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.