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Return to Nature With Bamboo

Kate Hamilton September 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

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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.

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Bamboo Quick Facts

  • Bamboo-fiber paper has been made in China for centuries, and a coarse variety continues to be used to create joss paper, or spirit money, which is used in Chinese ceremonies.
  • Popular houseplants sold as “lucky bamboo” actually are an entirely different species called Dracaena sanderiana.
  • The giant panda that is native to China and the spider monkey feast on bamboo shoots, stems and leaves as their major food source.
  • After surviving the atomic blast at Hiroshima in 1945, bamboo provided the first regreening to the area.
  • Aside from its culinary uses, bamboo forms a light, exceptionally tough and hard wood that surpasses the tensile strength of mild steel. In addition, it can be used to make blinds, utensils, diesel fuel, flooring, furniture, medicine, musical instruments and more.
  • This hardy plant is the fastest-growing variety on the planet. Some species grow as much as 3–4 feet a day.

Recipe: Portobello-tofu Stir Fry With Bamboo Shoots

Makes 2 servings


1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1⁄2 teaspoon minced gingerroot

1 pinch crushed red pepper

2 portobello mushrooms, stemmed

1⁄4 cup firm tofu

sesame oil

1 tablespoon minced gingerroot

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon broccoli florets

1 tablespoon sliced water chestnuts

4 ears baby corn

1 tablespoon bamboo shoots

1 tablespoon red bell pepper, diced or julienned

1 teaspoon julienned carrot

2 tablespoons bean sprouts

reduced-sodium soy sauce, to taste

1. For Marinade: Combine sesame oil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, minced gingerroot and crushed red pepper.

2. Marinate mushrooms and tofu separately for about 15 minutes, then drain excess marinade.

3. Preheat a wok or sauté pan, and add enough sesame oil to coat. When oil begins to smoke, sauté minced gingerroot until it begins to brown. Add minced garlic, and continue to sauté until garlic just begins to brown.

4. Add all vegetables except for bean sprouts, and sauté until broccoli begins to soften.

5. Add tofu and mushrooms. Season with reduced-sodium soy sauce. For more ginger flavor, add more sautéed minced gingerroot or ground dry ginger.

6. Add bean sprouts just before removing from heat.

7. Serve on plates.

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