April 26, 2011

This is a follow up on my bamboo shoot (takenoko) post from January. Back then I was writing about my experiences of harvesting shoots of around 15 centimetres in length and a few centimetres in diameter. Now we’re talking about takenoko like the one pictured below. Compare the matchstick at the base of the shoot for scale.

There are a few meals in this Moso (Phyllostachys edulis) shoot. Before offering some suggestions as to what you might do with one of these giants I want add a couple of points to what I have previously written about the precooking of bamboo.

As I have said previously some bamboos contain cyanide which can be leached by precooking in water containing nuka (rice bran). Usually we save the water from washing brown rice and use this to precook the shoots. If you do not have any bran available a chilli pepper placed in the water is also said to remove the cyanide. Boil the bamboo shoots in water containing nuka or a chilli pepper for anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour.

Research conducted in Japan and reported in the Journal of Biochemistry, Vol. 44, Issue 10, has found that bamboo also contains homogentisic acid. This “growth factor” in the bamboo shoot is probably responsible for lending the bamboo a taste, or more properly, a sensation of the mouth, known in Japan as egomi (which Asako translates as googey). This is a similar sensation to that experienced when eating raw taro. The precooking of bamboo as described above removes the egomi from the shoots.

In Japan it is said that bamboo cooked and eaten immediately after harvesting contains very little egomi and even less if harvested in the morning. When both criteria are fulfilled often the bamboo will be eaten without any precooking at all. I do not know if the absence of egomi also indicates an absence of cyanide but the practice of eating unleached bamboo shoots, harvested in the morning and eaten soon after, is an ancient one so probably quite safe. If in doubt ask the bamboo. If still in doubt play it safe and precook the shoots. The cyanide is not present in quantities that will kill you but if, like us, it becomes a seasonal staple leaching the shoots is a good idea.

Pictured below is Tsuchiya-san our wonderful mentor in the finer points of harvesting takenoko and all things related to foraging and mountain living. To get the best shoots they should be harvested when only a few centimetres of the shoot is visible above the ground. The soil from one side of the shoot  is removed to the depth where the shoot joins the rhizome and the shoot is cut just above where the small roots emerge.

Takenoko steak

A great method of preparing fresh Moso (or other large) bamboo shoots that we were recently  introduced to is as a ‘steak.’ For this you use the large ends of the shoots. After precooking slice rounds of the shoots a few centimetres thick, score the flat surfaces to absorb flavour and pan fry in a little oil or butter. Alternatively, marinate the steaks (shoyu and ginger, maybe) and grill.

Bamboo is a fast growing prolific plant so if you have access to a stand there should be no shortage of shoots for eating. The shoots begin sprouting in spring and may continue for a month or more depending on the species and location. If you have access to a bamboo species like Moso in a single shoot there will likely be more than one meal. Given these factors bamboo is a good wild food to preserve. While fresh food is usually better than preserved food preserved food is better than no food. And preserved bamboo shoots are probably still better than the ‘fresh’ supermarket fare produced by industrial agriculture. And, of course, fermentation is more than just preservation…

Salted and dried bamboo shoots

Precook the shoots in water containing bran or a chilli pepper for a minimum of 30 minutes. Remove the tough outer skin and cut the tender centre into strips. Cook again in water. Remove surface moisture from the cooked strips of shoot and sprinkle with a generous amount of salt. Over the following three days dry the strips of shoot in the sun and massage them as regularly as you can. When the strips are thoroughly dry (about three days) store in an airtight container. For use simply remove any excess salt and rehydrate (soak in water for 15 minutes or more) before cooking.

Fermented bamboo shoots

After precooking the shoots cut them into large pieces and layer them in a vessel (ceramic, enamel or food grade plastic) salting them generously. Place a lid of a smaller diameter than the fermenting vessel on top of the salted bamboo shoots and place a weight on top. The salt will draw moisture out of the shoots assisted by the weight which will also keep the the shoots submerged in this liquid. The shoots will ferment in this liquid and be preserved. For use wash off any excess salt and cook (or eat as is).

These preservation methods should keep the shoots until the next takenoko season rolls around and probably a lot longer. We’ll let you know next year just how well these methods work.

Update: April, 2012

The preservation techniques described above were successful! Here we are, foraging bamboo shoots once again and we still have some of last years preserved shoots in fine condition. This year we will try reducing the amount of salt we used in the second technique. We will also be experimenting with another technique using a combination of salt and okara (a by-product of tofu making). I shall let you know how that one goes.

Also we have learnt, from the old mountain folk and by experience that when the eating the fresh shoots within a  day of harvesting, precooking is completely unnecessary.



5 Responses to “Takenoko”

  1. Joc' Says:

    Me thinks I’ll be looking for bamboo shoots this coming spring :-)!

    Loving the entries and see in the photos.

    Love and hugs to you both

  2. Aaron Pigue Says:

    Hello! My name is Aaron Pigue. I have been in New Zealand the past year working on permaculture practicing farms farms trying to link myself back within natures rhythms, patterns, cycles, and pulses like so many others lost in the wake of modern civilization. I worked at Rainbow Valley Farm, then was introduced to you through Jocylen about a month ago. Also, my partner Saki will soon be coming to visit your farm. I am truly inspired by what it is you are undertaking, and what you have already done. I aspire towards a similar undertaking, as I find a great intrinsic reward and ability to offer something good/pure to people during these “interesting” times. I am curious as to what brought you to where you are now fundamentally, and also if you have any pointers as to what route I should undertake to get a good foundation started? I am riding much more on idealism rather than monetary means, but am willing to do what I must. RVF has changed a lot, and the new owners are taking a very different path than what I see for myself, so I am searching. I will be here until Oct. 28th, and plan to see the Tui community, Riverside, and ecoshow.co.nz owners Brian and Jo before I go back to Florida. Thank you for your time and any input as to certain beneficial routes I can take to simply learn and experience more.
    Best regards,

    • dion Says:

      Hi Aaron, thanks for the kind words. I really encourage you to attend the terraquaculture training workshop in Twizel in September if you can. http://terraquaculture.net/
      This course is a real paradigm shifter and was a huge influence on my direction. Learning from Haikai Tane is an opportunity you don’t want to pass over, trust me.

      My own path has been, continues to be, a long windy road. It would be a very long story filled with seemingly irrelevant events but its all part of the journey. Some landmarks: radical politics (from reading Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book to anarco-primitivism); reading and rereading and rereading Masanobu Fukuoka, particularly The Natural Way of Farming; Stephen Buhner’s The Secret Teachings of Plants (particularly for the light it throws on Fukuoka); working with Haikai Tane; Deep Ecology; studying permaculture with Geoff Lawton and David Holmgren; working with forest farmers in the Philippines…. But there is so much other stuff equally formative if more obscure.

      One of the most important things is to learn how to do it without money or, at least, with very little of it. It doesn’t have to be an impediment. Books are good for inspiration but you learn by doing. Really, we all have to start living it, now. Don’t be put off by the failures (like many of the communities you will come across) but try and learn from them.

      I hope this is some help.

  3. Aaron Pigue Says:

    I have actually looked at that class as an option recently. Unfortunately, I have already made obligations to be at a farm at that time. Funds has become another issue as well. I do understand greatly how to do things without money, but it seems difficult to get around in this regard, as the class is more than I have at hand. I do greatly wish I could be there all the same. However, the property I wish to develop in the future has around a maybe 2-3 degree slope all the way down to a lake, so the probability utilizing this technique is really nicely set up already. Still, it is Florida’s sandiest of sandy aquifer recharging soil, so I wonder if mulched swales following a contour in principle is similar to the terraqualculture or equally as effective?

    I actually started my paradigm shift studying various forms of anarchism as well, and this is where it led. I will check out these books you refer to, and was also curious, as I was told you spent some time in the states, if any terraquaculture and or permaculture practiced there left a good impression upon you? Also, was the program with Geoff worth the time and $$, and it was a year right?
    Thanks again for your time!

    • dion Says:

      Aaron, I’m going to send you an email to continue this conversation in private but for the sake of others reading your comment I would just like to say something about terraquaculture.

      Terraquaculture is not a technique or collection of techniques. It is a way of seeing and understanding. When I finished my first course with Haikai Tane I was looking at the landscape completely differently, seeing things I had never seen before. It has nothing to do with the kind of intellectual “knowing” that leads to carving up the land with swales and ditches.

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