Bamboo shoots, considered as a treasure dish by the Chinese and called “King of Forest vegetables” in Japan, are a little known and neglected food commodity in India. Its consumption is confined to the North Eastern states whereas in other parts of the country, few people even know of its edibility and its consumption is only in the form of pickles or in high end hotels or restaurants who use only imported shoots. Very few know that this simple looking vegetable is loaded with nutrients, minerals, vitamins, dietary fiber and extra nutrient phytochemicals also termed as bioactive compounds which exert various health promoting effects. Elsewhere bamboo is placed among the 5 most popular health care foods in the world whereas not only in India, but even in NE India it is one of the most neglected food items. In India, bamboo shoot occupy two ends of consumption – one is at lower level, consumption by the poor people living in villages and remote areas who collect the young fresh juvenile shoots from the forests. Second group of bamboo shoot consumers are at the higher level who dine in hotels and restaurants and enjoy imported canned bamboo shoots. The middle class people either do not know that bamboo shoots are edible or consider it as a food for tribal or poor people and think it below dignity to bring it on their dining table. The same people sometimes do not mind shelling out an exorbitant amount of money when served in restaurants or hotels in the name of Chinese, Thai and continental dishes. All over India, imported canned shoots adorn themselves on the shelves of the departmental stores whereas even though we are the country with second largest resource of bamboos, there is no domestic brand of bamboo shoots available in the departmental stores in cities like Delhi, Chandigarh and Shillong.
In my own experience, during my travels in North East India, during June when fresh shoots are abundantly available, canned bamboo shoot are being used in all high end eateries in cities like Shillong. The question which popped up immediately in my mind is why we are neglecting our own resources and depriving our people of generating some income? The situation prevails all over the country; only imported canned bamboo shoots are used as we do not have a viable bamboo shoot industry which can cater to the domestic needs. Two factors which hinder the popularity of bamboo shoots is the lack of awareness of its edibility and health benefits and also due to its unavailability. China though having largest bamboo genetic resource has less acreage (5444 000 ha) than India (11,361000 ha). However, China is the largest exporter of bamboo shoots followed by small countries like Thailand and Taiwan. India on the other hand is importing canned bamboo shoots and nothing has been done, neither by government organizations nor private companies. Lin’an county in Zhejiang province of China is an example how bamboo shoot industry changed the fortune of the local people. In 1980, the GDP per capita income of the inhabitants was only US$ 50. During this time bamboo based industry was started and within 12 years in 2002 GDP per capita income increased to US$ 644. The highest record of shoot production of Lin’an County reaches 46.5 tons/hectare, the highest record of income from shoot production is 100 thousand USD/hectare/year. About 60% of the rural population is involved in bamboo shoot, rural poverty is completely gone and about 70% of the households have built new houses comparable to those in the cities. The North East India can also harness its potential of generating income from its vast resources of bamboo. There are more than ten bamboo species whose shoots are available in the market and are commercially viable. For bamboo shoot industry to flourish in North East India in particular and India in general, certain steps to be taken include (i) creating awareness of its edibility and health value (ii) Proper packaging and processing for availability throughout the year (iii) cultivation of appropriate bamboo species for shoot production (vi) introduction of novel food items made from bamboo shoots (v) exploit the pharmaceutical potential of shoots.
Dr. C. Nirmala is Professor at Department of botany, Panjab University, India.