A staple in Asian cuisine, bamboo has been eaten by the Chinese for more than 2,500 years. Yet, in this country, bamboo is most recognized for its non-culinary roles in construction, furniture and textiles. That isn't to say Americans don't appreciate the subtle sweet flavor and distinct tender crunch of bamboo shoots in their stir fry and curry--it just hasn't crossed into mainstream American menus yet. But as studies continue to reveal the health benefits of these little shoots, that may soon change.
Bamboo shoots, sometimes called bamboo sprouts, are the newest stems, or shoots, of the bamboo plant. Mostly of the Phyllostachys species, edible bamboo shoots are best when harvested early, just as they surface from the ground. Shoots are primarily consumed in countries such as India, Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam, Philippines, China, Japan and Uganda, and are commonly used in all types of Asian dishes, from snacks and salads to soups and fried rice.
One cup of cooked bamboo shoots provides only 14 calories, but contains important nutrients, such as protein (4 percent Daily Value or DV), dietary fiber (5 percent DV), potassium (18 percent DV) and manganese (7 percent DV).
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A study on the effects of fiber found in bamboo shoots published in the journal Nutrition in 2009 found that women who consumed bamboo shoots lowered their total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and experienced beneficial effects on bowel function. And the May 2011 Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety published a review of modern bamboo shoot research, reporting nutritional benefits due to the presence of cholesterol-lowering phytosterols and polyphenols, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
IN THE KITCHEN WITH BAMBOO
Due to growing awareness of bamboo shoots as a healthy food, as well as an exotic flavor, bamboo is now being added as an ingredient to foods such as snacks, cereals, tea, rice mixes, and cookies. One of the world's fastest growing plants, bamboo--usually grown without fertilizers, pesticides, or irrigation--is a sustainable food, a ranking many health and eco-conscious consumers appreciate.
To prepare fresh shoots, cut off the hard end and remove the tough outer layer to reveal the off-white, tender part. Cut into slices, sticks or cubes, and soak in water for 30 minutes to a couple of hours to remove any bitter flavor before adding to a recipe. Cook them up in a stir fry, saute with a variety of seasonings, and toss onto any dish for a healthful boost.
Most markets in the U.S. stock bamboo preserved in several forms, including canned, pickled, fermented, dried and salted, but these may result in lower nutrient contents compared with their fresh form.
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(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)