8 Substitutes for Bamboo Shoots to Use in Your Next Recipe

Bamboo shoots are a staple in many areas of Asian cuisine. If you ever find yourself needing to use them, but without any in stock, here’s an exhaustive list of bamboo shoot substitutes. 

You can use water chestnuts, jicama, and several other foods as replacements the next time you run out of bamboo shoots.

What are Bamboo Shoots?

Bamboo shoots, sometimes called bamboo sprouts, are the edible sprouts of several different species of the bamboo tree. “Shoots” refer to the above-ground stem of a bamboo tree in its early growth stages. 

The bamboo plant has three parts. There are the roots, the stalk (also called the stem), and the tree’s leaves. The new tree growths grow out of the ground into “culms,” which is what the bamboo shoot food is harvested from. 

The shoot refers to a young culm, that hasn’t reached its maximum growth potential. 

Some of the bamboo varieties they can be collected from are Bambusa vulgaris (native to China) and Phyllostachys edulis (native to China and Taiwan). 

The food group they’re most associated with is vegetables, as they’re usually cooked with and used with them in Asian dishes. 

Bamboo shoots are sold in cans most often in the United States but can be purchased fresh at some Asian markets. If they’re purchased fresh, they either should have already been or need to be boiled. The boiling process removes cyanogenic glycosides, which are naturally-occurring toxins.

Bamboo shoots are harvested by cutting them out of the ground at the spot where they meet the soil. They can also be cut right above the rhizome. The outer sheaths of the bamboo shoot need to be removed in preparation for eating.

In Japan, China, and Taiwan, bamboo shoots are harvested in the spring and beginning stages of summer. The younger shoots have a crisp taste and texture that’s highly desired. 

Older shoots need to be boiled more than once to get rid of their acrid flavor. Bamboo can also be pickled and used as a condiment. 

Bamboo shoots offer a lot of health benefits that are often overlooked since they aren’t widely considered a main ingredient. 

They’re low in calories and high in nutrients. One cup of bamboo shoots contains only 64 calories, 19% of the suggested daily value of copper, 14% of the daily value of Vitamin B6, and 9% of the daily value of Vitamin E. 

Copper is great for your skin and brain health, while Vitamin E protects against disease and inflammation. 

How Are Bamboo Shoots Used in Cooking?

Bamboo shoots are used in a variety of different ways across the globe.

They’re used with the purpose of a vegetable, meaning they go well mixed in with other veggies in something like a stir-fry or noodle soup. 

After they’ve been harvested and prepared as a cooking ingredient, they’re usually sliced into thin, small rectangles. They have a sandy yellowish color. 

They have a very mild flavor, with hints of earthiness. They’re often described as having nutty flavor. They’re slightly similar to water chestnuts – the two both have refreshing qualities. 

Bamboo shoots are slightly tangy as well, which is brought out when they’re pickled. Their texture is crisp and slightly fibrous. They soften a lot when cooked.

The mild, mellow flavor of bamboo shoots means they can work in almost any dish. They’re often paired with stronger, sour flavors. Here are some ways bamboo shoots are prepared in different parts of the world.


A popular ingredient in Nepal that uses bamboo shoots is called tama, which means “fermented bamboo shoot.” Tama is often used in tama soup, which contains black-eyed peas, potatoes, bamboo shoots, and lots of spices. 

The fermented bamboo contributes a pungent and sour flavor. 


In the Himalayas, different kinds of bamboo trees are grown that produce different bamboo shoots: the Dendrocalamus hamiltonii produces shoots known as choya bans; the Dendrocalamus sikkimensis produces what’s known as bhalu bans; the Bambusa tulda shoots are commonly known as karati bans

Each of these varieties is harvested and boiled in water that’s been infused with turmeric powder. The shoots are boiled for 10-15 minutes until the bitter taste of the bamboo is gone. 

One Indian dish they’re used in is traditional curries from Odisha such as pithou bhaja. 


In the Philippines, bamboo shoots are harvested from a variety of different bamboo trees, including two species endemic to the area: Bambusa merrilliana and Bambusa philippinensis

The shoots are often prepared in either a stew with coconut milk, called ginataáng labóng, or in a stew with fish, green beans, and jute shrub.


Bamboo shoots are used frequently in Thailand. They’re almost always in the spicy and sour soup Tom Yum. They also often appear in curries. There’s variation between whether the dishes include fresh or pickled bamboo shoots. 

What Are Substitutes for Bamboo Shoots?

Here’s what you can use in a pinch if you’re out of bamboo shoots.

1. Jicama

Jicama is a tuber from Mexico and Central America. 

It’s often called the Mexican potato but isn’t quite as mushy. Rather, it’s closer in flavor and texture to a bamboo shoot.

They’re each crunchy and retain that crunch when cooked. The flavor of each of them is mild, as well. Jicama is slightly sweeter than a bamboo shoot.

Jicama is often available for purchase at Mexican grocery stores, and occasionally at organic grocery stores like Whole Foods. 

They’re lower in calories than bamboo shoots and contain a lot of potassium, which is great for muscle mobility and heart health.

2. Jerusalem Artichokes

Another great bamboo shoot alternative is the Jerusalem artichoke. These artichokes, also known as sunchokes, actually have no relation to artichokes. It’s also native to North America, not Israel. 

Jerusalem artichokes have a nutty flavor similar to bamboo shoots. They also have a similar crunchiness when they’re raw. When cooked, they lose their crunchiness. Therefore, if you want to use them as a shoot substitute, avoid cooking them. 

These are also wonderful sources of potassium.

3. Hearts of Palm

Even though they’re a bit softer than bamboo shoots, hearts of palm can work as a substitute. 

They come from the inner core of palm trees. Like bamboo shoots, they’re both tree-harvested! They were a staple of tropical Indigenous diets for centuries and gained European popularity in the 1800s.

Hearts of palm are creamier than bamboo shoots. They contain more health benefits, as well. They have all nine amino acids that our bodies need, and are an excellent source of protein.

4. Asparagus

Both white and green asparagus can work as bamboo shoot replacements.

We’d recommend softly boiling the asparagus, so they gain a similar texture to bamboo shoots. Don’t boil them until they’re completely cooked, though – this would make them too mushy.

The texture of a slightly-boiled stalk of asparagus could resemble a bamboo shoot. It would be even more helpful to cut them into rectangles to mimic the bamboo shoot shape.

Check out our article on white vs. green asparagus to decide which you should use, how you should prepare them, and all of their health benefits. 

5. Water Chestnuts

Water chestnuts are possibly the most obvious substitute for bamboo shoots.

One detractor is that these two ingredients are often in the same dishes, so you might have double the amount if you’re making a curry and trying to substitute water chestnuts for bamboo shoots.

Water chestnuts are eaten raw, but most often they’re cooked by being stir-fried with other vegetables. Like bamboo shoots, they retain their crispness. 

Water chestnuts aren’t amazingly nutrient-rich, but they’re low-calorie and have a few healthy antioxidants.

6. Broccoli Stems

The stems of broccoli – the parts under the tree canopy – are great bamboo shoot substitutes, as well. 

To prepare them, you can slice them similarly to bamboo shoots for the most effective substitution. They can be cooked either by sautéeing or by being lightly boiled. Don’t overcook these, because they’ll lose their crunch.

While they do veer more on the side of crunchy than the side of crispy, they can add that mild textural boost that bamboo shoots do. 

One cup of broccoli stems contains almost your entire daily suggested amount of Vitamin K and about half of the daily amount of Vitamin C. 

7. Carrots

Good old carrots, when sautéed, are a great option to provide the crunchiness of bamboo shoots in any dish.

They’re sweeter than bamboo shoots but offer more nutritional value. Slice or julienne them to match the bamboo shoot size and texture better. 

Carrots can also be pickled, so they’re a good substitute for pickled bamboo. You can even pickle them within a day. Just add them to a mason jar with a warmed vinegar, water, salt, and sugar mixture. 

Make sure the carrots are submerged completely. They should be ready in one hour!

8. White Cabbage

White cabbage doesn’t even have to be cooked to work as a bamboo shoot substitute. 

The textures are slightly different since cabbage has more ridges and fewer fibrous tendrils than bamboo shoots. However, the flavors are super similar. Both are mild and mellow tasting. 

If you do want to cook your cabbage, just make sure to do it towards the end, so it keeps its crunch. This bamboo shoot alternative is a great source of fiber. 

How to Choose Substitutes for Bamboo Shoots

When choosing a substitute for bamboo shoots, you should consider what different textures and flavors are at play in whichever dish you’re preparing.

For example, if you’re making pad thai, maybe opt for water chestnuts as they have a mild flavor. Because pad thai is such an already-flavorful dish, you may not want to overcomplicate your palate.

Water chestnuts, white cabbage, and jicama are probably the most versatile bamboo shoot substitutes because they don’t have a ton of flavor. Broccoli, carrots, and Jerusalem artichokes could change up a dish’s composition with their unique tastes.

It’s important to strive for balance in cooking.

However, at the end of the day, the best bamboo shoot substitute is probably the one you have on hand. They’re worth substituting for that satisfying crunch alone. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Disadvantages of Eating Bamboo Shoots?

Eating a cooked, young bamboo shoot doesn’t offer many disadvantages. The bamboo plant does, however.

Remember that uncooked bamboo is toxic and should be avoided. Not all bamboo species are edible, so be super you’ve done thorough research before harvesting it yourself. Afterward, be sure to soak and boil it. 

What are the Side Effects of Eating Bamboo Shoots?

Some of the acid contained in bamboo shoots stays in the shoot after it’s been boiled. This isn’t to a toxic degree but can cause pain if you have a sensitive stomach. Try to avoid eating them in large quantities if you do.

If you have gout, you should also stay away from them. They have uric acid, which can worsen the condition.

Are Bamboo Shoots Good for High Blood Pressure?

They absolutely are! They’re not too high in sodium, so they shouldn’t be dangerous for high blood pressure. 

Final Thoughts

Bamboo shoots add an interesting flavor and texture component to any dish. Because of their versatility and deliciousness, they’re definitely worth substituting. 

The best thing to do, though, would be to always keep a can of them around!