Bamboo, a Chinese symbol for long life and an Indian symbol of friendship, is a natural resource that supplies food, shelter and income to more than 2.5 billion people worldwide. From the true grass family Poaceae, bamboos are some of the largest woody perennials. Found in diverse climates, including Northeast Asia, northern Australia, sub-Saharan Africa and the U.S. Southeast, these plants are very treelike in appearance, yet grow taller each year rather than wider in diameter, like ordinary trees.
Low in calories and fat, this healthy ingredient packs a fibrous punch that helps to lower cholesterol and protect against colon cancer. In addition, bamboo is rich in potassium—640 mg per cup—which helps to maintain normal blood pressure and a healthy heart rate. With a crispy, fresh flavor, this Asian-cuisine staple adds beneficial nutritional value, as well as interesting texture, to any meal.
In the kitchen
Bamboo shoots—the new culms, or stem of the plant, that grow out of the ground—commonly are used in Asian stir-fry recipes and are available at Asian supermarkets. Fermenting the sap of young stalks creates a sweet wine called ulanzi, and bamboo leaves are an ingredient in a green-colored Chinese liquor called zhúyèqīng jiú. Pith is the soft, spongy substance found in the center of the stem and can be served as a condiment.