Since I'm back in Vermont, I've also been back into one of their grocery store chains--Shaws. And recently Shaws came through with something else that I've never had, bamboo. So I picked up a can posthaste.
Bamboo has the reputation of being an incredibly fast growing plant, and this is totally deserved. Some species can grow up to 36 inches (91 cm.) in only 24 hours, or about 1 mm. every 90 seconds! Or almost fast enough to see it actually growing. This plant is also freakishly strong. Its tensile strength (essentially, being pulled apart) is equal to that of some kinds of steel, and its compressive strength (basically, being pushed together) is higher than wood, brick, and concrete. Bamboo needs hot temperatures to grow, so it's limited to tropical and warm temperate regions across the globe.
This plant is also remarkably useful for humans. It can be made into construction material, furniture, rafts, charcoal, chopsticks, and pens, to name just a few. It's even possible to make weapons out of it--spears, bows, and even swords, of a sort. And while the concept of it as food is strongly associated with giant pandas (and the smaller red pandas), humans can eat parts of it as well. It's sometimes combined with other meals, stir-fried, boiled, and pickled. Its sap can be made into soft drinks or fermented into wine. (Mountain gorillas sometimes ingest naturally fermented bamboo sap as a mood-altering substance as well.)
There is a huge downside to bamboo though--it can be very toxic. Both topically, and when eaten. The former sometimes affects harvesters, who can get allergic reactions ranging from rashes, to swollen eyelids, to breathing problems. And the bamboo shoots, the only part of the plant which is edible, are very dangerous if not prepared right. This involves a process which includes cutting away the fibrous exterior, and then boiling the shoots for several hours. If this isn't done properly, a toxin in bamboo will be converted into deadly cyanide in the human digestive system. So it's nothing to mess around with! Canned bamboo is safe, as it's been prepared correctly, but fresh shoots are no joke. Don't eat them unless you know what you're doing.
The company that made my shoots was Dynasty. I wasn't able to learn much about this business online, but it appears to be Thai, and have begun in 2012. Other products offered are mineral waters, nut butters, chocolates, cookie/biscuits, pasta, teas, coffees, sauces, and spices. The distribution company was JFC International, which is headquartered in the U.S., and is owned in turn by Kikkoman.
The can I bought was 5 ounces (142 grams), and cost about $1.60. My shoots were grown in China. These shoots were yellowish-white in color, and rectangular in shape, about 1 cm. by 5 cm (or about .4 inch by 2 inches) in size. They reminded of pasta pieces. On the advice of online commenters, I did rinse the pieces thoroughly in water. However, as usual, I wasn't keen on cooking them, so I had a bit right out of the can, and some mixed in with a 3 cheese zita marinara frozen microwave meal from Smart Ones. The texture was crunchy, and a little bitter. Not much taste, really, even in the marinara sauce. I wasn't impressed. Although, to be fair, I would try these again, at a restaurant. Maybe cooked up right, with a bunch of veggies and meat, bamboo would taste alright. Also, thinking about it, it's possible I had them in Chinese meals in the past. I don't recall them tasting that distinctive, though, but I guess better than what I had yesterday.
I'll end on a ghoulish note. Another thing that springs to my mind when I hear the word bamboo is its alleged use as a natural torture/killing device. Specifically, victims were supposedly tied down securely over several budding young bamboo plants, and when they grew, rapidly, as is their nature, the plants would grow into, and then through the unfortunate person, eventually killing them. The television show "Mythbusters" did an episode about this back in 2008. Obviously they used a ballastics gel "human" instead of the real thing. The bamboo did indeed grow through the "person" in only a few days, indicating that this horrific method of painful execution is plausible. Although, it should be said, this doesn't mean that this actually happened. Rumors hold that this was done in Thailand (nee Siam), Sri Lanka (nee Ceylon), and Japan, but definitive historic (or other) evidence is lacking. So it may be a Far Eastern version of the iron maiden--a fiendishly effective and evil idea, but not one put into actual practice. In short, a hoax, or more kindly, a myth.