The bamboos are a group of woody perennial evergreen plants in the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Some are giant bamboos, the largest members of the grass family. Bamboos are the fastest growing woody plants in the world. Their growth rate (up to 60 centimeters (24 in.)/day) is due to a unique rhizome-dependent system, but is highly dependent on local soil and climate conditions. They are of economic and high cultural significance in East Asia and South East Asia where they are used extensively in gardens, as a building material, and as a food source.
There are more than 70 genera divided into about 1,000 species. They are found in diverse climates, from cold mountains to hot tropical regions. They occur across East Asia, from 50°N latitude in Sakhalin through to Northern Australia, and west to India and the Himalayas. They also occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Americas from the Mid-Atlantic United States south to Argentina and Chile, reaching their southernmost point anywhere, at 47°S latitude. Major areas with no native bamboos include Europe and Antarctica.
The shoots (new bamboo culms that come out of the ground) of bamboo are edible. They are used in numerous Asian dishes and broths, and are available in supermarkets in various sliced forms, both fresh and canned version. The shoots of the giant bamboo contains cyanide. Despite this, the Golden Bamboo Lemur ingests many times the quantity of toxin that would kill a human.
The bamboo shoot in its fermented state (called khorisa) forms an important ingredient in the cuisine of Assam.
In Indonesia, they are sliced thin and then boiled with santan (thick coconut milk) and spices to make a dish named gulai rebung. Other recipes using bamboo shoots are sayur lodeh (mixed vegetables in coconut milk) and lun pia (sometimes written lumpia: fried wrapped bamboo shoots with vegetables). The shoots of some species contain toxins that need to be leached or boiled out before they can be eaten safely.
Pickled bamboo, used as a condiment, may also be made from the pith of the young shoots.
The sap of young stalks tapped during the rainy season may be fermented to make ulanzi (a sweet wine) or simply made into a soft drink. Zhuyeqing jiu (竹葉青酒) is a green-coloured Chinese liquor that has bamboo leaves as one of its ingredients.
Bamboo leaves are also used as wrappers for zongzi, a steamed dumpling typical of southern China, which usually contains glutinous rice and other ingredients.
The empty hollow in the stalks of larger bamboo is often used to cook food in many Asian cultures. Soups are boiled and rice is cooked in the hollows of fresh stalks of bamboo directly over a flame. Similarly, steamed tea is sometimes rammed into bamboo hollows to produce compressed forms of Pu-erh tea. Cooking food in bamboo is said to give the food a subtle but distinctive taste.
In Sambalpur, India, the tender shoots are grated into juliennes and fermented to prepare kardi. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word for bamboo shoot, "karira". This fermented bamboo shoot is used in various culinary preparations, notably "amil", a sour vegetable soup. It is also made into pancakes using rice flour as a binding agent. The shoots that have turned a little fibrous are fermented, dried, and ground to sand size particles to prepare a garnish known as "hendua". It is also cooked with tender pumpkin leaves to make sag green leaves.
In addition, bamboo is frequently used for cooking utensils within many cultures. In modern times, some see bamboo tools as an eco-friendly alternative to other manufactured utensils.