Bamboo Shoot

Bamboo Shoot

Latin name: Phyllostachys edulis (as well as dozens of other species from six other genera)
Uses: vegetable

These heralds of spring, the new sprouts of the largest grass-family member, emerge as soils begin to warm up: stout little beige cones wearing green sprigs at their crowns. Bamboo shoots are available year-round canned, or can be found fresh, frozen, or dried in Asian grocery stores. They have a short shelf life and go slimy within a week of being opened, so keep them in the fridge (in a tub or jar, submerged with water) and use them within a few days.

Why is bamboo shoot healthy?

Besides copious fiber, bamboo shoots are rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron, as well as vitamins B6 and E. They also provide good respiratory and blood pressure support and have a low glycemic index.

What does bamboo shoot taste like?

Bamboo shoots have a wonderfully grassy flavor with an earthiness that comes from having just emerged from the soil. Giant bamboo contains several aromatic compounds, including those that provide the fragrances of popcorn, peanuts, and cinnamon.

Where does bamboo shoot grow?

There are hundreds of species of bamboo whose shoots are harvested; they grow throughout the temperate and tropical regions of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. Phyllostachys edulis is native to China and Taiwan but is also commercially grown in Florida (both for food and industrial applications like flooring and textiles).

How do I prepare bamboo shoot and what do I pair it with?

If you get your hands on fresh (and preferably young) bamboo shoots, you’ll first need to peel them; if they’re old, you’ll have to blanch them in a few changes of water to remove the bitterness. Then you can use them as you would store-bought bamboo shoots: slice them for stir fries, soups, salads, and rice dishes.

Throughout their native range, bamboo shoots tend to be used in very traditional dishes. In Japan, mild-flavored bamboo shoots (takenoko) are typically simmered or used in rice dishes and are particularly associated with wild springtime foods like burdock, butterbur, and fiddlehead ferns — you can achieve a similar seasonal pairing with western ingredients like asparagus, ramps, and wild spring mushrooms.

Bamboo shoots are similarly revered as a springtime dish in China, where they’re classically used in braised dishes served as a complement to fattier dishes. You can ferment or pickle them in the Nepalese and Indian styles; the crunch responds well to pickling and the acidity perfectly brightens up the mild flavor. In Southeast Asia bamboo shoots are more often simmered in spicy coconut curries and soups — again, taking advantage of bamboo shoots’ crunchy texture and mild flavor.

Surprising fact:

Between the 1970s and early 90s, poppy Japanese flash-mob dance-crews, or Takenoko-zoku (“bamboo shoot tribes”), flooded the streets of Tokyo’s Harajuku district decked out in baggy technicolor harem suits and chunky, plastic kid-style accessories. The name comes from Boutique Takenoko, the costume shop on Takeshita-dori that sold the outfits worn by the dancers.