Fail Files: Cooking a Fresh Bamboo Shoot

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It was springtime. Acting on impulse, I had just picked up a fresh bamboo shoot from a market in Chinatown. Having never even seen a fresh bamboo shoot before, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. And so I turned to you all, soliciting ideas from our fanbase on Facebook. Thankfully, one of our FB fans (shoutout to you, Fred B.) directed us this link -- the Food Standards website, an independent agency that promotes food standards in Australia and New Zealand. And that’s where this tale of misfortune and woe truly begins.

The Tale of Woe and Misfortune

You see, fresh bamboo shoot contains toxins. Specifically “cyanogenic glycosides.” For your ease, I have excerpted the relevant parts of the helpful Food Standards site (though you should read the bit about cassava being poisonous, too) 

Are raw or fresh bamboo shoots safe to eat?
Bamboo shoots are safe to eat providing that they are prepared properly. Fresh bamboo shoots that have not undergone any processing can be a potential public health and safety risk due to the presence of cyanogenic glycosides. This can lead to hydrogen cyanide exposure and its related toxicity.

How do I make bamboo shoots safe to eat?
Fresh bamboo shoots should be sliced in half lengthwise, the outer leaves peeled away and any fibrous tissue at the base trimmed. It should then be thinly sliced into strips and boiled in lightly salted water for eight to ten minutes. The most common preparation involves boiling the shoots in stocks, soups or salted water for use in assorted dishes.

Now, I was well freaked out after reading this. Despite running a cooking site, I’m not the most confident person in the kitchen. Did I really want to experiment with something potentially toxic? But several hours of internet research and the proliferation of fresh bamboo recipes out there got me a bit more comfortable. I decided to base my preparation on the Japanese method, where the root is boiled whole in water and rice bran, which helps to remove the bitterness.

So, my method: following this recipe, I trimmed the bamboo root, chopping off the tip and removing some of the outer leaves of the bamboo. Since I didn’t have rice bran, I used the water from washing rice, which was a tip I got from “Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art.” In a large pot, I added a lot of water and began the boil. About an hour and a half to two hours later, I removed the shoot and let it sit in fresh cold water for a while. After it had cooled, I began to peel the leaves, with each layer removed the shoot resembling a tubular artichoke. After the leaves were no more, I did a bit more trimming of the tough-looking parts and was getting pumped that my amazing, earthy bamboo rice recipe was one critical step closer to being a reality.

But first -- I took a little bite of the freshly cooked bamboo. In some recipes, I had seen that if you still taste bitterness after boiling, you should boil it some more. And bitter it was. Very bitter. Alarmed (and paranoid), I put the now peeled bamboo back in fresh boiling water for another 10 minutes. Another taste and the bitterness was still there.

Meanwhile, I started to feel … a little ill. Was it me or was it getting a bit difficult to breathe? And suddenly a headache, too. But some AsianSupperers may be suspect a case of hypochondria. That I will not deny.

But I wasn’t going to let fears of looking like a complete hypochondriac stop me! A doctor was in order. So I beat it to a nearby walk-in clinic. I won’t go into details about the visit, but let’s just say the doctor did NOT think I was experiencing any sort of cyanide poisoning and I am still alive.

The Aftermath

I was too scared to eat the bamboo, so I threw it out. Actually my husband threw it out and banned any "poisonous" food items from our kitchen. Since the incident, I have not attempted to prepare another fresh bamboo shoot. If there ever is a next time, I will probably follow the Food Standards instructions by removing all the leaves and thinly slicing, then boiling.

Ahem. And that concludes this chapter of the Fail Files.

Have you ever cooked fresh bamboo shoot (successfully or unsuccessfully)? Share your story below.