The first that comes to mind when anyone mentions bamboo is how invasive it is. But did you know that it is a good food source for both humans and animals?
Asian cultures use bamboo shoots in their cooking to provide extra fiber to their diets. Additionally, many animals, most notably panda bears, consume bamboo as the bulk of their food requirements.
In this article, we will review whether or not it is safe for humans to eat bamboo, what other animals eat bamboo, and if all parts of the bamboo are edible. Additionally, we will cover some popular ways to eat bamboo as well as whether or not all species of bamboo are edible.
Can Humans Eat Bamboo?
Humans can and do eat bamboo. In fact, bamboo has been a staple in the diet of many Asian cultures for thousands of years. Bamboo is native to Asian countries, especially China, so the people have used its shoots in recipes since they settled there long ago.
Bamboo is a great source of dietary fiber, carbohydrates, and protein. Canned bamboo can be found in most grocery stores in the Asian food section to incorporate with your favorite dishes from the Far East.
Although humans can eat bamboo, it must be boiled before consumption. Raw bamboo contains a chemical that turns into cyanide within the human stomach and can essentially poison anyone who tried to eat it before cooking. While it is a healthy vegetable to eat, you must always make sure that it is cooked properly to avoid becoming sick.
What Animals Eat Bamboo?
There are many other animals besides humans who eat bamboo and they are mostly native to the jungles of Asia. Bears, rodents, and primates make up the bulk of the animal groups that consume bamboo.
The most famous example of a bamboo eater is the giant panda. These large bears survive almost solely on a diet of bamboo and can eat up to 85 pounds of the plant every day. In fact, they usually spend the majority of their lives either foraging for bamboo or eating.
Red pandas also eat bamboo, but not nearly to the quantity of their larger cousins. Bamboo rats, mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, and bamboo lemurs are also voracious bamboo eaters. In fact, one of the advantages of bamboo’s fast growing nature is that it can support the wide range of animals that depend on it as their main or only food source.
Are All Parts of Bamboo Edible?
While panda bears and other animals can consume the entire bamboo plant without any issues, the shoots have been shown to be the most edible part for humans. The shoots are the main part of the plant and contain all of the nutrients anyway. Once they have been properly boiled, they can be added to soups, salads or other dishes.
Even though the leaves are not as plentiful or as popular as the shoots, bamboo leaves can make a great addition to any salad. Unlike the shoots which need to be cooked, the leaves can be eaten raw as long as they are pulled away from the plant in a way that separates them completely from the shoot.
Bamboo leaves can also be prepared as a tea which offers a great flavor and many health benefits. The roots and flowers of the bamboo plants are not known to be edible to humans; however, other animals may consume them without hesitation.
What Are Some Popular Ways to Eat Bamboo?
If you enjoy Asian food, then you will love experimenting with bamboo shoots in your cooking. If you have fresh bamboo shoots make sure you boil them accordingly to cancel out the negative effects of the cyanide releasing chemicals. Alternatively, you can purchase canned bamboo which is ready to use.
Many main dishes can be made with bamboo shoots such as pork and bamboo, beef and broccoli, mu shu chicken, and mushroom and bamboo with long bean stir fry. Bamboo shoots make a great addition to appetizers like shrimp and pork dumplings or lumpia rolls.
Soups and salads also benefit from the addition of bamboo. If you want to incorporate bamboo in non-Asian recipes, you can substitute other similar vegetables like asparagus with bamboo shoots. If you want a simple bamboo recipe, just braised the shoots and serve them with a sauce mixture of soy, ginger, and sugar.
Are All Bamboo Species Edible?
Most people don’t realize it, but there are actually over 1700 species of bamboo found throughout the world. Of these, only about one hundred species are known to be edible to mankind. Some species such as the walking stick bamboo, Chinese timber bamboo, and marbled bamboo are particularly favored for their sweet flavors.
While others like red margin, velvet leaf, and umbrella bamboo are tolerable and considered edible but not top shelf. The least appealing bamboo species like the madake are bitter to taste, but still provide all the nutrients of other bamboo species.
No matter the flavor or popularity though, all edible bamboo species have one thing in common – they cannot be eaten raw. All bamboo species require at least two hours of cooking in boiling water in order to inactivate the cyanide within the shoots so that they can be safely consumed.
Before assuming that a species of bamboo you find is edible, do some research so that you don’t risk poisoning yourself or others.
Bamboo provides food for a plethora of animals including great and red pandas, mountain gorillas, lemurs, monkeys, and rodents. Additionally, bamboo is a staple food of many Asian cultures and can be added to popular main dishes, salads, soups, and dumplings. Not all species of bamboo are edible, but there are about a hundred that can be consumed by humans.
Bamboo shoots should never be eaten raw as they can release cyanide into the stomach and are only safe when boiled. Bamboo leaves can be eaten in salads or brewed as a tea.