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What are Bamboo Shoots?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Bamboo shoots are edible new growth harvested from the bamboo plant. They are very popular in the cuisine of many Asian nations, and have been used in places like China for centuries. Although this ingredient rarely appears in Western cuisine, many Westerners are familiar with it, since they are frequently used in Asian restaurants. Asian markets often carry fresh bamboo shoots, which need to be carefully prepared before they can be used. Canned and frozen shoots are also available and are usually ready for use, although they are not as flavorful.

Bamboo is a woody grass in the family Poaceae. The plants are often grown for ornamental use, and the wood is also useful for various household goods. As bamboo grows, it becomes harder and develops a series of joints. Since bamboo is so quick growing, it is a useful sustainable source of raw wood for things like paper and furniture. Bamboo shoots are the extremely young growth of the bamboo plant, usually harvested before they are two weeks old. The shoots have a tough exterior, but a tender inner core with a faintly sweet flavor.

To prepare fresh bamboo shoots for cooking, the outer layers are peeled off to reveal the core, which is typically sliced into thin strips. The shoots are parbroiled to remove their natural bitterness, and then they can be used in cooking. While it is not necessarily harmful to eat undercooked shoots, they are woody, bitter, and difficult to digest, making them ultimately rather unsatisfying. Canned bamboo shoots are parbroiled before canning, so they require no special treatment before they are used.

Many Asian recipes incorporate this ingredient. It appears in soups, dumplings, and stir fries. There is a slightly crunchy, crisp texture retained through cooking which compliments dishes with an assortment of vegetables and meats. Bamboo shoots may also be pickled and used as a garnish, as is especially common in China. Shredded fresh shoots can appear plain on salads and noodle dishes as well.

Not all species of bamboo produce tasty edible shoots. Some of the best choices are big node, giant timber, sweet shoot, and red margin bamboos. Moso-chiku bamboo is also used to produce edible shoots. Many of these cultivars are also easy to grow and attractive to look at, for cooks who would like to be able to use bamboo shoots fresh from the garden.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

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

Discussion Comments
By anon264746 — On Apr 29, 2012

Raw or undercooked bamboo shoots are harmful! They contain a form of cyanide called taxiphyllin. This breaks down in boiling water, making cooked bamboo safe to eat. However, the quantity of cyanide depends on the species of bamboo. Depending on the species you use, you should boil it from 20 minutes to two hours to remove all the toxins.

I tried to include a link to my information, however web addresses are not allowed in posts. But a quick search will give you more information.

By anon134405 — On Dec 14, 2010

Fry 1 cup bamboo shoots in pan, add two baked potatoes cut in cubes, add black eyed peas, add two cups water, salt, ginger garlic, finely chopped tomatoes, coriander powder, turmeric powder, chili powder, cumin powder and half cup yogurt and shimmer for 15 mins. Your nepali dish (alu tama) is ready. -ozzychamcha

By cougars — On Oct 28, 2010

@ Parmnparsley- I have a simple bamboo shoot recipe for you. Cooking fresh bamboo is really easy. If you have an Asian market in your city, you should be able to find fresh bamboo shoots without a problem. After trimming the shoots, simmer in a light broth until they are no longer bitter. Heat sesame oil in a wok, and add grated fresh ginger and shredded scallions. Add the sliced and boiled bamboo shoots. Hit the pan with a couple of shakes of mirin, a few shakes of soy sauce, a shake of fish sauce, and a couple spoons of sugar.

Once the sauce starts to caramelize around the shoots and ginger, throw in a couple handfuls of prawns with the heads on. Once the prawns cook through, serve the braised bamboo shoot and prawns with sticky rice and enjoy.

By parmnparsley — On Oct 28, 2010

Does anyone have any recipes other than making a stir-fry with bamboo shoots? I would love to try something new with such a unique food, especially since I learned how much effort goes into the actual preparation of bamboo shoots. I think it's amazing that a woody reed could be turned into such a tasty, crispy edible food. If anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears.

By Georgesplane — On Oct 28, 2010

I never realized that the process of preparing bamboo shoots was so in depth. I love bamboo shoots in a stir-fry, but I always just assumed that they were sliced raw and canned. It seems like every time I read one of these articles I learn something new. A+

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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