Bamboo can be such a beautiful addition to any garden or home. As attractive as these plants are, it is important to know whether it is toxic to your family or pets.
Some bamboo carries a toxin that creates hydrogenic cyanide when chewed or digested. Proper cooking or preparing gets rid of cyanide (cyanogenic glycosides) so that it’s safe to eat or use.
You do not have to worry when it comes to canned shoots because they are absolutely harmless with no further cooking required. How is this possible? What about the bamboo in your garden? Can it be toxic for your pets? Continue reading for answers to all of these questions and more.
Can you eat bamboo or is it toxic?
The answer is: yes and no. Fresh bamboo has cyanide, and if ingested, it will cause an average human body to be seriously sick. It can be deadly if you consume higher amounts. So, bamboo can be toxic. However, bamboo is also edible.
The shoots of certain species are the only part that is edible. Shoots are new bamboo plants that shoot up in spring to develop new culms. They are roughly 1 inch (2-3 cm), though some may be larger, and have a yellowish color.
Commercial products you purchase from a store or restaurant are usually harmless. The species used and the preparation should prevent high amounts of cyanide. Don’t let this scare you away from this nutritious treat! Bamboo has been consumed by people since ancient times.
There are over 1000 identified species globally, but only 110 varieties are registered to have consumable shoots. The cyanide in bamboo is taxiphyllin. It is unique because it deteriorates quickly in boiling water. That is why boiling or cooking shoots is a good way to eliminate the problem. Taxiphyllin is also very bitter. This is a great way of telling if your bamboo is safe to eat or not.
Fresh bamboo shoots are edible for around 2 weeks. If they are not stored properly, they will produce a bitter taste. Keep them refrigerated and away from sunlight. Raw shoots need to be blanched, boiled, or immersed in water overnight before cooking. This process can reduce any risk of ingesting harmful toxins.
Canned bamboo shoots are absolutely safe to eat. They are a great replacement for fresh shoots and are packed with water. Don’t forget to rinse it before eating. If you notice an unusual smell, just boil them for a few minutes. Dried shoots require a prolonged soaking time and gradual, separate cooking before combining them into a dish.
As long as it is prepared properly, you can enjoy bamboo as you please.
Can bamboo kill you and how much raw bamboo is lethal?
In case you have eaten bamboo shoots that tasted bitter and you’re not sure if you got poisoned, you should call the emergency line. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include overall weakness, nausea, confusion, headache, difficulty breathing, seizure, loss of consciousness, and cardiac arrest.
But how much cyanide can kill you? This publication states that 200-300mg of cyanide is lethal to humans. However, it also reports that a young man has ingested 5 times more than this and survived.
One kilogram (2.2 lbs) of bamboo contains anywhere from less than 100 to 1000mg of cyanide. So, you can never be sure how much cyanide you consumed. Especially, if it was wrongly prepared, for example, cooked too short, it may only have reduced the toxic contents.
If you are suspicious, always call the poison hotline (800- 222-1222) or an emergency.
How to remove cyanide from bamboo shoots
Now that you know that you simply need to get rid of the cyanide in the shoots in order to make bamboo edible, you are probably wondering how that works. There are actually different ways.
Boiling bamboo shoots for half an hour at 208°F (98°C) eliminates approximately 70% of the cyanide found in them. This means even the highest amount of cyanide would be removed after boiling for two hours.
The optimal cooking procedure is 208-215 °F (98–102°C) for 148–180 minutes resulting in 97% cyanide reduction.
Other ways of processing bamboo would be soaking and drying. If bamboo shoots are soaked for 24 hours, they potentially lose 80% of the cyanide. You can also dry shoots by using the sun, your oven, or even freeze them. Freezing these shoots for 24 hours at -58°F (-50°C) results in an 80% reduction, and oven drying at 122°F (60°C) for 8 hours results in a 95% reduction.
If you are looking into crafting with bamboo, a combination of soaking and sun-drying may be your best option. The only time you need to worry is if you are building something for water vessels, like cups, drinking water pipes, straws, etc. Just as bamboo straw producers do, soak them for 2-3 days and then set it in the sun to dry for about a week.
Is bamboo poisonous to pets?
Several household plants can be dangerous to pets, but bamboo is not poisonous for pets. If you have a curious pet that has a habit of getting into your plants, rest assured these are non-toxic to your dogs, cats, and horses.
However, you want to keep an eye out for Lucky Bamboo and Heavenly Bamboo. These are commonly mistaken as bamboo, but they don’t belong to the bamboo species. And they are dangerous to cats and dogs. These plants may cause intestinal discomfort, drooling, dilated pupils, and increased heart rate. They may manifest symptoms of depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, weakness, and incoordination.
How can pandas eat bamboo?
Pandas have broader capabilities than humans and cannot get sick from cyanide. They are appreciated as a charming big beast or a representation of Chinese diplomacy, and an endangered species. It is not shocking that pandas are perceived as lazy creatures, but in reality, they have a pretty impressive ability. Their bodies can neutralize cyanide.
Giant pandas consume more than 65% of cyanide in bamboo shoots. However, their bodies are capable of turning 80% of the absorbed cyanide into a weak toxic chemical called thiocyanate and pandas can simply pee it out.
What bamboo species can I eat?
As mentioned before, only about 10% of the known bamboo species grow edible shoots. All bamboo species contain cyanide, including these edible species. However, they may have low levels of the toxin, or they simply taste better than other species due to the texture and sweetness.
Here I’ll go into some details about a few of these edible bamboos:
Giant Timber Bamboo or Bambusa oldhamii
This bamboo has a smaller shoot and is known as the sweet edible shoot. Its sugary smell is similar to freshly cut sugarcane.
Asper Bamboo or Dendrocalamus asper
Asper is one of the largest of the bamboo species. It has a texture that looks like an apple. It is somewhat less bitter than other varieties. Most people like it for salads and other summer recipes.
Taiwan Giant Bamboo or Dendrocalamus latiflorus
This tall species is native to Taiwan (hence the name). It has a thicker shoot than Asper. It is perfect for pickling especially when the weight is between 14oz (400g) to 141oz (3kg).
Mandake or Phyllostachys bambusoides
This has a lightweight shoot that belongs to the running species. It is also known as Pigskin Bamboo. You will enjoy it the most when it is roasted and in tapas.
Moso Bamboo or Phyllostachys edulis
Moso running bamboos are native to China. It is recognized as a specialty by many shoot critics. They are an authentic ingredient in nigiri sushi recipes. The shoots are somewhat challenging to harvest because they are hidden underneath the surface of the ground.
10 ways to consume or purchase edible bamboo
There are hundreds of edible bamboo varieties. But only a few of them can be eaten and even fewer are sold in markets. There are different sizes and preparations to choose from.
Here are some of them:
Fresh bamboo shoots
Unprocessed shoots are usually accessible in Southern California. The taste of fresh bamboo is best if vacuum bagged and a lot tastier if already canned.
If you buy fresh bamboo shoots you have to prepare them yourself. The preparation is time-consuming but worth it.
Prepared bamboo shoots
Bigger markets can prepare them whole, chopped, or crushed. They are peeled and cooked long enough to treat them properly for no toxication. They are processed and cooked in Asia, and then exported to North America in sterile bulk boxes.
Winter bamboo shoots
These are from Giant Bamboos that rise to approximately 100 feet high. They are collected in the wintertime. When they are shorter, sweeter, and softer than the hairy spring shoots. They are white in color and bigger in size. Nowadays, they are commonly marketed whole in sterile vacuum packs.
Green bamboo shoots
The shoots are white in color although the name would indicate differently. The name came from a family of bamboo called Green Bamboo. The shoots are regularly firm and can easily be sliced into any shape you desire. They are sold at a premium rate, though.
Thin bamboo shoots
These shoots from P. bambusoides species are long and thin. The seasoned shoot is pretty long at 72 feet high. These are sold vacuum packaged or canned. They are a little more fibrous than the bigger ones and have a sharp, lightly bitter taste.
Bulk bamboo tips
They are from the budding tips of more developed stems like palm hearts. They are safe to eat with great flavor. These shoots are firm but not dense. The tips are prepared only in bulk containers due to their size.
Salted dried bamboo
This traditional shoot preparation wraps the shoot in a bamboo splint case filled with dried bamboo leaves. Because of the current technology, this product is placed in a plastic vacuum pack container. This is made from thin shoots that are dried and salted. Before using, they have to be immersed in water in order to rehydrate them.
Unsalted dried bamboo
Most dried bamboo in stores comes this way, whether it is cut broad or thin. They are regularly treated with sulfur dioxide or another sulfite to preserve and keep color. Some of those goods, particularly the ones from China, are dark yellow in color.
Smoked dried bamboo shoots
Originally these were used as a food, but nowadays, they are mainly made into a seasoning with sesame seeds or peanuts. The pieces are cooked to clean them. Then joints are cut out and the parts between the joints are chopped into little bits. Sesame seeds or peanut paste and salt are combined and boiled until it becomes soft.
Sour bamboo shoots
In Southeast Asia, salt fermented shoots are pretty common for use as a seasoning ingredient in soups and other dishes.
What are the benefits of eating bamboo shoots?
Excellent weight loss aid
Bamboo shoots are low in sugar, calories, carbohydrates and high in protein. A half cup has only 20 calories. There are barely 3g to 4g of carbohydrates for every 100g (3.5oz) meal. Bamboo shoots contain less sugar than other fruits and vegetables. It’s only 2.5g per 100g (3.5oz) serving.
A bamboo shoot diet can lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, according to studies. The diet can reduce the atherogenic index which is an indicator for a cardiovascular disorder.
There is about 800mg of potassium in a can of bamboo shoots. A medium banana has only 400mg. Bamboo shoots have higher potassium than other vegetables, except for spinach.
Stabilizing hormone levels
Bamboo shoots contain lignans which are responsible for stabilizing hormone levels. It helps balance the estrogen levels in women. And in men, it helps balance testosterone. Lignans are transformed by beneficial bacteria in your intestines.