The Seemingly Unlimited Uses of Bamboo
Few plants can display a growth habit to rival that of bamboo. Some tropical species are known to shoot up at a rate of a foot or two a day in the growing season. But what about bamboo’s prospects in the afterlife? Yes, it can be processed into thousands of products, from building materials to towels to just about anything you can imagine.
Even bamboo that’s been eaten by panda bears and comes out the other end can be made into fabulous panda poo paper products. But how about bamboo that’s been destroyed by fire? Surely its potential must be severely limited. Well, think again.
By cooking mature stalks of bamboo at temperatures around 1000º C, the hardy plant undergoes thermal decomposition and turns into bamboo charcoal. This dark grey and seemingly inert end product actually has a surprising range of uses. Historically, the myriad applications of bamboo charcoal date back many centuries, millennia even. We can trace the oldest written record to the Ming Dynasty, 15th century.
Most uses of bamboo charcoal involve either cooking or some type of purification. But some of the most intriguing uses did not “come to light” until the 20th century. Relying on its strength and durability, Thomas Edison employed a carbon filament fashioned from bamboo for one of his very first light bulb experiments. These days, however, the demand for bamboo filament lightbulbs has greatly diminished, so don’t expect to see any on the shelves at Bambu Batu. Although you might find bamboo charcoal in some of our bamboo toothbrushes, which make use of its teeth-whitening properties.
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Purification and Filtration
Like most varieties of charcoal, bamboo is very effective as a medium for cleaning both air and water. Most water filters employ some sort of carbon filtration system, but there’s a bamboo water filter method that’s as easy as dunking a slab of charcoal into a jug of water. Within 3-4 hours, the bamboo leaches the impurities from your tap water.
IPPINKA Bamboo Charcoal Water Filter is a product of Japan, and it reliably removes chlorine from your water, for a cleaner and better tasting refreshment. They come three sticks in a box, and each stick lasts about a month or two. Just boil the stick once a week for ten minutes to keep it fresh.
If you’re just looking for something to clear the air, bamboo charcoal is perfect for that too. A little bag of charcoal in the sock drawer, in the car, or in the bathroom, can provide an effective and inconspicuous solution to the unpleasant odor problems.
Brilliant Evolution makes 50 gram bags of bamboo charcoal that are sold in sets of four. The reusable pouches last for up to 2 years. The charcoal itself is non-toxic, has no added chemicals or odors, and is easy to compost at the end of their use.
We usually associate it German sausages and American burgers, but really, who doesn’t love a good BBQ? The oldest use of bamboo charcoal is probably for cooking, much like how we use different kinds of charcoal when we fire up the grill. Stalks and culms of bamboo are cooked down to what’s classified as raw charcoal, and the remaining residue and bi-product becomes charcoal briquettes.
But bamboo briquettes don’t lend the same sort of flavor as a nice mesquite, so it’s actually not so common to cook with it on the grill. More likely, the charcoal goes into a furnace to be used for heating. It’s also an ideal source of heat for drying out tea leaves, a very common practice in Asia.
One final use of bamboo charcoal may or may not be worth considering, depending whether you’ve got the stomach for it! In 2014, Burger King in Japan introduced the all-black cheeseburger. They used bamboo charcoal to color the buns, the burger and the cheese. Black squid ink was also added to the ketchup to make a black sauce. Bamboo charcoal is highly revered in Japan, and these frightening looking burgers were actually a big hit.
I can’t attest to the taste of a black cheeseburger, but why not treat yourself to some cleaner water and a little more fresh air? Bamboo charcoal can do it all!
Photo Credit: Charred bamboo, ready to enter the next stage of life (Wikipedia)