All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.

2013-04-17

Takenoko bamboo shoots











Young shoots of Phyllostachys heterocycla f. pubescens
(? unable to identify)

Takenoko is perhaps more commonly seen as a prep-boiled ingredient in vacuum packs and open containers at Japanese groceries and stores that carry lots of Japanese food. But if you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh bamboo shoots still in their skins, it is highly recommended to give them a try. The differences in taste, texture and aroma are so significant that, like me, you will look forward to fresh bamboo shoot season every year. As with other sansai mountain vegetables, bamboo shoots start to taste bitter as time passes after harvest, and they are usually boiled to eliminate this tart taste before main cooking (see takenoko no mizuni for the prep). For super fresh bamboo shoots (harvested in the last one or two hours), grilling in their skins is often recommended to experience peak flavor and aroma. I have not been so fortunate as to enjoy them that way, but I can imagine how wonderful and sweet they taste. Fresh bamboo shoots harvested in early morning are said to be the least tart, and they are prized for this quality in Japan.

There are also pre-sliced canned bamboo shoots at many shops, but I personally avoid them because of the smell, taste and texture. 

The tart taste of bamboo shoots mainly comes from oxalic acid and homogentisic acid, and prep-boiling the shoots in alkaline water neutralizes these substances. Inside bamboo shoots, you often see white powdery crystals – a type of amino acid called tyrosine (100 g bamboo shoot contains 180mg tyrosine) -- which are the beneficial leftovers from the neutralizing prep-boiling process. Tyrosine is said to activate brain and nerve functions as well as improve memory and concentration. So the white substance you find is harmless and there is no need to rinse it off.

Notable nutrients include potassium (520 mg fresh; 470 mg boiled), calcium (16 mg fresh; 17mg boiled), fiber (2.8 g fresh; 3.3 g boiled), Vitamin B2 (0.11 mg fresh; 0.09 mg boiled), Vitamin C (8-10 mg), and Vitamin E (0.7 mg fresh; 1.0 mg boiled). All together, bamboo shoots are a great food to prevent high blood pressure (potassium helps your body get rid of excess sodium), control blood sugar level, prevent colon cancer and other digestive tract diseases, and ward off diabetes and arteriosclerosis.

Bamboo shoots are very soft and tender toward the tip and very fibrous toward the bottom. For this reason, they are often separated crosswise for different dishes or cut/sliced differently when bottom and upper parts are cooked together.  As a rule of thumb, the upper part is sliced thicker, and the bulkier lower part is cut thinner. The much tougher and fibrous bottom part is often sliced thinly crosswise (cutting fibers) or ground. Hitting the lower or bottom part with a knife handle or rolling pin is also useful to soften it and help with flavor absorption. 

Among over 600 different kinds of bamboo growing in Japan, thick mosodake (Phyllostachys heterocycla f. pubescens) is most commonly used for edible shoots.
There are also skinny bamboo shoots that are about as thick as a permanent marker. My mom often brought back this skinny kind from her mountain vegetable harvesting trips with friends and sisters. These were the shoots of nemagaridake (Chishimazasa Sasa kurilensis), which in our dialect is called susutake.  This species is said to be the most northerly of Sasa bamboo, growing as far north as Hokkaido and Sakhalin. I thought a bamboo would thrive in our Pacific Northwest climate, so I once tried to grow a thick Phyllostachys type. It was a total failure (the plant died in the first winter, which was exceptionally cold).

Other bamboo species commonly used as food include the following:
Madake (Phyllostachys bambusoides)
Hachiku (Phyllostachys nigra var. henonis)
Kanchiku (Chimonobambusa marmoreal (Mitford) Makino)

Takenoko (fresh): 26 kcal/100 g; 90.8% water, 3.6% protein, 0.2% fat, 4.3% carbohydrate, 1.1% ash
Takenoko (boiled): 30 kcal/100 g; 89.9% water, 3.5% protein, 0.2% fat, 5.5% carbohydrate, 0.9% ash


Recipes with takenoko


Try takenoko in the following recipes

(Last updated: February 3, 2016)

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