The Bamboo Romance is Heating Up.....

Article Printed in the Haleakala Times June 22, 2005

By Dean Johnston and Jashana Kippert

Bamboo like a lot of plants is very patient. Despite having a tensile strength greater than steel and being the fastest growing woody plant on planet earth, bamboo is patient. In our last article we explored bamboo's offering of timber poles as one of the many ways bamboo is wooing us to gain our affections. It appears that Maui is warming up to the possibility of a truly fulfilling relationship with bamboo in more ways than one.

Over 180 people turned up to get acquainted with bamboo at the Haiku Community Center, another 70 began their courtship at the Pukalani Community Center, and yet another adventuresome 75 made the trek to Whispering Winds Bamboo's open house in Kipahulu. An ordinary plant would be impressed by the attention. Bamboo however, is deeply committed and willing to keep offering more services until we are really ready to embrace bamboo into our hearts. So of course this week, bamboo is heading straight for our stomachs.

This is where the romance heats up literally as we have the opportunity to harvest bamboo shoots, sauté them with say ginger, garlic and white wine and then take it from there. Good conversation, poetry in the wind...

The world is consuming 2 million tons of shoots a year with the US share at just over 30,000 tons. Most of us have had tinned shoots prepared in a Chinese stir fry. We may have appreciated the crunchy texture and not thought too much about it, since the shoots can easily take on the flavors they are cooked with. If you are ready for the next level of flirtation, you can explore the variety of fresh shoot textures and tastes and open a whole new world. Depending upon the species, how soon the shoot is harvested after first appearing, whether it is harvested early or late in the season, the portion of the shoot being tasted, and how it is prepared, shoots can tantalize your taste buds with a culinary palette from fresh chestnutty to crisp apple to bitter peppery.

There are over 30 clumping bamboo species that produce gourmet quality shoots. The best of these include, Nastus elatus, Dendrocalamus asper, Bambusa oldhamii, Dendrocalamus latiflorus, Dendrocalamus brandisii, Gigantochloa atter, Thyrsostachys siamensis and Bambusa hirose. And it s not like you have to choose shoots or timber as the bonus gift bamboo will offer in your landscaping, in most cases you can have both! (Unless you are wanting to grow bamboo just for shoots it is advisable to choose a species for it's beauty to your eye, size, primary function such as hedge or ornamental, ease of maintenance and climate suitability; and then the other services such as shoots or poles.)

Wait at least 2-3 years after planting before harvesting shoots, depending upon the vitality of your plant. (This may seem like patience is being required on your part, but when you think that you could expect to harvest for the next 100 years it's a relative time thing.) The shoot is the new culm emerging from the ground ready to sprout up. New shoots should be harvested as soon as one can see or feel the tip of the shoot in the ground. At this stage the nutrient and the protein content is at its peak though flavors vary with species. Once the shoots emerge above the ground and are exposed to daylight, they usually become tough and bitter. A deep, soft mulch (1 foot or more) around the base of the plant will make for easier harvest, allows the shoots to remain tender and grow larger while remaining in darkness. Farmers in Australia and Thailand are slipping soft, lined, light resistant bags over emerging shoots to develop the largest sweetest shoots possible. Individual shoots of up to 13 pounds can be expected from large species such as D. asper and D. brandisii.

Two species, Nastus elatus and Dendrocalamus asper are both known to have such sweet shoots that they can be eaten raw. In their case, it's the pure passion of a pleasurable palette that is the fire which keeps the romance sizzling...no external heat required!

Some species are very bitter and peppery like our Hawaiian Bambusa vulgararis vittata, and although most Westerners find it unpalatable, it is much sought after by the Vietnamese. Several bamboo species contain very high levels of cyanogenic glycosides (a form of cyanide) in their shoots which makes them taste bitter. The cyanogenic glycoside in bamboo is taxiphyllin. Fortunately, taxiphyllin degrades readily in boiling water, and boiling for 8 to 10 minutes is usually adequate. With some very bitter species changing the water and boiling again might be required. The delight is that shoots will retain their crunchy texture even if overcooked.

The more you harvest the more they produce. Field tests show that harvesting up to 80% of a seasons shoots yields the largest number of new shoots the following year. Once you have made it clear to the bamboo plant that you are interested in the shoots, it leaps into the service of supplying you what you want. Oh, if only all lovers were this attentive!

If you are interested in knowing more about the cultivation of ornamental bamboos used in the landscape, you are invited to attend an informational presentation by Jayanti Nand, the nursery manager of Whispering Winds Bamboo at the meeting of the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals. The meeting is April 26th at 7:00 pm in the Ka Lama Bldg rm#103 at the Maui Community College Campus. The Ka Lama Bldg is on the Wailuku end of campus between the Science Bldg and the Ag Bldg.