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Baby Bok Choy Substitute - From Choy Sum To Kale

Discover versatile and delicious alternatives with our guide on the best baby bok choy substitute options. From regular bok choy to choy sum, napa cabbage, and more, learn how to seamlessly adapt these substitutes in your recipes. Explore considerations for texture, flavor, and cooking times to elevate your culinary creations. Diversify your cooking repertoire with these unique substitutes for baby bok choy.

Author:Stefano Mclaughlin
Reviewer:Karan Emery
Oct 13, 2023
Substituting ingredients in recipes can be a necessity, especially when it comes to specialized or less common items. Baby bok choy, with its tender leaves and crisp stalks, is a popular vegetable in many Asian cuisines and beyond. However, there are instances when you might need a baby bok choy substitute, either due to unavailability or personal preferences.
In this detailed exploration, we'll delve into various baby bok choy substitute that can seamlessly replace baby bok choy in your dishes.

Understanding Baby Bok Choy

Before we explore substitutes, let's understand what baby bok choy is and why it's a unique ingredient. Baby bok choy, also known as Shanghai bok choy, is a smaller and more delicate version of regular bok choy.
Chinese cabbage known as baby bok choy has a taste that could be compared to mixing celery, spinach, and water chestnuts. Although it can be used in any cuisine, it is generally regarded as an Asian vegetable because it is native to China.
Even though they both come from the same plant, it's not too difficult to distinguish between bok choy and baby bok choy. The biggest difference between the two is that baby bok choy is considerably smaller than regular bok choy.
When referring to ordinary pak choi, the term "baby bok choy" can be used to describe leaves that have been harvested between 30 and 35 days following germination as opposed to 50 to 70 days later.
Compared to its fully grown sibling, this variety of pak choi has a milder flavor, and its leaves are more delicate. Pak choi (Bok Choy) that is still developing tends to have more leaves than stalks since the long, crisp stalks will take much longer to grow.

Nutritional Properties

  • This vegetable contains slim to no fat, 2% carbohydrate, 1% protein, and 95% water.
  • Its advantages include being an excellent source of fiber, folate, calcium, and antioxidants as well as vitamins A, C, K, and B6.
  • The amino acid homocysteine, which if levels are too high, can lead to strokes, heart disease, and dementia, is broken down by folate and vitamin B6 in the body.
  • Cruciferous vegetables have been found to aid in the prevention of cell damage, which lowers the risk of developing cancer.
  • Baby bok choy has a lot of fiber, which supports healthy digestion and gut function.
  • Quercetin, a plant pigment found in this vegetable, has been shown to lessen bloating and inflammation.
Here are some of the baby bok choy substitutes:

Bok Choy (Regular)

Regular bok choy, also known as Chinese cabbage or pak choi, serves as an excellent substitute for baby bok choy in various culinary applications. While the regular variety is larger with broader leaves and thicker stalks, it maintains the characteristic mild, slightly peppery flavor that defines the bok choy family.
In terms of texture, the leaves of regular bok choy may require a bit more cooking time than baby bok choy. To adapt, you can slice the larger leaves into smaller, more manageable pieces. The stems, although thicker, retain a delightful crispness when cooked.
Regular bok choy is particularly versatile and can be used in stir-fries, soups, or even on its own as a side dish. Its robust nature makes it a resilient and adaptable substitute, seamlessly integrating into recipes that call for baby bok choy.
Bok Choy
Bok Choy

Choy Sum

Choy sum, also referred to as Chinese flowering cabbage or yu choy, is another noteworthy alternative to baby bok choy. While it shares the bok choy family lineage, choy sum offers a unique twist with its delicate yellow flowers and slender stems.
In terms of flavor, choy sum has a slightly more bitter taste compared to the milder baby bok choy. This divergence can add complexity to dishes, making it a fascinating substitute for those looking to experiment with different flavor profiles.
Cooking choy sum is a delightful experience. Its tender stems and leaves cook quickly, making it an ideal choice for stir-fries. The vibrant green color and subtle bitterness make choy sum a visually appealing and flavorful addition to your culinary creations.
Choy Sum leaves
Choy Sum leaves

Napa Cabbage

Napa cabbage, also known as Chinese cabbage or wombok, presents a unique alternative to baby bok choy. While the leaves are different in texture and appearance, napa cabbage shares a mild flavor profile, making it a viable substitute in certain recipes.
One notable difference is the texture of napa cabbage. It has a crisper, more delicate texture compared to the sturdy leaves of baby bok choy. To incorporate napa cabbage as a substitute, consider separating the leaves and using them in stir-fries or chopping them for salads. The result is a delightful crunch that complements a variety of dishes.
Napa cabbage's versatility extends to its use in kimchi, a traditional Korean fermented dish. Its mild flavor allows the other ingredients to shine, making it a popular choice for those seeking a substitute that can seamlessly blend into different culinary traditions.
A woman holding a bowl filled with Napa Cabbage
A woman holding a bowl filled with Napa Cabbage

Swiss Chard

Swiss chard, with its vibrant and colorful leaves, is a versatile leafy green that can stand in as a delightful substitute for baby bok choy. While Swiss chard has a more robust flavor compared to the mild taste of baby bok choy, its crisp stems and tender leaves make it an excellent addition to various dishes.
One of the key advantages of Swiss chard is its adaptability. The leaves can be used in salads, sautéed as a side dish, or incorporated into main courses. The stems, often overlooked, offer a pleasant crunch when sliced and cooked. To use Swiss chard as a substitute, remove the tough stems if desired and chop the leaves finely for salads or larger pieces for sautés.
Swiss chard's earthy and slightly bitter notes provide a unique twist to dishes traditionally prepared with baby bok choy. It's a fantastic choice for those who enjoy the heartier flavors of leafy greens.
Swiss Chard on a plate
Swiss Chard on a plate

Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli)

Gai lan, also known as Chinese broccoli, is a leafy green vegetable with thick stems and dark green leaves. While it differs in appearance from baby bok choy, gai lan can be a compelling substitute due to its distinctive flavor and texture.
The flavor of gai lan is more robust and slightly bitter compared to the milder taste of baby bok choy. The thick stems take a bit longer to cook, offering a delightful crunch when prepared in stir-fries or blanched and served with a savory oyster sauce.
Gai lan's versatility extends beyond stir-fries; it can be a star ingredient in noodle dishes, soups, and even on its own as a nutritious side dish. The combination of hearty stems and tender leaves makes gai lan an intriguing option for those seeking a substitute that brings a different flavor profile to their culinary creations.
Gai Lan dish
Gai Lan dish


Kale, with its curly or flat leaves and deep green color, has gained popularity as a nutrient-rich leafy green. While it has a more pronounced and earthy flavor than baby bok choy, kale can be a suitable substitute, especially in salads and sautés.
When using kale as a substitute, it's important to note that the stems can be tough and fibrous. To make the most of this leafy green, remove the stems and chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Kale works exceptionally well in salads when massaged with a vinaigrette, making it more tender and flavorful.
In sautés or as a side dish, kale can be cooked until wilted. Its robust flavor pairs well with garlic, lemon, and various herbs. Kale's versatility allows it to seamlessly integrate into a variety of dishes, providing a nutrient boost along with its distinctive taste.
Kale leaves
Kale leaves


Spinach, with its tender leaves and mild flavor, stands as a versatile and popular substitute for baby bok choy. While the texture and taste are distinct, spinach's adaptability makes it a valuable addition to various dishes.
One of the notable features of spinach is its quick cooking time. In stir-fries, soups, or as a side dish, spinach wilts rapidly, maintaining its vibrant green color and delicate texture. This quality makes it an ideal substitute when you need a leafy green that doesn't require extensive cooking.
In salads, spinach shines as a replacement for baby bok choy leaves. Its mild and slightly sweet flavor pairs well with a variety of dressings, and the tender leaves add a delightful freshness to the dish. Spinach also works seamlessly in pasta dishes, quiches, and smoothies, offering a nutrient boost along with its pleasant taste.
Another advantage of using spinach is its accessibility. Widely available year-round, fresh spinach can be found in grocery stores, and frozen spinach is a convenient option when the fresh variety isn't on hand. This accessibility makes spinach a reliable choice for those looking to substitute baby bok choy without compromising on flavor or nutritional value.
Whether you're looking to enhance the nutrient content of your meals or simply seeking a leafy green with a mild taste, spinach stands out as a versatile and accessible substitute for baby bok choy. Experimenting with spinach in various recipes allows you to discover the many ways it can contribute to the overall flavor and texture of your culinary creations.
Spinach leaves
Spinach leaves

Considerations When Substituting

When opting for substitutes in recipes that call for baby bok choy, several considerations come into play to ensure a seamless and flavorful transition. Whether you're replacing it with regular bok choy, choy sum, napa cabbage, Swiss chard, gai lan, kale, or spinach, these considerations will guide you in adapting your dish effectively.


Baby bok choy has tender leaves and crisp stalks. When substituting, consider the texture of the replacement. For example, regular bok choy may have thicker stalks, while spinach may be more delicate. Adjust cooking times to maintain the desired texture.


Different substitutes bring variations in flavor. While regular bok choy and choy sum share a family flavor, gai lan introduces a slight bitterness, and kale has a more robust taste. Be mindful of the flavor profile and adjust seasonings to harmonize with the substitute.

Cooking Time

Each substitute may require different cooking times. Quick-cooking greens like spinach need minimal time, while denser vegetables like regular bok choy or gai lan may take longer. Adjust your cooking method accordingly to prevent undercooking or overcooking.

Culinary Application

Think about the specific dish you're preparing. If the recipe calls for the unique features of baby bok choy, such as its size or texture, you may need to adapt the substitute accordingly. For example, if using regular bok choy instead, consider slicing it into smaller pieces.

Quantity And Size

Substituting often involves adjusting the quantity used. For leafy greens like spinach or kale, you may need a larger volume to match the bulk of baby bok choy. Conversely, for denser substitutes like regular bok choy, you might need less in terms of quantity.

Complementary Ingredients

Consider how the substitute interacts with other ingredients in the dish. Some substitutes may pair better with certain flavors or sauces. For instance, gai lan's slightly bitter taste complements savory sauces, while spinach's mild flavor allows other ingredients to shine.

Visual Appeal

The visual appeal of a dish contributes significantly to its overall enjoyment. Consider how the substitute impacts the color and presentation of the dish. For instance, the vibrant green of choy sum or gai lan can add an appealing visual element to stir-fries or salads.

Nutritional Content

Substituting can also impact the nutritional content of your dish. While all the substitutes mentioned offer health benefits, kale, for example, is renowned for its high nutrient density. Consider your nutritional goals when selecting a substitute.
In the art of culinary substitution, flexibility is key. These considerations provide a framework for making informed decisions when replacing baby bok choy with other greens. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain the essence of the dish while introducing new and exciting flavors and textures through thoughtful and creative substitutions.


What Can I Use As A Substitute For Baby Bok Choy In A Stir-fry?

Choy sum is a great substitute with a similar texture and taste.

Are There Any Leafy Greens That Can Replace Baby Bok Choy In Salads?

Yes, kale or Swiss chard can be excellent alternatives for salads.

Can I Use Regular Bok Choy Instead Of Baby Bok Choy In Recipes?

Absolutely, regular bok choy can be a suitable substitute, just adjust cooking times.

What's A Baby Bok Choy Replacement For A Crunchy Texture In A Dish?

Napa cabbage can provide a similar crunch when cooked.

Is There Aby Substitute For Baby Bok Choy For A Different Flavor Profile?

Gai lan, also known as Chinese broccoli, has a slightly bitter taste and can be a good substitute.


Finding a suitable baby bok choy substitute depends on the specific dish you're preparing and your personal preferences. Regular bok choy, choy sum, napa cabbage, Swiss chard, gai lan, kale, and spinach are all viable options, each bringing its own unique characteristics to the table. Experiment with these substitutes to discover which one best complements your culinary creation, ensuring a satisfying and flavorful outcome.
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Stefano Mclaughlin

Stefano Mclaughlin

Stefano Mclaughlin is a Psychologist focused on mental health, emotional well-being, and healthcare policy. He studied Psychology and Public Health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, gaining a deep understanding of the intersection between mental health and public policy. Stefano's mission is clear: he aims to destigmatize mental health discussions, improve access to mental healthcare, and promote emotional well-being for all. Drawing from personal experiences with anxiety and depression, Stefano shares real stories to make mental health topics more relatable and less intimidating. In addition to his advocacy work, Stefano enjoys delving into books, experimenting in the kitchen, and embarking on new adventures. These hobbies fuel his creativity and inspire fresh perspectives for his advocacy work.
Karan Emery

Karan Emery

Karan Emery, an accomplished researcher and leader in health sciences, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals, brings over two decades of experience to the table. Holding a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Stanford University, Karan's credentials underscore her authority in the field. With a track record of groundbreaking research and numerous peer-reviewed publications in prestigious journals, Karan's expertise is widely recognized in the scientific community. Her writing style is characterized by its clarity and meticulous attention to detail, making complex scientific concepts accessible to a broad audience. Apart from her professional endeavors, Karan enjoys cooking, learning about different cultures and languages, watching documentaries, and visiting historical landmarks. Committed to advancing knowledge and improving health outcomes, Karan Emery continues to make significant contributions to the fields of health, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals.
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