Bamboo is so much more than a fast-growing ornamental plant. In fact, did you know that you can harvest your own fresh bamboo shoots? Their subtle flavor and satisfying crunch make for a great addition to any stir-fry, plus, harvesting the shoots is a good way to keep your bamboo in check.
When it comes to harvesting bamboo shoots, timing is essential. Leave them too late, and they become tough and bitter. But if you harvest the shoots right when they emerge from the ground, you can enjoy them when they are tender and delicious.
Harvesting bamboo shoots is easy, fun, and rewarding. Keep reading to learn all about when and how to harvest bamboo shoots, how to prepare and store them, and how to incorporate them in your cooking!
When can you harvest bamboo shoots?
The start of the bamboo shoot harvest season depends on your climate and the species of bamboo you have in your garden. On average, bamboo plants take about 3 years to become established and grow enough shoots to support a harvest.
Once established, you can harvest bamboo shoots from late spring until the end of summer.
The best time to harvest bamboo shoots is as soon as they emerge from the ground. That’s because bamboo can grow an impressive amount in just a single day. Moso bamboo is one of the fastest growing bamboos, having been recorded to grow as much as 3 ft (1 m) in a single day!
When are bamboo shoots too big to harvest?
Another reason to harvest bamboo shoots early is because they are tastiest when young and tender, or no more than 12 inches tall. At this stage, they have a tender texture and mild bitterness.
As the shoots grow taller and are exposed to light, they will start turning green on the inside, and become more bitter and stringy.
You can still harvest bamboo shoots that are a little taller than a foot, but you may need to trim their bitter tops. For a bigger harvest, select shoots that are wider, though skinny bamboo shoots are plenty flavorful, too.
How many bamboo shoots can you harvest at once?
The amount of bamboo shoots you can harvest in one go depends on your plans for your bamboo garden. If you already have a well-established bamboo patch and you want to keep it contained, you can harvest most of the bamboo shoots.
If you want to keep your bamboo patch growing, harvest no more than half of the young shoots. Pick the ones that are about one foot tall, and leave the rest to grow into full-sized canes.
In either case, it’s best to allow some shoots to continue growing to ensure that the whole patch remains strong and healthy.
Are bamboo shoots safe to eat?
If you’ve ever had a stir-fry with bamboo shoots, you know that bamboo shoots are edible and safe to eat. However, not all bamboo species have the same culinary value. Some shoots have a more noticeably bitter taste, while others have a tough and stringy texture that makes them unpalatable.
In addition, most bamboo shoots contain toxins called cyanogenic glycosides, or cyanide. These toxic compounds are also responsible for the bitter taste of fresh bamboo shoots. Luckily, these compounds are water-soluble, so bamboo shoots are made safe to eat by processing them, usually through boiling or fermentation.
How to harvest bamboo shoots
There are several tools you can use to easily harvest bamboo shoots. Your best choices are a sharp knife, a spade, or even a saw.
Knives and saws are versatile tools, and they’re ideal for harvesting shoots if you have bamboo growing in containers. You can also use them if you have a clump of shoots growing close together, and you need to thin them out without disturbing the soil.
Meanwhile, a spade is best suited for harvesting smaller bamboo shoots (half a foot or so).
Harvesting bamboo is a simple process. If you’re using a knife or a saw, simply cut the bamboo shoot above the soil line.
If you’re using a spade, wedge it at an angle into the soil at the base of the bamboo shoot. Then push the spade down to cut the shoot and pry it loose from the soil. When harvesting smaller shoots, it’s worth digging the soil around the base. This will expose the whiter section of the shoot, which is also more tender.
How long can I store fresh bamboo shoots?
You can store freshly harvested bamboo shoots in your fridge for 1-2 weeks. Leave them whole and avoid washing them before storage. If they’re very dirty, use a soft brush to remove any soil or debris.
You’ll also want to avoid removing the culm sheaths covering the shoots. Peeled fresh bamboo shoots only last in the fridge for about 2 days.
Fresh bamboo shoots don’t have a long shelf life. The longer you keep them, the more bitter they become. The best way to make them last longer is to prepare them, whether through boiling, soaking in water, fermenting, or drying.
Preparing bamboo shoots is essential if you’re planning to eat them. This helps remove the bitter taste and preserve their texture for storage.
Most importantly, preparing bamboo shoots makes them safe to eat. All shoots contain cyanide in varying amounts, but preparing them will reduce the cyanide levels by up to 97%.
The fastest and most efficient way to prepare fresh bamboo shoots for eating and storing is by boiling them.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to prepare bamboo shoots:
- Use a sharp knife to cut the shoot lengthwise, and peel the outer layers. You can also trim the tip of the shoot and, if it’s very tough, the bottom.
- Cut the shoot into slices or chunks. Smaller pieces will boil faster, while larger chunks will take longer but may be better for use in a hearty stew. Bamboo shoots left whole will need to boil for up to 2 hours.
- Fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil. You can also add a touch of salt to taste. Some Asian countries use rice bran to remove the bitterness. However, boiling the shoots will achieve the same result, so don’t worry if you don’t have any on hand.
- Rinse the slices a couple of times in cold water, then put them to boil on medium heat.
- Boil the shoots for at least 20 minutes, then test a small bite. If it still tastes bitter, boil the shoots until they no longer taste bitter, as much as 2 hours.
- When done, rinse the shoots with cold water to stop the cooking process.
How to store cooked bamboo shoots
You can eat bamboo shoots straight away after boiling them. Unlike most vegetables, they don’t go soft and mushy after cooking. Instead, they retain most of their crunchy texture. Boiling them also replaces the bitterness with a mildly sweet, almost nutty flavor.
For short-term storage, you can keep bamboo shoots in the fridge in a container with water. They should last this way for 5 to 7 days.
Freezing, pickling, canning, and freeze-drying are all great ways to store bamboo shoots for longer.
The shoots will keep in the freezer for 5 to 6 months but may lose some of their texture when thawed and cooked.
Pickled and canned bamboo shoots will keep for about 2 years, while freeze-dried shoots will last in storage for many years.
You can also try drying bamboo shoots, although this will give them a slightly chewy texture.
How to cook with bamboo shoots
Bamboo shoots have numerous health benefits, and they’re a great way to add flavor and texture to your dishes. They’re a staple in Asian cuisine and work wonderfully in stir-fries, stews, curries, soups, and even salads.
There are many recipes that use bamboo shoots, but you can also create your own. Use the trio of ginger, garlic, and bamboo shoots as the building block for your recipe. Add carrots and peppers for texture, chilies, and scallions for a kick of flavor, then bulk it up with cabbage, mushrooms, or your choice of protein.
Don’t forget about seasoning! Try a mix of oyster sauce, soy sauce, five-spice, and Shaoxing wine for a Chinese-inspired recipe. Use coconut milk, lime, and fish sauce for a Thai-style dish. Soy sauce, mirin, miso, and konbu are your go-to additions for an authentic Japanese flavor. Or, if you want to recreate an Indian recipe, try making a bamboo shoot curry with turmeric, garam masala, mustard seeds, and coconut oil.