To celebrate giant panda Yun Zi’s birthday, the San Diego Zoo “cooked” up cupcakes and a bamboo cake! Jumping the gun a bit (his official birthday is August 5th), zoo staff presented a week of treats including a two-tiered cake supported by bamboo stalks with an ice and frozen treat filling. They even used bamboo leaves to spell out “Yun Zi” in lieu of frosting. After tearing into his presents, the birthday boy waited for his cake to melt while he nibbled on the bamboo in his perch.
Quite a party!
But it’s not just the giant panda that relies on bamboo for its daily food. Internationally, bamboo is a food staple for human populations as well. In Bangladesh, in fact, the consumption of bamboo by local villagers is causing governmental bans on this precious resource.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts district in the Khagrachhari district is one of the country’s largest bamboo producers and much is riding on their ability to produce bamboo for commercial use and export. Bamboo is a key component for pulp and is also important for construction and its use in manufacturing. In 2008, the country received $13.7 million from the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) to popularize bamboo and rattan cultivation and introduce modern farming and cultivation practices.
But in the face of modernization is a traditional culture that relies on bamboo shoots as a pantry staple and villagers (labeled as “ignorant” by the local papers) continue to eat bamboo shoots despite a 3 month ban imposed by the government. In fact, a black market of sorts has sprung up in local villages although vendors and shoppers alike may deny knowledge of the ban (and who can blame them?).
While most Americans consider bamboo a rare ingredient, one that needs to be searched for in specialty shops, perhaps it’s an ingredient that should become a staple. After all, bamboo is low in calories (27 calories for every 100 grams), high in fiber, rich in antioxidants and recent studies have shown that bamboo as an ingredient helps reduce bad cholesterol (LDL). Additionally, because bamboo is so high in potassium (one cup provides 1/5 of a diet’s requirement) it can help reduce one’s blood pressure.
As the Biggest Loser continues its rating popularity and Michelle Obama promotes a healthier America, maybe bamboo is the next frontier for American farmers. With the worst drought in 26 years scorching corn, wheat and soybean crops, it would benefit all to look into the drought-resistant species of bamboo. Once established, many varieties of bamboo are able to withstand extremes in temperatures more readily than traditional crops. Or if the Midwest isn’t up for the change, let the Delta take advantage of favorable growing traditions and replace King Cotton with King Bamboo. The state of Alabama is already looking to bamboo for a manufacturing boost. Why not throw some shoots towards feeding a hungry America eager for lower food prices? If the ingredient still sounds odd for many, consider that bamboo shoots can even be pickled and that’s almost as American as apple pie!
For delicious bamboo cooking options, be sure to check out Green Earth Bamboo’s Bamboo Flavors!