Can You Eat Bamboo Shoots & What Are The Health Benefits?

The bamboo plant has quickly become versatile. From creating cooking utensils to building structures, there's nothing that this wonder plant can't do.

An interesting question on most people's minds is can you eat bamboo and if it's safe. Well, it's not advisable to be eaten raw as it contains cyanide, a type of poison. However, bamboo shoots have been a feature in various dishes and soups in Southeast Asian cuisine and few parts of India. They do, however, need to be well prepared to ensure that there's no toxin.

Not all bamboo species are safe to eat, but those edible can provide many benefits when well prepared.

We explored more on these varieties and touched further on the consumption of bamboo.

i) What Are Bamboo Shoots?

Bamboo shoots are the edible parts of bamboo that are featured in many types of Asian cuisine.

Shoots are new bamboo plants roughly 1 inch (2-3 cm) or larger and have a yellowish color. They come up during spring to develop new culms.

They come in various forms, including dried, fresh, or canned. Bamboo shoots can be added to recipes such as soups, curries, and salads. However, they are usually boiled, soaked, cooked, or pickled first.

Bamboo shoots are typically peeled before consumption, as they feature a woody and thick exterior that can be difficult to chew.

It's estimated that there are close to 1,500 species of bamboo worldwide. Certain species like Bambusa vulgaris and Phyllostachys edulis are among the most common types used in cooking.

ii) Can You Eat Bamboo?

It's safe to say yes and no.

Raw bamboo contains cyanide; hence if ingested can cause one to fall dangerously ill. Therefore, it's advisable not to consume fresh bamboo shoots without cooking them first. However, they are completely safe and edible when boiled.

Not all bamboo varieties can be considered edible species. In fact, there are only about 110 varieties that are registered consumable.

When buying from a store, it's important to ensure that the product state that the bamboo shoots are safe for consumption.

When boiling bamboo shoots, cyanide deteriorates quickly. That is why it's a good way to eliminate the problem and tell if it's safe to eat. Unfortunately, Taxiphyllin is also very bitter.

Fresh bamboo shoots are usually edible for around 2 weeks. However, if not stored properly, they will produce a bitter taste. Keep them refrigerated and away from sunlight. Raw bamboo shoots need to be blanched, boiled, or immersed in water overnight before cooking. The process can aid in reducing any risk of consuming harmful toxins.

Canned bamboo shoots are completely safe to eat. They are a suitable replacement for fresh shoots and are packed with water. Don’t forget to rinse them before eating. In case you notice an unusual smell, just boil them for a few minutes. Dried bamboo shoots require a longer soaking time and gradual, separate cooking before combining them into a dish.

What counts with bamboo dishes, is that it's prepared properly.

iii) Is Bamboo Poisonous for Pets/Animals?

When you've got pets that move around, e.g., cats and dogs, one always has to watch what they are doing. It's common for pets to get curious and get into your plants or try and find secret digging spots.

What's great about bamboo plants is that it's not poisonous for pets. However, it's best to watch out for Lucky Bamboo and Heavenly Bamboo. They are commonly mistaken as bamboo but don’t belong to the bamboo species. They actually pose a threat to cats and dogs as they can cause intestinal discomfort, drooling, dilated pupils, and increased heart rate. In addition, they may cause symptoms of depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, weakness, and incoordination.

What about pandas?

Unlike humans, pandas have broader capabilities and cannot get sick from cyanide. Greatly appreciated in China and considered as their representation of diplomacy, the large and endearing animals have an impressive ability to neutralize cyanide.

Giant pandas ingest more than 65% of cyanide in raw bamboo shoots. However, their digestive systems can turn 80% of the absorbed cyanide into a weak toxic chemical called thiocyanate which they then pee out.

iv) How To Remove Cyanide From Edible Bamboo

Taxiphyllin is unique because it degenerates quickly in boiling water. 

To remove toxicity from commercially available raw bamboo shoots, boil the shoots in salted water for about 20 to 25 minutes. Then, get rid of the water and boil in fresh water for another 5 to 10 minutes to ensure complete safety.

v) Varieties Of Bamboo With Edible Shoots

As stated earlier, there are 110 varieties of bamboo shoots declared edible. When considering bamboo shoots, primary considerations begin with flavor and climate. Ideally, you want tender, delicious shoots rather than those that will have to undergo proper processing to make them palatable. In addition, you'll also want a species of bamboo that will readily grow in your preferred climate so that tilling it isn’t a struggle.

If planning to plant bamboo specifically for food, choose the edible species with the most tender, tastiest, and abundant shoots.

It's worth noting that size doesn't correlate to flavor. However, the larger the diameter of the canes aboveground, the bigger the shoots, and thus the larger the harvest. When it comes to cold, Bamboo species have varying degrees of tolerance, so your choice will also be a function of climatic constraints.

  • Phyllostachys edulis: Informally known as Moso bamboo, it is a giant variety of bamboo that can reach up to 50 feet tall and be eight inches in diameter. It’s readily available, hardy readily, and produces large shoots for food and big stalks to build structures.
  • Phyllostachys Dulcis: Referred to as sweet shoot, bamboo grows up to 40 feet high and three inches around. The plant can also handle temperatures down to zero degrees F.
  • Acidosasa edulis: It's a member of a strain of bamboo considered “sour” and is mainly tilled for large-scale food. It can withstand temperatures of five degrees and grows bamboo canes that are 2.5 inches around.
  • Chimonobambusa varieties: There are various members of this genus that are considered not just good but delicious. The bamboo extract can be expected to grow in areas that remain above 15 degrees, and it's known to produce much thinner and shorter canes.
  • Chimonocalamus delicatus: Its Latin name suggests that it's a delicacy, and its common name, fragrant bamboo, sounds enticing as well. The species endures freezing temperatures down to 10 degrees, and its canes get to be 1.5 inches around.

vi) Edible Bamboo Growing Conditions

Bamboo is considered very easy to grow. In fact, it's likened to giant grass.

Plant it in rich, well-drained soil and a location with sun, or that's sunny or partly shaded. It grows most lushly when supplied with sufficient moisture like all grasses. Ideally, the more lush the growth, the sweeter and tender the shoots.

Ensure to irrigate your bamboo whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry, or more often if you wish. Just ensure not to overdo it if your drainage is poor – waterlogged soil is a lethal blow to bamboo.

As long as you plant your bamboo in fertile soil, there is no need to fertilize it. However, you’ll produce more bamboo shoots if you do – especially with nitrogen-rich fertilizers. Though it is tempting to fertilize bamboo with animal manure because of its high nitrogen content, it’s not advisable due to the potential for the fresh shoots to get into contact with pathogens in the manure as they come out from the ground. The safest bet is to opt for store-bought organic fertilizers.

vii) How To Harvest Edible Bamboo

Early spring is the bamboo season. Smaller bamboo species should be harvested before they reach six inches, and larger bamboo can be left up to a foot. The younger and shorter sprouts indicate better texture and flavor. The bamboo shoots should be cut cleanly from the roots.

Early spring is the bamboo season. Smaller bamboo species should be harvested before they reach six inches, and larger bamboo can be left up to a foot. The younger and shorter sprouts tend to indicate better texture and flavor. The bamboo shoots should be cut cleanly from the roots.

Once harvested, the outer exterior of the bamboo shoot should be peeled off, revealing the familiar white innards.

viii) Types Of Bamboo Shoots

Here are some different ways you can go about preparing your bamboo shoots.

a)Fresh bamboo shoots

It's possible to get access to unprocessed shoots in Southern California. However, the taste of fresh bamboo is best if vacuum bagged and tastier if packaged as canned shoots.

If you buy fresh bamboo shoots, you'll have to prepare them yourself.

b) Prepared bamboo shoots

These bamboo shoots are processed and cooked in Asia and exported to North American in sterile bulk boxes. The bamboo shoots can be whole, crushed, or chopped. They are usually peeled and cooked long enough to treat them properly for no toxication.

c) Winter bamboo shoots

These come from Giant Bamboos that rise to approximately 100 feet high. They are collected in the wintertime when sweeter, softer, and shorter than the hairy spring shoots. As a result, the shoots are bigger in size and white in color. They are usually sold whole in sterile vacuum packs.

d) Green bamboo shoots

The bamboo shoots are white in color despite the name. The name is derived from the Green Bamboo family. The shoots are generally regularly firm and can easily be sliced into any shape you desire. The only downside is that the shoots tend to be sold at an expensive rate.

e) Thin bamboo shoots

The bamboo shoots from P. bambusoides species are long and thin. However, the seasoned shoot is quite long at 72 feet high. They are sold canned or vacuum packaged. The bamboo shoots are slightly more fibrous than the bigger ones and have a sharp, slightly bitter taste.

f) Bulk bamboo tips

These come from the budding tips of more developed stems like palm hearts. They are safe to eat and have great flavor. The shoots are firm but not dense. The tips are usually prepared only in bulk containers due to the size.

g) Salted, dried bamboo

The traditional shoot preparation involves wrapping the shoot in a bamboo splint case filled with dried bamboo leaves. Due to current technology, the product is placed in a plastic vacuum pack container. Thin bamboo shoots are dried and salted. Before using the bamboo, they have to be immersed in water to rehydrate them.

h) Unsalted dried bamboo

Most dried bamboo in stores comes this way, whether cut in broad or thin slices. The shoots are regularly treated with sulfur dioxide or another sulfite to preserve and keep the color. As a result, some of the goods, particularly those from China, are dark yellow in color.

i) Smoked dried bamboo shoots

Traditionally, these were used as a food, but currently, they are mainly made into a seasoning with sesame seeds or peanuts. First, the bamboo pieces are cooked to ensure they're clean. Then, the joints are cut out, and the parts between the joints are cut into little bits. Next, sesame seeds or peanut paste and salt are combined and boiled until it becomes soft.

k) Sour bamboo shoots

In Southeast Asia, salt fermented shoots are common as a seasoning ingredient in soups and other dishes.

ix) Benefits Of Eating Bamboo Shoots

a) Aids With Weight Loss

A diet of bamboo shoots is low in sugar, calories, carbohydrates, and high in protein. A half-cup has only 20 calories. In contrast to other fruits and vegetables, bamboo shoots contain less sugar. There is barely 3g to 4g of carbohydrates for every 100g (3.5oz) meal. It’s actually only 2.5g per 100g (3.5oz) serving.

b) It Lowers cholesterol

A bamboo shoot diet can lower one's total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, according to studies. In addition, the diet can reduce the atherogenic index, which is an indicator of a cardiovascular disorder.

c) Rich In Potassium

There is about 800mg of potassium in canned shoots. Bamboo shoots have higher potassium than other vegetables, except for spinach.

d) Stabilizes Hormone Levels

Bamboo contains lignans which are responsible for stabilizing hormone levels. For example, it aids in balancing the estrogen levels in women. While in men, it helps balance testosterone levels. Lignans are transformed by beneficial bacteria in your intestines.

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