Bamboo: The Most Useful Plant in the World

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A young bamboo shoot perfect for harvesting. Darde Gamayo photo.

Bamboo is considered to be the most useful plant in the world.

While edible bamboo shoots, the young sprouts of the bamboo plant, are mostly consumed by countries like China Japan, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, they are also a local favorite here in the islands.

A traditional food in Bangladesh, known as bajchur, it is a favorite ingredient in Asian cooking.

Often referred to as the “king of vegetables,” bamboo is delicious and offers many health benefits.

A USDA report shows that bamboo is an excellent source of potassium. Just ½ cup contains 533 mg or 11% of daily required levels of potassium. It also is a great source of dietary fiber, as well as being rich in the B-complex vitamins.


Only available fresh seasonally here, it is often imported from Taiwan, China and Thailand.

However, shoots can be found canned or vacuum-packed on supermarket shelves.

Freshly harvested bamboo shoots. Darde Gamayo photo.

When buying freshly harvested bamboo shoots, look for the firm and heavy sprouts that have a wide base. Look closely at the base of the shoot to see if it is turning green, as that indicates prolonged exposure to the sun. Greenish color also indicates that the shoot is overly mature and the shoot will taste bitter.

Harvesting your own shoots here in Hawai‘i can be a fun family outing. First thing to know is that shoots only under a foot in height (about two weeks old) should be harvested—anything taller than that will be too tough to eat.

A sharp knife with a sturdy blade (used with caution) or a small fine-tooth pruning saw can be used to harvest the shoots. Simply cut at the base of shoot above ground. Three to four shoots should yield enough to fill a five-quart cooking pot.


Note: There are fine hairs that grow on the outer layers of the shoot that can make your skin itch, so beware and be careful.

Removing outer layers of the bamboo shoot. Darde Gamayo photo.

Fresh bamboo shoots need to be processed before using them for cooking.

Bamboo shoots contain a cyanogenic glycoside (taxiphyllin), which needs to be removed before it can be used successfully in cooking.

While the task may seem daunting it actually is quite easy.

First, the outer layers of the shoot need to be peeled away using a sharp knife. Once peeled, cut away any tough portions toward the base that your knife cannot easily cut through. Discard the tough portion. Then slice or dice the more tender portion to your desired size.


Place the cut pieces in a bowl of cold, salty water (3 tablespoons of salt per each quart of water) to prevent them from turning brown and to begin removing the bitterness.

Bamboo shoots soaking in salty water prior to boiling. Darde Gamayo photo.

Second, place them in a pot of saltwater and boil for 20 to 25 minutes. Discard the water and fill the pot with fresh water and boil for another 5 to 10 minutes to ensure all bitterness is gone.

Once processed, it can be added to your favorite recipes that call for bamboo shoot.

It can be stir-fried, sautéed or mixed with other vegetables, beans, meat, poultry or seafood.

It is a very diverse ingredient that also adds a great layer of crunch texture to your dish.

Bamboo shoots ready to be bagged. Darde Gamayo photo.

Bamboo shoots can be stored in the freezer for up to a year. They can also be canned like other vegetables.

While it is said that all varieties of bamboo shoot can be eaten, it is the larger varieties that are harvested and sought after.

When in doubt, it is wise to seek the advice an expert.



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