Culinary Uses of Bamboo

Bamboo is a highly versatile and renewable resource that can be used in many capacities.  Bamboo sheets and organic sheets are becoming increasingly popular throughout the world, houses constructed of bamboo are also gaining quite a reputation.  But there are many more uses for bamboo than just bamboo blankets and organic blankets.  Bamboo shoots can also be used in cooking, and has been used in that way for centuries in Asia.

I heard that bamboo contains toxins, so how can you eat it?

It is true that bamboo contains the toxin taxiphyllin, which produces cyanide in the stomach lining, which obviously makes it impossible to eat raw bamboo without poisoning oneself.  However, when taxiphyllin is boiled in water, it is degraded sufficiently that it will not cause bodily harm.  There are about 60 other similar compounds that react the same way to boiling, including prunasin and Amygdalin.

Methods of Preparation

Prior to boiling bamboo shoots (in order to degrade the taxiphyllin), it is necessary to trim the roots first, and then to peel off the outer leaves of the shoot (the sheath leaves).  The culms themselves are quite tough when they come out of the ground, so it is also necessary to cut away the tough parts of the culm in order to expose the tender parts of the bamboo shoots.  Generally, the shoots are then cut across the grain (vertically) into very thin slices.  It is after this entire process that the bamboo needs to be boiled in water (and with some dishes they are merely soaked in water for an extended period of time) in order to be certain that the toxins are fully degraded and leached out.

Nutritional Value of Bamboo

Bamboo is very low in cholesterol, and (unsurprisingly) fat free.  It provides a lot of good dietary fiber, as well as several important vitamins and nutrients.  Some of these include:

  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Vitamin B6
  • Potassium
  • Riboflavin
  • Iron
  • Niacin
  • Vitamin E

One of the drawbacks of bamboo nutrition-wise is that it is fairly high in sodium – 120 grams of bamboo shoots contains 228 milligrams of sodium, which is 12% of the recommended daily value.  However, the healthful benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, as many of the antioxidants in the shoots are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and atherosclerosis.

Bamboo has also been used throughout the centuries in Chinese medicine, as well as for medicinal purposes in other places such as India.

Culinary Uses of Bamboo Around the World

  • Nepal.  In Nepal, the bamboo shoots are often fermented and served with vegetables.  There is also a dish called Alu Tama that consists of bamboo shoots that have been fermented with turmeric (a spice found in Asia) and oil, then cooked with potatoes and served with rice.  Aloo Bodi Tama is another popular Nepalese dish, in which the bamboo shoots are pickled and served with black-eyed beans.  The shoots are pickled in jars with mustard seeds and turmeric, and then kept in direct sunlight.  Tusa refers to baby bamboo shoots that are cooked as a curry in many of the rural regions of Nepal.
Alu Tama.

Alu Tama.

  • IndonesiaGulai Rebung is a popular dish in Indonesia, which is a curry made from bamboo shoots.  The shoots are sliced thin and boiled in santan, which is thick coconut milk, as well as quite a few other spices.  Sayur Lodeh also uses bamboo shoots, mixed with vegetables in coconut milk.  Lun Pia is fried bamboo shoots cooked with vegetables.
Gulai Rebung.

Gulai Rebung.

  • IndiaKhorisa is a popular dish in Assam, which is fermented bamboo shoots similar to those popular in Nepal.  Kardi is prepared in Sambalpur, India, which is fermented and grated bamboo shoots.  Amil also uses fermented shoots, which is a sour vegetable soup.  People even use bamboo to make pancakes in India, using rice flour to ensure that the pancakes don’t fall apart.


  • TanzaniaUlanzi is a wine made from bamboo that is quite popular in Tanzania, as well as some other parts of the world.  It is made by tapping young bamboo stalks during the wet season (when their sap is at its sweetest) and then the sap is fermented to make the wine.  Sometimes it can be made into just a soft drink as well.


Bamboo is gaining popularity throughout the world for the many different ways that it can be used; not only with food, but also with clothing, musical instruments, bamboo sheets, medicines, and much, much more.


Sources Used:

Hunter, I., and Fenge Yang. “Cyanide in Bamboo Shoots.” International Network for Bamboo and Rattan. INBAR, 28 Sept. 2012. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.

“Taxiphyllin – Compound Summary.” PubChem. NCBI, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.

“Bamboo Shoots.” Future Today, Inc., 2009. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.

“Bamboo Shoots, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, with Salt.” SELFNutrition Data. Conde Nast, 2012. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.

“Bamboo.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.

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