Bamboo: Culinary Uses and Edible Shoots

Just like the coconut, no part of the bamboo goes to waste.

Deforestation in many parts of the world has made bamboo and coconut buzz words over the last decade. Both are used for building materials (a bamboo house can be finished in sixteen days) and for making furniture. Bamboo grows faster than trees. As for durability and strength, an engineer conducted a compression test and concluded that "bamboo is stronger than wood, brick, and concrete."

In many parts of Asia, including Southeast Asia, every part of the bamboo has its culinary uses.

  • 01 of 05

    Bamboo Is A Grass

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    What is bamboo? Despite the massive height of some species, bamboo is not a tree but a grass. Each stalk (culm) grows upward from the ground, branching and forming leaves only after it has reached its full height. Shoots grow around the culms and grow as individual culms. In other words, just like the grass in home gardens, parks and golf courses, bamboo propagates horizontally on the ground.

    There are more than 1400 known species of bamboo but not all grow into hardy wood that can be used for...MORE building. In fact, some bamboo species are so small that they are merely ornamental.

  • 02 of 05

    Bamboo in the Home Kitchen

    Bamboo steamers and chopsticks
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    Cooking tools and utensils made from bamboo are found in many kitchens. Even if you don't live in Asia but have eaten in an Asian restaurant, the steamer baskets in which dim sum dishes are served as well as the chopsticks with which you pick up those delicate dumplings are made from bamboo.

    Makisa or sushi mats are also made from bamboo. 

    While solid wood has long been the primary choice for chopping blocks, bamboo chopping boards have become a popular option for cooks who are concerned about...MORE the effects of chopping trees on the environment.

  • 03 of 05

    Cooking Rice in Bamboo

    Rice cooked in bamboo
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    A bamboo stalk is hollow except around the nodes. By cutting a stalk with nodes on both ends of the cut piece, the hollow portion becomes a perfect natural cooking vessel. Rice is the most common food cooked in bamboo although almost anything, including pieces of wild boar, can be cooked in a bamboo stalk.

    Rice cooked in bamboo tubes go by different names. In Thailand, it is khao lam. The Vietnamese call it cơm lam. The Cambodian name is kralan. Indonesians and Malaysians call it lemang. The...MORE Aetas in central Philippines call the cooking method "binulo". 

  • 04 of 05

    Cooking Rice in Bamboo Leaves

    Rice cooked in bamboo leaves
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    Cooking food wrapped in leaves is a global thing and cabbage rolls are probably the most common. Grape leaves are used for making dorma and sarma in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

    In Southeast Asia, the most common leaves for wrapping food -- banana, palm fronds, lotus and bamboo -- are not edible. They are used to seal in juices and flavors as well as to impart aroma and flavor to the food inside. The Chinese zongzi and the Japanese chimaki are among the dishes cooked in bamboo leaves.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Edible Bamboo Shoots are Delicious

    Bamboo shoots
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    For humans, the only edible part of the bamboo is the shoot (pandas eat bamboo leaves and stems in addition to the shoots). Bamboo shoots are very young culms that are harvested before they grow too big and before they harden. Note that not all bamboo shoots are edible. Among the edible species, the size and shape of the shoots vary. They can be long and slender or bulbous. Bamboo shoots are subtly sweet and low in fat.

    After harvesting, bamboo shoots are covered in several fibrous layers. The...MORE layers are removed until the softer interior is exposed. The bamboo shoot is then boiled until tender.

    Canned and vacuum-packed bamboo shoots are available almost anywhere in the world. These are, however, not as flavorful since much of the natural sweetness is lost. But they are more convenient especially in areas where fresh bamboo shoots are unavailable.

    Bamboo shoots can be stir fried, added to soups, steamed, stewed (see the recipe for thịt kho nước dừa or Vietnamese pork and egg stew with bamboo shoots) or braised.