countries.

In recent years, Chinese kale (pak choi) has been found more and more often in supermarkets and organic shops. But it is still considered a novelty. Most people are wondering what kind of strange vegetable this is, how it tastes, and how it is prepared. We would now like to bring you a little closer to Pak Choi. Because it pays off in a culinary and health sense to make friends with him.

The nutrients in bok choy

In terms of nutrients, it shows that the Pak Choi is not only visually very closely related to the Chinese cabbage. Both contain slightly more water and fat, but less protein and carbohydrates than e.g. B. broccoli and kale.

100 g raw Pak Choi contains:

  • water 94 g
  • carbohydrates 4 g
  • protein 1 g
  • Fat 0.3g

The calories in bok choy

The calorie content of Pak Choi is extremely low, even compared to other types of cabbage, and is only 14 kcal per 100 grams of raw vegetables. In comparison, the same amount of kale has 37 calories.

The vitamins in bok choy

The Pak Choi is a very vitamin-rich vegetable. The high content of beta-carotene, folic acid, and vitamin C should be emphasized, whereby the recommended daily dose can be met by more than 20 percent with 100 grams of raw vegetables.

However, as with Chinese cabbage, the vitamin K1 content is record-breaking. If you enjoy 100 grams of Pak Choi, your daily requirement is covered by an incredible 351 percent. Vitamin K1 is u. a. important for blood coagulation and bone metabolism and counteracts vascular calcification.

Our vitamin table gives you detailed information about the vitamin content in 100 grams of fresh Pak Choi: Vitamins in Pak Choi.

The minerals in bok choy

Just like other vegetables, Pak Choi also contains many minerals and trace elements that contribute to maintaining health. Take a look at our mineral table: Minerals in Pak Choi.

Bok choy and its effect on blood thinners

Patients taking anticoagulants (“blood thinners”) are often told not to eat foods high in vitamin K. These include e.g. B. pak choi, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and sauerkraut. It is argued that vitamin K is involved in the process of blood clotting and thus acts as an antagonist to anticoagulants.

Researchers from the Sapienza University of Rome meticulously got to the bottom of this rumor in 2016 and came to the following conclusion: It makes no sense to avoid foods with a high vitamin K content, especially since this does not negatively affect the effect of anticoagulants becomes. However, if you rarely ate vegetables rich in vitamin K before starting the medication, you should not suddenly switch to a diet rich in vegetables.

Nutritionists from the Technical University of Munich generally advise when changing your diet to have your coagulation values ​​checked more closely as a precaution. However, vitamin K preparations should be avoided or taken only after consultation with the doctor treating you.

The glycemic load of bok choy

100 grams of Pak Choi have an extremely low glycemic load of 0.1 (values ​​up to 10 are considered low). Therefore, vegetable does not affect the blood sugar level and the release of insulin.

In comparison, the glycemic load of 100 grams of white bread is 38.8. This clearly shows why you should eat a tasty salad or pak choi for lunch instead of a sandwich.

Pak Choi in the low carb and ketogenic diet

Low-carb and ketogenic diets are all about reducing carbohydrate intake. But while a low-carb diet should consume between 50 and 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, the ketogenic diet has a maximum of 50 grams.

With only 4 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams of vegetables, pak choi is ideal for both of these diets.

The active ingredients in pak choi

Like any other cruciferous vegetable, pak choi not only contains valuable nutrients but also special active ingredients are known as mustard oil glycosides. These are secondary plant substances – more precisely, sulfur compounds. They help the plants to protect themselves from voracious insects.

To date, around 120 different mustard oil glycosides have been identified. Each cruciferous vegetable is characterized by the presence and dominance of certain mustard oil glycosides, creating a specific fingerprint. In the Pak Choi are u. a. Contain glucobrassicanapine, glucoalyssin, and glucosamine, with the former mustard oil glycoside setting the tone.

Pak Choi is as healthy as broccoli

With regard to the total content of mustard oil glycosides, Chinese mustard cabbage (pak choi) does not shy away from comparison with other cabbage plants, according to a review by Wageningen University with 39 to 70.4 milligrams per 100 grams of vegetables.

In the case of broccoli, which, according to analyzes at the University of Oradea, usually leads this hit list, the total content is between 19 and 127 milligrams. The range of values ​​is due to the fact that the content depends on many factors such as genetics.

But in order for cabbages like pak choi to develop their distinctive flavor and healing properties, a chemical process is required. A wide variety of mustard oils are formed from mustard oil glycosides.

The mustard oils in pak choi

As in any other cabbage plant, the mustard oil glycosides and an enzyme called myrosinase are spatially separated from each other in the pak choi by a two-chamber system. These substances only meet when the vegetable is nibbled on or cut open by animals or humans.

As a result, mustard oils are formed, which act as highly effective antioxidants and set the body’s defense mechanisms in motion in the long term. For example, in Pak Choi B. from the mustard oil glycoside called glucobrassicin, the mustard oil brassicanapine formed, and from the mustard oil glycoside glucosamine the mustard oil napkin.

On the one hand, the mustard oils ensure the spicy taste of the Pak Choi and, on the other hand, they have a healing character. In traditional Chinese medicine, pak choi is one of the medicinal plants.

Pak Choi is so healthy

According to researchers from the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, a number of studies have now shown that people who eat cabbage plants regularly have a lower risk of chronic diseases. The mustard oils contribute to this because they e.g. act against bacteria, inflammation, and arteriosclerosis and can lead to the destruction of cancer cells.

But in addition to the mustard oil glycosides, there are many other secondary plant substances in Pak Choi. According to an American study, these include carotenoids such as beta-carotene, chlorophyll, and various phenolic compounds such as catechin, quercetin, kaempferol, and anthocyanins. Just like the mustard oil glycosides, all of these substances also act as free radical scavengers, strengthen the immune system and reduce u. the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

According to an international study, fruits and vegetables generally contribute to the prevention of diseases. However, representatives of the cabbage genus are often highlighted in this regard. This is because, while every fruit and vegetable contains vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, only cruciferous vegetables contain mustard oils. The interaction of these bioactive substances makes Pak Choi and its relatives, particularly healthy contemporaries.

Purple bok choy and its benefits

Most of the Pak Choi offered in the trade has white or light green stems and dark green leaves. However, there are also varieties such as B. Red Choi with bright purple leaves. Purple-colored pak choi is characterized by pigments known as anthocyanins, which belong to secondary plant compounds.

According to studies, anthocyanins can help prevent diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, neurological diseases, and cancer and promote eye health. Purple-colored fruits and vegetables generally have stronger antioxidant, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties than green ones.

According to a study at Chungnam National University, it is not just the anthocyanins that are responsible for this. A comparison of purple and green Pak Choi showed that the secondary plant substances quercetin and kaempferol were only contained in purple varieties and that the content of various substances such as e.g. B. rutin was much higher.

Bok choy and the thyroid

Cabbage plants are generally discouraged because they are said to cause an enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter). Some mustard oil glycosides (e.g. Progoitrin) are partially converted in the body to thiocyanates, which reduce iodine absorption.

In 2009, headlines circulated that an elderly woman tried bok choy to treat her diabetes and ended up in a coma from an underactive thyroid. But then it turned out that the hypothyroidism was related to diabetes, not necessarily to her pak choi consumption, which had been a whopping 1 to 1.5 kilograms a day (in raw form).

According to studies, pak choi and co. can only damage the thyroid gland if people eat extraordinarily large amounts of it every day for months and possibly still live in an iodine-deficient area. Incidentally, the Pak Choi is one of those cabbage plants that only have a very low content of the relevant mustard oil glycosides.

If you should still be worried about this, increase your iodine intake a little and season your food, e.g. B. with a pinch of seaweed flakes, which have a high iodine content.

Pak Choy for diabetes

Pak Choi is low in fat, carbohydrates, and calories, making it an ideal food for people with type 2 diabetes. Since the vegetable has a very low glycemic load of 0.1, it counteracts cravings and lets the kilos tumble. This is extremely important, especially for overweight diabetics.

Pak Choi is easily digestible

Cabbage has been known for its digestive properties for thousands of years. For this are u. a. the dietary fibers contained are responsible. However, numerous people cannot tolerate cabbage dishes at all and suffer from unpleasant flatulence after eating. However, pak choi is one of those cabbage plants that are usually well tolerated.

This is sometimes due to the content of certain nutrients. Pak Choi has a lower fiber content than other types of cabbage. while e.g. For example, 100 grams of kale contains 4 grams of dietary fiber, while Chinese mustard cabbage (pak choi) contains only half as much. Pak choi sprouts and the so-called tender baby pak choi are particularly easy to digest.

Pak Choi for fructose intolerance

The Pak Choi contains hardly any sugar – only 1 gram per 100 grams of vegetables, of which 427 milligrams fructose. In addition, the ratio between fructose and glucose is absolutely balanced, which further increases tolerability. In this sense, pak choi is one of those foods that are usually well tolerated in the case of fructose intolerance.

Pak choi sprouts are so healthy

Since sprouts have been available in almost every supermarket, everyone is talking about the tiny ones. But sprouts not only taste great, but they are also very healthy. Because they are easier to digest than adult plants and often have a higher content of bioactive substances than adult plants.

According to a Spanish study published in 2019, cabbage sprouts are of particular importance compared to the sprouts of other plants because they contain mustard oil glycosides. But while there are already extensive human studies on the health benefits of broccoli sprouts, there is still a lot of catching up to do when it comes to other sprouts.

After all, it has already been proven that pak choi sprouts have a very high antioxidant potential.

How to grow pak choi sprouts

While cress or alfalfa are often used, the delicate pak choi sprouts are still an insider tip. They are characterized by a mild cabbage taste and a seductive mustard note and go wonderfully with Asian dishes, for example.

Unfortunately, pak choi sprouts are hardly ever offered commercially. However, it is very easy to grow them yourself at home. Just do the following:

  • Soak the pak choi seeds in cold water for 6 to 8 hours.
  • Then place the seeds in a colander and drain the soaking water.
  • Water the seeds thoroughly, drain well, and place in a germinator.
  • It is best to repeat this process every 8 to 12 hours until harvest.
  • The germination period is 3 to 5 days. On the 3rd day, you can put the germinator in a bright place but avoid direct sunlight.
  • The pak choi sprouts can be harvested between the 6th and 9th day. However, according to a Spanish study, the 8th day is the ideal time to harvest cabbage sprouts, as the mustard oil glycoside content is highest then.

This is where Pak Choi is grown

In China, pak choi is the most important leafy vegetable and accounts for up to 40 percent of total vegetable production. In addition, Chinese mustard cabbage (pak choi) is cultivated primarily in Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand.

After the pak choi was brought to the Netherlands by Asian immigrants, it began to be grown there in greenhouses at the end of the 20th century. With success, the Paksoi, as the Pak Choi is called there, is now one of the most popular types of cabbage in the Netherlands.

The Pak Choi that we sell mostly comes from Thailand or the Netherlands. In the meantime, however, the exotic vegetable is also increasingly being grown in German-speaking countries, albeit on a small scale. In Switzerland, around 16 hectares were planted with Pak Choi in 2018, and 455 tons were harvested. 930 tons were imported.

Pak choi is in season in summer and autumn

Imported pak choi is available year-round, while local, outdoor-grown pak choi is in season from May to October.

Pesticides in bok choy

Analyzes by the chemical and veterinary investigation office in Stuttgart showed again in 2018 that buying organic vegetables makes sense. Because every 20th sample (if chlorate is included, every 5th sample) was objected to because the maximum level was exceeded at least once!

With regard to Pak Choi, the result was not meaningful because only one sample was examined. However, this showed multiple residues. However, it should be said that leafy vegetables are generally the most heavily contaminated with pesticides of all types of vegetables.

In 2016, the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety examined 27 samples of exotic vegetables. Among them were 3 pak choi samples (one from Hungary and two from the Netherlands) that contained the following pesticides above the legally permitted maximum level:

  • Fenvalerat: This insecticide is no longer approved in German-speaking countries.
  • Vinclozolin: This fungicide is no longer approved in the entire EU and in Switzerland because it is toxic to reproduction, affects the endocrine system, and is suspected of being carcinogenic.

Pay attention to the country of origin when buying

Next to the Netherlands, Thailand is the main producer of Pak Choi. You should know that conventionally grown fruit and vegetables from Asia are often very heavily contaminated with pesticides. The Federal Office for Food Safety regularly has to withdraw Asian fruit and vegetables from the border controls at Zurich and Geneva airports.

According to a test by the cantonal laboratory in Zurich, more than 30 percent of the controlled Asian vegetables exceeded the tolerance values ​​in 2016. In 4 percent of all samples, the pesticide concentration was so high that even a single intake can cause damage to health.

So when you buy it, make sure you know where the pak choi comes from. For vegetables from the EU, the overall complaint rate is only 6 percent on average.

Organic bok choy is better

You can read again and again that organic fruit and – e.g. B. due to the general environmental contamination and the drift of the applied pesticides – is not much better than conventionally grown. However, the eco-monitoring of the state of Baden-Württemberg once again clearly contradicted this in 2017.

No pesticide residues were detectable in most of the vegetable samples from organic cultivation (organic fruit and vegetables). If residues were identified, they were usually in the trace range (less than 0.01 milligrams per kilogram of vegetables). In comparison, only 10 percent of conventionally grown foods are residue-free. So it really pays to buy organic bok choy!

This is how pak choi is grown

But you don’t necessarily have to buy pak choi, you can easily grow it yourself in your garden or on your balcony. When buying the seeds, keep in mind that you are buying a variety such as B. Misome and Tatsoi choose the one suitable for growing in your area. The Mei Qing Choi variety is recommended for the balcony.

You can grow Pak Choi from April and then plant the tender seedlings outdoors from mid-May or sow them directly outdoors. It is important that no more frost is to be expected at the time of sowing. The vegetable prefers a sunny to a semi-shady location in moderate locations as well as nutrient-rich, loose, and calcareous soil.

If you then water the vegetables regularly and avoid waterlogging, nothing stands in the way of a good harvest. Depending on the variety, the Pak Choi can be harvested after just five to nine weeks. It is important that you harvest before the plants develop flowers and the leaves become fibrous.

With Pak Choi, there is also the option of putting the stalk in water. New leaves will sprout over time. Make sure the water is changed daily and the stalk is well moistened.

How to store pak choi

The leaves of the pak choi tell you at a glance how fresh the vegetables are: so make sure when you buy them that they are bright green, juicy and crisp. The stems should not have any brown or yellow spots.

Since the pak choi has a high moisture content, you should process it as fresh as possible. Fresh pak choi can be kept in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for about 1 week. Wrapping the vegetables in a damp cloth will keep them fresh longer.

Freeze pak choi

You should not freeze fresh pak choi as this will make the crunchy leaves unsightly and mushy. However, you can blanch the vegetables first, then place them in portions in suitable containers and freeze them. Frozen pak choi will keep for about 9 months. If you want to use the vegetables, you should take them out of the freezer the night before and let them thaw slowly in the fridge overnight.

Eat raw pak choi

The Pak Choi can also be eaten raw without any problems. It is wonderful as a raw vegetable in a mixed salad or in a green smoothie.

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Written by Allison Turner

I am a Registered Dietitian with 7+ years of experience in supporting many facets of nutrition, including but not limited to nutrition communications, nutrition marketing, content creation, corporate wellness, clinical nutrition, food service, community nutrition, and food and beverage development. I provide relevant, on-trend, and science-based expertise on a wide range of nutrition topics such as nutrition content development, recipe development and analysis, new product launch execution, food and nutrition media relations, and serve as a nutrition expert on behalf of a brand.

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