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Bamboo Shoot Basics

bamboo shoots

This long and reedy plant has been a staple ingredient in many cultures and across many cuisine types. Bamboo shoots are a little mysterious to those who are new to this tasty ingredient. There’s so much to discover when it comes to bamboo shoots, let’s explore. 

What are Bamboo Shoots

Bamboo shoots are the edible portions of the tender, freshly sprouted shoots of the bamboo plant. There are hundreds of species of bamboo, ranging in size, shape, and color, and grown globally in varying climates (warm and cold, alike). Most bamboo is edible, although there are a few varieties that stand out from the crop. The bamboo varieties that hail from the genus Phyllostachys, are known for being the tastiest and most tender. Moso and Sweetshoot bamboo are the most popular and well known of the Phyllostachys’ group. 

Bamboo Shoots, from ground to table 

Spring is peak harvest time for bamboo. Once the shoots emerge from the ground the resemble large asparagus spears and are harvested ASAP. The younger and shorter the shoots the better the taste. 

Image Credit: Flicker user powerplantop ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

The dark outer sheath is removed, exposing the soft white interior. It’s this white interior that is the edible part of the bamboo plant. Fresh shoots need to be harvested, prepped, and cooked right away to reduce the risk of turning bitter. Because of this bitter-tasting risk, fresh bamboo shoots may be hard to find outside of growing them yourself. If you’re lucky enough to find fresh bamboo shoots, here is a handy guide for preparing them at home. 

Prepared bamboo shoots, canned or pickled, are usually available at most grocery stores or Asian markets. The prepared shoots still offer an exciting culinary opportunity for those looking to expand their kitchen pantry and cook some inspired dishes. Moo goo gai pan is a Chinese-American dish that’s very popular on take-out menus and utilizes bamboo shoots. Japanese cuisine utilizes bamboo shoots, called menma, in a variety of ways, as a side dish or as an additional condiment-like ingredient for main meals.

Feature Image: Oktomi Jaya from Unsplash

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