Are bamboo shoots safe to eat?
Raw bamboo shoots contain taxiphyllin, a type of cyanide. They are very unlikely to kill you, but they could make you uncomfortable. So, people should not eat fresh bamboo shoots without cooking them first. However, they are completely safe when boiled.
The good news is that you would not eat shoots that are unsafe as the toxin is very bitter in taste and makes fresh shoots unpalatable.
Bamboo shoots are a classic ingredient in many Asian cuisines. They are sold in various processed shapes and are available in fresh, dried, and canned versions. Not only are they edible but also low in fat and calories, containing lots of fiber and potassium.
The toxins are also destroyed in the canning process. Commercially prepared products have already been detoxified, and are usually labeled as “poached” or “boiled”.
In the unlikely scenario that someone would eat raw bamboo shoots and get intoxicated, clinical signs could include: drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, dizziness, headache, vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhea, mental confusion.
How to cook to remove toxicity
Taxiphyllin is unique because it degenerates quickly in boiling water.
To remove toxicity from commercially available bamboo shoots, boil the shoots in salted water for about 20 to 25 minutes. Discard this water and boil again in fresh water for another 5 to 10 minutes to ensure complete safety.
How to know if you have boiled bamboo enough
Taxiphyllin is very bitter so if you taste any bitterness, it means it still is present in the shoots. If that is the case – just cook it longer and it will be neutralized.
Even the most bitter shoots with the highest amount of taxiphyllin will be detoxified after boiling for two hours. But most species, especially those sold commercially, will typically require no longer than half an hour of cooking.
Are all bamboo shoots edible?
Theoretically speaking, all bamboo shoots can be edible. However, only around 110 varieties are registered to be consumable.
Some species have shoots that are too small for people to bother trying to use them as vegetables, many others are way too bitter and require extensive cooking to reduce the bitter taste and break down the toxins.
Thankfully to us, some species have naturally low toxicity, which makes them much less bitter, and easy to prepare for eating. Typically, larger species produce edible shoots.
There are even rare exceptions like bamboo in the genus Nastus Elatus, which can be consumed raw.
Which bamboo species are edible
I would like to say that it is almost impossible to harm yourself by having bamboo shoots in a meal. If you are buying the shoots in a market or shop, there is no reason to worry.
The amount of taxiphyllin in commercial species of bamboo is very low. Commercial bamboo farmers regularly test for cyanide levels.
If you go harvesting bamboo in your back yard, you could run into a species with higher toxicity, but commercially-grown species are selected for low levels.
For those who eat foraged bamboo shoots of unknown species, it is recommended that they are boiled for two hours. Or alternatively, boil them for half an hour, then taste a little bit. If it is still bitter, change the water and continue boiling.
Popular edible bamboo species
- Phyllostachys edulis
- Phyllostachys bambusoides
- Dendrocalamus latiflorus
- Bambusa oldhamii
- Bambusa odashimae
- Fargesia spathacea
- Bambusa blumeana
- Phyllostachys nuda
- Phyllostachys bisseti
If you want to grow your own shoots, you should know that the sprouting season for harvesting bamboo shoots lasts only about three to four weeks.
The best-tasting sprouts are very young and harvested prior to emerging from the soil, but you can mound dirt over any that have surfaced to keep the sprout tender and allow it to grow larger.
You can eat then during that short season or prepare for using all year round.
Featured image: City Foodsters, CC BY 2.0