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For centuries, bamboo shoots have been eaten safely. But this pertains only to cooked bamboo shoots. How about the raw ones? Can you eat bamboo shoots raw without processing or cooking them beforehand? I was curious about this too and after extensive research, here is what I found out.
Is it safe to eat raw bamboo shoots? Aside from being bitter and hard to digest, eating improperly processed raw bamboo shoots are dangerous as they contain a high level of toxic cyanogenic glycosides that may potentially cause acute intoxication and other chronic health issues.
Fortunately, cyanogenic glycosides in bamboo shoots can easily be destroyed or reduced to an acceptably safe level with proper processing and preparation.
What are bamboo shoots?
Obviously, we are not talking about the whole plant of bamboo.
Bamboo shoots are the newly born of bamboo plant that grows from the ground. They are the young canes that are harvested before they reach the age of two weeks old.
Because they are the newly grown bamboo, they are pretty short and normally have a height of only one foot tall.
In terms of flavor, they taste somewhat like corn with tenderness and crispiness of asparagus.
Bamboo shoots are best eaten when they are young since they become less chewable as they got older.
Bamboo shoots are a favorite vegetable dish served in the East and Southeast Asia.
Nevertheless, not all bamboo shoots can be eaten.
According to Guada Bamboo, there are around 1575 species of bamboo existed worldwide but only 110 species of bamboo shoots can be eaten safely.
Aside from the fresh and dried bamboo shoots, you can also buy commercially canned ones in the supermarket.
Are raw bamboo shoots poisonous?
You may be wondering the same thing I did when bamboo shoots consumption is being questioned,
“I’ve eaten bamboo shoots for many years now without any complication, how can it be poisonous?”
Well, it’s true that bamboo shoots that you and I have eaten over the years are safe and even considered nutritious.
However, the bamboo shoots that we have eaten are already processed which means that they are either cooked, boiled, canned, dried, or fermented to make them safe for consumption.
When eaten in raw form, they are potentially poisonous and can pose a health risk as they contain a significant amount of toxic chemicals called cyanide glycosides.
Furthermore, according to Vegetable Research and Extension of Washington State University, raw bamboo shoots should not be eaten because they are bitter and hard to digest.
What is cyanogenic glycoside?
According to the World Health Organization, cyanogenic glycosides are a type of phytotoxins or toxic chemicals that are found naturally in certain plants and functions as their natural defense mechanism.
Surprisingly, these toxins do not exist in bamboo shoots alone, they are present in at least two thousand (2000) plants including cassava and bitter apricot seeds.
Different kinds of plants have different types of cyanogenic glycosides.
Specifically, bamboo shoots have a kind of cyanogenic glycosides that are called taxiphyllin.
Bamboo shoots have the highest concentration of cyanide at the tip portion followed by the middle portion, with the base portion having the lowest cyanide concentration.
When broken down either through chewing, digestion, or processing of food crop such as grinding and, these toxins will produce hydrogen cyanide.
Can cyanide poisoning actually kill you?
Hydrogen cyanide may be harmless when eaten in small amount, however, they will become toxic to the body when present in a high concentration (eaten in large amount).
This may potentially result in acute cyanide intoxication which may show clinical signs of vomiting, diarrhea, headache, rapid respiration, low blood pressure, dizziness, stomach pains, mental confusion, and even terminal coma.
And even worse, several other chronic illnesses are suggested to be caused by acute cyanide poisoning.
Scary, isn’t it?
So here comes the controversial question that you and I are most curious of, “can cyanide poisoning actually kill you?”
A post published by Fox News placed bamboo shoots as one of the food that can kill you if you don’t cook them right.
How much of this is true?
Well, according to experts from WHO, cyanide poisoning can indeed lead to death when the cyanide level is overwhelming and exceeds the body’s detoxification limit.
This simply means that our body can actually detoxify cyanide to a certain limited level or threshold.
However, when we eat too many cyanogenic plants beyond the said threshold, our body’s detoxification mechanism is no longer capable of detoxifying the high amount of cyanide which leads to cyanide poisoning and even death.
The bottom line is that when you eat too much cyanide-containing plant or cyanide-rich foods, they will become toxic to your body and you are in danger of acute cyanide intoxication.
The good news? There is a way to reduce the cyanide level in these edible plants and make them safe to eat.
So as long as you eat them in a concentration that is considered acceptably safe (below toxic level), your body will be fine.
How to remove cyanide from bamboo shoots? Tips in the preparation of bamboo shoots
Believe it or not, bamboo shoots are highly nutritious and even rank as one of the five of the world’s most popular healthcare foods.
Bamboo shoots are rich in useful proteins and amino acids, carbohydrates, and many important minerals and vitamins and very low fat.
Surely, it will be such a waste to not be able to taste this delicious and nutritious plant.
Fortunately, properly processing plants containing cyanide glycosides can significantly reduce the amount of cyanide to an acceptable level as shown in various reports and studies.
These processing methods include peeling, grinding, boiling, cooking, soaking, drying, and fermentation.
A study has shown that cutting cyanogenic-containing food plants in small pieces and cooking them in boiling water can help reduce the cyanide contents by over ninety percent (90%).
Taxiphyllin, a kind of cyanide glycosides in bamboo shoots, are easy to remove or reduce as they readily disintegrated in boiling water.
The easiest method recommended in the preparation of bamboo shoot is to peel them and boil them for 20 minutes before using them in any dishes.
The bitterness of fresh bamboo shoots can be reduced by leaving the pan where you boil the bamboo shoots uncovered as this will helps the elements that cause bitterness to be evaporated into the air.
If the bamboo shoots still taste bitter after doing so, you can try boiling them in fresh water for another five (5) minutes.
Nevertheless, preparation of bamboo shoots may be different across countries.
In India, bamboo shoots are sliced and kept in water that is changed daily for up to three (3) before used.
On the other hand, Filipinos prepared bamboo shoot by grating them in a coarse grater after peeling the skin followed by boiling for about ten (10) minutes. The grated and boiled bamboo shoots are then rinsed in cold water before used.
Plants and other food products that contain cyanogenic glycosides
Other than bamboo shoots, you also need to watch out for the other plants and their edible parts that contain cyanogenic glycosides.
Here are some of them.
- Lima beans
- Pome fruit
- Stone fruit
High cyanide content is especially found in the seeds of fruits mentioned above.
In addition, there are other food products that may contain cyanogenic glycosides and thus may pose a potential risk of hydrogen cyanide, this includes:
- Food flavoring that may have ground almond powder or paste, marzipan, or stone fruit
- Alcoholic drinks produced from stone fruits
Are bamboo shoots hard to digest?
Bamboo shoots are woody and hard to digest when raw but crisp and crunchy after cooked. They are fiber-rich which helps to improve digestion and prevent colon cancer. A cup of half-inch-long slices of bamboo shoots provides about 10% of the daily recommended fibers.
Is bamboo shoots good for diabetics?
Bamboo shoots are a great food for diabetics because of its low calories, fats, and sugars. A study suggested that bamboo extract (Sasa borealis) may help in the prevention and treatment of diabetic endothelial dysfunction and their related complications.