Bamboo shoots are a common ingredient in stir-frys, but this very healthy Asian vegetarian option can also be enjoyed on its own or as the main component of many other dishes.

If you’ve ever eaten a stir-fry dish in a Japanese restaurant, you’ve likely had bamboo shoots. Quite often they serve as one of the main vegetables ingredients for a stir-fry. However, the vegetable is much more than just a mere stir-fry ingredient. Fresh bamboo shoots, readily available in Japan in the spring, can be cooked in a number of ways. In Japan and other Asian countries, they are often the main component of a dish, rather than just a small addition.

What Are Bamboo Shoots?

Bamboo shoots are the parts of the bamboo plant that emerge just above the ground when bamboo begins to grow. The fresh bamboo is still soft and can be easily harvested. However, you will need to cook them before attempting to consume them, as the taste can be quite bitter otherwise. Simply simmering the bamboo shoots for about an hour helps eliminate the bitterness.

In America, bamboo shoots are typically found in the international aisle of most supermarkets. They will be precooked and canned, though you may be able to find fresh bamboo shoots in Asian supermarkets when they are in season.

It is also possible to find precooked bamboo shoots in a vacuum-sealed package, which is step up in flavor and freshness than the canned product. If you manage to find these, you might notice a white residue on the bamboo shoots. This is from a rice bran that was used to cook them and can be easily rinsed away.

Bamboo shoots are known as takenoko in Japan and can be prepared a number of ways.

Ways to Cook Bamboo Shoots

The most common way to prepare a meal of takenoko is to simmer the fresh shoots in dashi. The dashi stock imparts a delicious flavor that works well with the crunchy texture of the bamboo shoots. You can also simply simmer them in water and then season them with soy sauce or dried bonito flakes.

And, of course, they often make an appearance in stir-fry dishes. But you can also use bamboo shoots as a topping for ramen, and they make a great addition to curries as well.

In Japan in the spring, a common dish is rice topped with takenoko. The dish might be flavored with sake, mirin or soy sauce and further complemented by shiitake mushrooms and snap peas.

Health Benefits of Bamboo Shoots

In addition to being a great vegetarian option, bamboo shoots are also rather healthy. They are very low in calories and sugar, and high in protein and dietary fiber. They also contain a great number of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin E and niacin. Minerals found in them include calcium, potassium, sodium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

Some of the major health benefits of bamboo shoots include helping to promote heart health and weight loss as well as serving to help lower cholesterol. The wealth of vitamins and minerals in bamboo shoots also helps promote a strong and healthy immune system, and the dietary fiber helps improve digestion. So whether you are just looking to enjoy another delicious dish or you are seeking a health-conscious vegetarian option, you can’t go wrong with adding bamboo shoots to your diet.