Another Sustainable Alt Protein Source: Bamboo Shoots Found to Contain Proteins Similar to Cow’s Milk

Bamboo shoots, the edible part of some bamboo plants, are gaining recognition as a source of essential amino acids, according to a recent study by researchers from the China National Bamboo Research Centre.

Titled “Bamboo shoot and its food applications in the last decade: an undervalued edible resource from forest to feed future people,” the study highlights bamboo shoots’ nutritional composition and health benefits, noting their protein content is “similar to cow’s milk.”

Bamboo as a nutritional powerhouse

In an attempt to demonstrate how bamboo plants can be an alternative to conventional foods, the researchers found that bamboo shoots are rich in seven essential amino acids, carbohydrates (mainly fibers), iron, and vitamins while low in fat, making them a valuable source of nutrition.

Furthermore, similar studies on bamboo shoots suggest that this plant source offers health benefits, including antioxidant and antimicrobial activities, cancer control effects, and prevention of obesity and diabetes, notes the study.

Spicy bamboo shoot soup with mushroom, Local Thai food
© nungning20

Bamboo, a large grass from the subfamily Bambusoideae of Poaceae, stands out as one of the fastest-growing and most ancient plant species on Earth. It is considered a “sustainable gift from nature,” offering versatile uses from wood for toothbrushes to culinary delicacies to wellbeing products.

According to researchers, China is the leading producer with 800 species, but only 153 are edible. There are over 1640 species worldwide, but not all have edible shoots.

Bamboo shoots are a popular and healthy ingredient in Asian cuisine that have a long history as a food source. Various processing methods are used to create different products. They can be crafted into canned and fermented shoots, pickles, shoot powder, bamboo juice, and other beverages. Despite their increasing popularity, bamboo shoots are still underutilized, argue the authors.

Functional ingredients

However, in the last decade, especially, with the increasing demand for well-being products, bamboo shoots have been used to produce functional ingredients, including dietary fibers, polysaccharides, proteins, and antioxidant extracts derived to fortify the nutrition of multiple products, explain the authors.

According to the study, while there is potential for bamboo shoot-based functional foods to address future food security needs, challenges remain for the food industry in scaling up production. Issues such as toxicity and sensory aspects must be addressed to increase widespread consumption. Furthermore, the significant amount of inedible plant material waste generated from using only the shoots poses a cost-efficient obstacle to its production.

Despite these challenges, the authors say the use of bamboo shoots in the food industry has the potential to address the nutritional needs of future populations and ensure food security.

The paper concludes “Bamboo shoots, as a typical non-wood forest product (NWFPs) and an underestimated natural resource in the international scenario, have great potential to become a mainstream food worldwide and contribute to United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

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