What is Choy Sum?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Choy sum is a Chinese phrase meaning “stems and flowers.” It is used to refer to a flowering vegetable closely related to bok choy which produces thick, crunchy stalks, yellow flowers, and lush green leaves. It is used in a variety of Chinese foods, usually stir fries and soups, and many Asian markets carry it, usually with other vegetables such as bok choy and Chinese broccoli. It is also possible to grow this vegetable at home in temperate climates, for cooks who have difficulty obtaining it in the marketplace.

Choy sum can substitute for bok choy in many Asian soups and stir-fry dishes.
Choy sum can substitute for bok choy in many Asian soups and stir-fry dishes.

Unlike other leafy green relatives, choy sum is cultivated specifically for the tender, crunchy stems and flavorful flowers, which have a hint of a mustard-like bite. Green choy sum produces greenish to yellow stalks and leaves with yellow flowers, while white choy sum has white stalks, and strongly resembles bok choy except that the bunches also include the bright yellow flowers. All of the parts of the plant are edible.

White choy sum is sometimes called bok choy sum, while the green type is also known as yu choy sum. Yu choy sum more closely resembles mustard greens or rabe, and has a slightly different flavor. Both plants are milder and more sweet than their more pungent relatives, especially when cooked. Since the vegetables are delicate, they are usually added to recipes at the last minute, so that the flavor is not lost.

When selecting this vegetable in the store, consumers should look for crisp specimens with upright leaves. It should not have any discolorations or soft spots, and smaller vegetables are actually better, since they will be more tender and flavorful. Once selected, the vegetables can be kept wrapped in the produce drawer for several days, after which it should be used. To use this vegetable quickly, try steaming it and serving it over rice with peanut sauce and stir fried tofu or chicken to make a version of pra ram, a popular Thai dish.

To grow this vegetable at home, start seedlings in a greenhouse or purchase them from a garden store. Plant them out in fertile soil well worked with mulch with excellent drainage. Keep the soil moist, but not water logged, and trim greens as needed. The plant will usually produce several sets of leaves and flowers before being exhausted. It can also be grown in tandem with bok choy, cabbage, chard, and similar vegetables.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Can anybody tell me why my choy sum is not green but is like a red and very dark green?


Is Chou sum the same vegetable as rapini?


I have a fantastic bok choy soup recipe that's full of flavor and it's nutritious too. The ingredients include chicken broth, thin sliced bok choy, soy sauce, Asian sesame oil, garlic and red pepper flakes.

Blend all the ingredients together except the bok choy and bring them to a boil. Add the bok choy and simmer for about ten minutes. That's it.

It's very simple to make and you can add to or substitute any of the ingredients to your preference. I've added chopped onions to mine before and sometimes cubed chicken, shrimp or turkey meatballs.


There are over twenty varieties of bok choy in Hong Kong and choy sum is considered the cream of the crop. It's referred to as the Chinese flowering cabbage because it looks like a cabbage with tiny yellow flowers.

Bok choy is sold in most grocery stores throughout Europe and North America. But the little bok choy sum vegetable is the most expensive.


My aunt has served stir fried baby bok choy during the holidays before. It 's fun to break away from the traditional green bean casserole sometimes.

She fried it in a wok with peanut oil, soy sauce and garlic. It had kind of a bitter sweet taste to it but it was super delicious.

Everyone loved it even my kids who insist on having it more often at our house now. That may be because I allow them to eat it with chop sticks.

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