A bamboo shoot is a young culm harvested at the time, or shortly after it appears above the soil surface. When the shoot pierces the ground, critical bio-chemical processes start. These lead to rapid growth, as well as concurrent hardening, as the shoot elongates and turns into a woody culm.
Bamboo shoot have high nutritional value and low fat, and are a good source of fibre.Bamboo shoots are rich in vitamins, cellulose and amino acids. At harvesting, a shoot may contain as much as 90% water. The edible content of a newly harvested shoot is typically around 30%; the balance is made up of the sheath, and the extreme portions of the shoot.
Most bamboo species produce edible shoots. In many parts of India, bamboo shoots have formed a part of traditional cuisine – fresh, dried, shredded or pickled. There is however also a growing market for processed and packaged shoots, representing an opportunity for the establishment of commercially run processing units.
In India, there is as yet no significant cultivation for shoot nor is there an organised market or supply chain of raw shoots for processing. Plantations have however begun to be established, the preferred species for such plantations being Dendroclamus asper, Bambusa balcooa and Dendrocalmus hamiltonii.
Organised cultivation for shoot requires a different package of practices from that for culm/ timber. Shoot cultivation normally requires better soil, water and light conditions, and more intensive management. A shoot stand consumes more mineral nutrients from the soil, and therefore the application of fertilisers, preferably organic fertilisers is important.
Growers cultivate bamboo shoots for home consumption, with the surplus finding its way to local markets. At present bamboo shoots are sold in India largely in unprocessed form - harvested from homestead clumps, and brought to local markets. Shelf life is limited, also since they tend to be harvested in the hot and humid season. Prices in urban markets for fresh shoots range from 5/- to 20/- per kg., but can be much higher in metro markets. Some quantities are sold dried and preserved – with simple additives like salt and lemon juice. There is also a market for fermented shoots. On a slightly larger scale, slivered pickles are marketed.
Modern processing and packaging technologies have developed new dimensions and markets for bamboo shoot. It is now possible, even at the scale of tiny and village level enterprise to prepare and pack shoots for the market, through processes that allow bamboo shoot to retain its freshness for a period of time.