Is It Dangerous To Eat Raw Bamboo Shoots?

As the old Chinese proverb goes, "Be like bamboo. The higher you grow, the deeper you bow." In the West, folks might think of bamboo for its impressive strength as wood, but in East Asian nations, the bamboo tree is emblematic of profound virtues like strength, adaptability, and longevity. Equally as impressive, it is the fastest-growing plant in the world and can grow nearly 35 inches in a single day! The young shoots of bamboo are a popular food served in various Asian cuisine dishes like soups and stir-fries, and its taste is often compared to that of corn. It has a texture like asparagus, with a crispy outside and tender inside, making it versatile for culinary purposes.

Bamboo shoots are a highly nutritious addition to any meal, with a high-fiber content and plentiful amounts of copper and vitamin E — both of which are difficult to find in other foods. It also serves as a prebiotic and supports beneficial bacteria in your gut. While bamboo shoots have many attractive qualities, one must be aware of the different ways they can be consumed and when it is necessary to avoid them.

You need to process raw bamboo shoots

While there are nearly 1,500 different species of bamboo plants, only about a hundred are safe for consumption. Bamboo shoots are harvested when the plant is only a few weeks old to be more tender. According to Healthline, in raw form, bamboo contains the chemical cyanide, which, if ingested at high levels, can result in significant health complications associated with cyanide poisoning. This is a plant defense mechanism to ward off predators and is found in other plants like cherries and apricots. But don't jump off the bamboo wagon just yet! You can find bamboo shoots in different forms in Asian groceries (canned or dried), which are completely safe to eat. 

And if you're sourcing raw shoots, this vegetable can be safe to eat with just a little processing. According to Bamboo Plants HQ, to prepare them, peel off the stiff exterior and boil the shoots for 2.5 to 3 hours to rid them of harmful chemicals. It is also the best way to cook bamboo shoots as it makes the tough plant easier to chew and digest. Oven drying them is nearly as effective, though the site notes that soaking and freezing the shoots is a viable option, but only removes roughly 80% of the trace cyanide. 

It's best to avoid eating bamboo in any raw form. But to skip out on it entirely would be to neglect an essential aspect of Asian cuisine and culture.