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					   University of Kentucky                         CDBREC Home                                CDBREC Crop Profiles                               College of Agriculture

  Ethnic Vegetables:
  Asian vegetables are generally those vegetable
  crops that have originated from East Asia (China,
  Japan, and Korea) and Southeast Asia (Vietnam,
  Laos, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, etc). It
  can also include crops of South Asia (India and                                             Chinese      bitter melon
  Pakistan). While often referred to as “oriental”                                               fruit and blossoms.
  vegetables, the term “Asian” is preferred. A
  number of these Asian crops could be grown and                                            Providing preparation instructions, along with
  marketed in Kentucky.                                                                     recipes, will be an important aspect of promoting
                                                                                            these vegetables to non-Asian customers.
  Growers must be careful to identify specific                                              Traditional Asian vegetables can be sold at
  markets even before ordering seed. The type of                                            farmers markets, at roadside stands, to specialty
  market dictates which crops will be grown and                                             groceries, and to upscale supermarkets.
  what special cultural or post-harvest practices                                           Restaurants, particularly those specializing in
  will be required. Determining what the customer                                           Asian or vegetarian dishes, may also be interested
  wants is especially critical in finding niche                                             in purchasing fresh, locally grown Asian
  markets for Asian vegetables, where various                                               vegetables. Growers could consider adding Asian
  ethnic groups may prefer different sizes, colors,                                         produce, as well as other specialty vegetables,
  maturity level, and other characteristics of the                                          to a community supported agriculture (CSA) or
  same vegetable.                                                                           U-Pick mix. The U-Pick market is particularly
                                                                                            strong because the different ethnic groups can
  One of the challenges of marketing Asian                                                  select the crop at the stage they want it.
  vegetables is presenting the crop in the correct
  language(s) for Asian buyers. Many of these crops                                         Some growers have successfully marketed Asian
  have several names, depending on the language                                             vegetables directly to ethnic neighborhoods in
  used. While certainly not required, knowledge                                             large cities. The same caveat of knowing what
  of the prospective customers’                                                                              the market wants is vital, as
  language, customs, and dietary                                                                             well as identifying the proper
  preferences will definitely be an                                                                          maturity levels for different
  asset in marketing Asian crops.                                                                            culinary uses.

Agriculture & Natural Resources • Family & Consumer Sciences • 4-H/Youth Development • Community & Economic Development

       Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
Market Outlook                                      broccoli, heading types of Chinese cabbage,
The demand for ethnic and specialty vegetables      Japanese greens, pea shoots, and tatsoi (an Asian
is rapidly increasing in the U.S., with Asian       green). Refer to table 1 for the common and
vegetables as one of the most popular specialty     botanical names of these and other potential
groups. A larger ethnic Asian population,           crops. Prospective growers should investigate
coupled with a more health-conscious public and     which crops may be suitable for their area and
American consumers desire for more variety in       determine the market interest before production.
their diet, continues to fuel this trend.
                                                    Site selection and planting
A relatively small volume of each vegetable type    Many Asian vegetable crops belong to botanical
is in demand at any one time or place, so this      families that are well known to the Kentucky
market can easily become saturated. To guard        grower, such as cucurbits (vining crops),
against this, the grower should develop a special   crucifers (cole crops), and legumes. Some ethnic
niche. Kentucky growers could potentially           vegetables are merely a different subspecies or
discover local market niches for dozens of Asian    variety of their western counterparts. Cultural
vegetables. Freshness of produce is the key to      requirements for these closely related crops are
gaining the Asian market. Since these vegetables    often very similar to traditional vegetable crops.
are often highly perishable, competition should     Nevertheless, growers may need to rely on their
be minimal from distant markets.                    own on-farm trials to identify the best production
                                                    methods for these specialty crops.

                                                    In general, choose a site that is well-drained and
                                                    warms up quickly in the spring. Avoid low-
                                                    lying fields that are subject to late frosts and high
                                                    humidity. Cold-sensitive crops should not be
                                                    planted until all danger of frost has passed and
                                                    the soil has warmed sufficiently. Transplants can
                                                    be grown in a greenhouse structure or hotbed,
                 daikon radish                      both for direct sales or on-farm use.

                                                    Some crops require a continuous supply
Production Considerations                           of moisture, especially during fruit-set and
Potential crops                                     development. UK research has reported greater
Currently, the most frequently grown Asian          yields, increased earliness, and a cleaner harvest
vegetables in Kentucky are bok choy (a non-         when growing most vegetable crops on raised
heading Chinese cabbage), daikon (Japanese          beds with black plastic and drip irrigation. The
white radish), Asian eggplant, edamame (edible      moisture levels under the plastic must be carefully
soybeans), and Asian greens. Kobacha squash         monitored when using this system.
(Japanese pumpkin) has performed well in
University of Kentucky variety trials. Kobacha      Some Asian vegetables are suitable for successive
was also well-received by both Asian and            plantings, allowing the grower to produce as many
Caucasian customers in a 2004 UK marketing          as three cropping sequences on the same land.
research study.    Kentucky consumers have          Less land is required with successive plantings,
shown interest in celtuce (asparagus lettuce),      and more crops can be produced annually. For
chayote, garlic chives, and wax gourd. Other        example, bok choy planted in early spring can
crops with potential include asparagus bean         be harvested in time for a summer planting of
(Chinese yardlong bean), bitter melon, Chinese      yardlong beans, which in turn can be followed
by daikon transplants in early fall. Potentially     A producer often begins with small amounts of
higher returns for specialty vegetables often        a new crop for a niche market. Small amounts
justify the more intensive production methods        of Asian vegetables can potentially be added to
and exacting management practices that may be        existing plots using similar cultural techniques.
required.                                            This could help minimize additional labor
Pest management
Disease and insect pressure for Asian vegetables
can vary depending on the crop, the cultivar, and
the season. Chemical control methods may be
limited since few pesticides are registered for
many of these specialty crops. Integrated pest
management (IPM) strategies, including frequent
scouting to monitor pests, may be needed to
prevent or reduce losses. Bt is a microbial
insecticide that can be used for effective pest
control on a number of Asian vegetable crops.
Some Bt products can also be used in organic
production, but check with your certifying                                               kaboCha squash
agency before purchasing and applying anything.
Controlling weeds, following a good rotation
system, and the use of beneficial insects can aid    Economic Considerations
in pest control.                                     Initial investments include land preparation and
                                                     purchase of seed or transplants. Producers need
Harvest and storage                                  to closely manage costs of key inputs, especially
Freshness is the key in marketing Asian              seed, when producing specialty vegetables.
vegetables; therefore, they should be harvested      Seed for some Asian vegetables can be more
at their peak. Limiting the market radius to         expensive, so purchasing a variety that does not
easy traveling distance will help ensure the         meet a customer’s preference can be a costly
freshest specialty produce. Little storage time is   miscalculation. Additional costs are incurred with
needed for crops to be sold within a few days of     the installation of an irrigation system and plastic
harvest. Asian greens and Chinese cabbage can        mulch. Returns over total costs for small-scale
be stored for two to several weeks at the proper     vegetable crops such as lettuce and eggplant may
temperature and relative humidity. These crops       begin at about $100 over total costs for a 100-foot
are usually vacuum-cooled or cooled with cold        by 4-foot bed. Returns for high-quality ethnic
water (hydrocooled); although forced-air and         Asian greens and eggplant can often approach
room cooling can also be used.                       a $200 return over total costs per 400-square-
                                                     foot bed. Returns for specialty ethnic herbs and
Labor requirements                                   greens may be much greater per square foot.
Many Asian vegetables are produced using
methods similar to comparable vegetables             Pricing a new or specialty crop is also a key
already grown in Kentucky. Producers can refer       consideration. Producers should access available
to Crop Diversification & Biofuel Research           wholesale and retail market prices for Asian
& Education Center crop profiles to estimate         vegetables to determine what price the market
labor requirements for these specific vegetables.    can bear. Wholesale prices for many Asian
Plasticulture will add eight to 10 hours more per    vegetables are reported daily or weekly through
acre for the removal and disposal of the plastic.    the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service
(AMS) in their Fruit and Vegetable Market News.      • Chinese Cabbage and Related Oriental
Visiting Asian food stores or specialty retailers,   Crops, C-809 (University of Georgia, 1999)
such as Whole Foods in Lexington or Louisville,      5.19 MB file
can also provide producers with an idea of what
prices to ask for specialty crops.                   chinese%20veggies.pdf
                                                     • Fruit and Vegetable Market News (USDA
Selected Resources                                   Agricultural Marketing Service)
• Growing and Marketing Chinese Vegetables 
in Central Kentucky (University of Kentucky,         FVMarketNews
1996)                                                • Guide to Asian Specialty Vegetables in the                  Central Valley, CA (University of California)
• Marketing Asian Produce (University of             introduction.htm
Kentucky, 2010)                                      • Guide to Asian Vegetables (New Entry              Sustainable Farming Project, Tufts University)
• Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial          guides/AsianVegetableGuide.pdf
Growers, ID-36 (University of Kentucky)              • Specialty Asian Vegetable Production in         South Florida (University of Florida, 2010)
• Around the World at Farmers’ Market:               • Specialty and Minor Crops Handbook, 2nd
Opportunities in Growing and Marketing of            edition (Small Farm Center, University of
Ethnic and Old-fashioned Fruits, Vegetables and      California-Davis, 1998) Available for purchase
Herbs (Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture,      only. Information on the handbook contents:
2002)                                               asp?view=5
proceedings/ethnic_fruits_veggies_herbs.pdf          Order online at:
• Asian Vegetables Fact Sheet (National    
Garden Bureau)                                       aspx      • Specialty Vegetables (ATTRA, 2002)
• Asian Vegetables, B-672 (Ohio State                summary.php?pub=36
University)                                          • World Crops (Rutgers University, University           of Massachusetts, and Cornell Cooperative
• Asian Vegetables: Selected Fruit and Leafy         Extension Services )
Types (University of California-Davis, 1996)
table 1. seleCted potential asian Crops for kentuCky produCers.

   Common Name            Botanical Name           Family Name   Parts Used/Eaten     Alternate Names
 Adzuki bean           Phaseolus angularis      Fabaceae         seeds              azuki bean
 Amaranth              Amaranthus spp.          Amaranthaceae    leaves             leafy amaranth,
                                                                                    vegetable amaranth
 Basella               Basella rubra            Basellaceae      leaves             malabar spinach,
                                                                                    climbing spinach
 Bitter melon          Momordica charantia      Cucurbitaceae    immature fruit     Chinese bitter melon,
                                                                                    bitter gourd
 Bok choy (boc choi)   Brassica rapa            Brassicaceae     leaves             non-heading Chinese
                       (Chinensis group);                                           cabbage, pak choy,
                       B. campestris;                                               celery cabbage,
                       B. chinensis                                                 Chinese mustard
                                                                                    cabbage, Chinese
                                                                                    chard cabbage
 Bottle gourd          Lagenaria siceraria      Cucurbitaceae    fruit              calabash, white-
                                                                                    flowered gourd, long

 Broccoli, Chinese     Brassica oleracea var.   Brassicaceae     flower buds,       gai-lan, Chinese kale
                       alboglabra                                stems, leaves
 Celtuce               Lactuca sativa var.      Asteraceae       stem, leaves       asparagus lettuce,
                       augustan                                                     stem lettuce
 Chayote               Sedium edule             Cucurbitaceae    fruit, shoots,     vegetable pear,
                                                                 leaves             pear squash
 Chrysanthemum         Chrysanthemum            Asteraceae       leaves, flowers    garland
 greens                coronarium                                                   chrysanthemum, chop
                                                                                    suey greens

 Daikon radish         Raphanus sativus var     Brassicaceae     roots              Japanese white radish,
                       longipinnatus                                                Chinese radish

 Edamame               Glycines max             Fabaceae         pods               edible green vegetable
 Eggplant, Asian       Solanum melonigena       Solanaceae       fruit              Japanese eggplant
                       var esculentum;
                       S. melonigera
 Fuzzy melon           Benincasa hispida var    Cucurbitaceae    immature fruit     hairy melon, fuzzy
                       chieh-gua                                                    gourd
 Garlic chives         Allium tuberosum         Amaryllidaceae   greens, flowers,   Chinese chives
                                                                 flower stems,
 Kabocha               Cucurbita maxima         Cucurbitaceae    fruit              Japanese squash,
                                                                                    Japanese pumpkin
 Luffa                 Luffa acutangula         Cucurbitaceae    fruit              Chinese okra

 Mung bean             Phaseolus aureus         Fabaceae         seeds, sprouts
                       Vignus radiata
table 1 (Cont’d). seleCted potential asian Crops for kentuCky produCers.

   Common Name           Botanical Name        Family Name   Parts Used/Eaten       Alternate Names
 Mustard greens       Brassica juncea       Brassicaceae     greens, stem, root   Chinese mustard
                                                                                  greens, gai choy
 Napa (Nappa)         Brassica rapa var.    Brassicaceae     leaves               headed Chinese
                      pekinensis;                                                 cabbage
                      B. campestris
 Parsley, Chinese     Coriander sativum     Apiaceae         leaves               cilantro

 Peas, snow           Pisum sativum var     Fabaceae         pods                 Chinese peas
                      P. sativum
 Pea shoots           Pisium sativum        Fabaceae         sprouts
 Pepper, Thai hot     Capsicum frutescens   Solanaceae       fruit                Thai chili pepper

 Tatsoi               Brassica rapa         Brassicaceae     leaves for greens    rosette bok choy,
                                                                                  spoon cabbage
 Turnip               Brassica rapa var.    Brassicaceae     roots
 Wax gourd            Benincasa hispida     Cucurbitaceae    fruit                winter gourd, winter
                                                                                  melon, Chinese
                                                                                  preserving melon

 Yardlong bean        Vigna sesquipedalis   Fabaceae         pods                 asparagus bean,
                                                                                  Chinese long bean
 Yam, Chinese         Dioscorea batatas     Discoreaceae     tuber                cinnamon vine
 Yu choi (yu choy)    Brassica rapa         Brassicaceae     young leaves and
                                                             flowering stalks

Reviewed by Brent Rowell, Extension Specialist (Issued 2006)
Reviewed by Shawn Wright, Extension Specialist (Revised 2010)
Photos by John Strang, University of Kentucky (daikon & kabocha);
Safocat (bitter melon fruit) and Sakichin (blooms), Flickr                                   August 2010

              For additional information, contact your local County Extension agent

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