(Phyllostachys pubescens – Family Gramineae [Bambusoideae])
Bamboo shoots are members of the Grass family, which is better known for producing grains. There are as many as 1,250 different species of bamboo; but the most important used as vegetables are chiefly species from the genera Bambusa, Dendrocalamus, and Phyllostachys. Bamboo is referred to as “arborescent grass” because some species grow to nearly 100 feet tall. Since a number of bamboo species take many years, even decades, to reach the flowering stage of maturity, many of them have only been described according to vegetative features, with the result that their botanical classification remains uncertain. Bamboo is the most important useful plant for the inhabitants of tropical and subtropical Asia, with all the plant being used in one way or another. Since ancient times, the woody tree trunks have built entire houses, including the furniture, the kichen, and eating utensils. It has also been the foundation for many bridges, as well as for musical instruments, with the shoots being used for food.
Originally from Southern China, bamboo shoots are now cultivated mainly in Taiwan and Japan. The European climate is not ideal for growing bamboo shoots; but successful trials have been started in Northern Italy, where Val Fontanabuona, near Genoa, offers excellent conditions with its mild winters and hot, humid summers. Six years after a small plantation was established there, the first shoots were harvested. The size, shape, and quality of the shoots not only depends on the species but also on the time of year they are harvested. Bamboo shoots are the pale, young protrusions that grow from the lower-leaf axils of young plants. Cultivated shoots are developed by earthing up the base of the plant with pig manure, which promotes rapid growth and blanches the shoots, making them less bitter. As soon as the tips appear, they are cut like asparagus while still tender, sweet, and non-woody. If allowed to grow well above the surface, they lose their delicate flavour. The shoots are generally eight to twelve inches long, tapering to a point and weighing up to a pound.
Since bamboo shoots have more than one season, smaller versions are available in the winter. These are ideal for cooking whole. Winter bamboo shoots are much sought after in Asia because of their extreme tenderness. Spring shoots are fatter than the winter shoots, but it is the winter ones that are more desireable. Most bamboo shoots contain prussic acid; but, in the edible shoots, there is little or none. What there is can be destroyed through cooking. They are prepared by cutting off the tips and making a lengthwise incision in the shoots. This makes it easier to remove the tough outer leaves. The inedible base of the shoot is then cut off, and the vegetable washed and cut up according to preferance and cooked. Depending on the size of the chunks, five to ten minutes of cooking time should be sufficient enough to leave a crunchy texture to each bite. Whole shoots are especially decorative and cooked for about forty minutes in boiling salted water. Chilis added to the cooking water will counteract some of the bitter substances from the shoots. They are excellent in stir-fries and Asian rice dishes or blanched briefly and served in Asian-style salads. They are not suitable for eating raw or for dishes that require long cooking. Fresh shoots are rarely available in the West, but some countries offer canned exports.
Bamboo, and other canes, often have edible seeds, with some resembling rice. The seeds of some Bambusa species are referred to as bamboo rice. They are as palatable and rich in protein as any other grain, but each plant produces only a few seeds. Another unique and highly-prized substance derived from bamboo of the same genus is “tabashir”. This is a substance that is between a sugar and a stony mineral which occasionally forms from the liquid inside the plants joints. Tabashir is as rare as pearls and nearly as expensive, but has a long history of medicinal usage. Despite being low in nutrients, bamboo shoots have long been prized , and is also a natural remedy for nervous complaints.