13 March 2020 – Edible bamboo startup Bear Bamboo is bringing pickled bamboo shoots to Latin America. The International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR)’s Latin America and the Caribbean Office presents a profile of Bélgica Aguilar, founder of Bear Bamboo.
Ecuador is known for its rich biodiversity, with approximately 18,000 species of plants found in the country. One of these is known for its versatility, economic potential and huge range of uses: bamboo. With more than 10,0000 documented uses, the advantages of bamboo have been recognised for milenia in Latin America, but recently interest in its many applications, which include paper, building material and even food, has increased anew.
With 46 species of bamboo, each with its own specific uses in industry, present over 600,000 hectares of land, Ecuador has a competitive advantage as a cash crop in Latin America. Bamboo shows great potential as a tool for sustainable development, extending benefits not only to rural communities near plantations and bamboo groves, but to urban areas, contributing to the development of green cities.
It was in this environment that Bélgica Aguilar’s startup has sprouted up. Passionate about bamboo and an experienced foreign trade professional, she had been carrying out her own research into the benefits and properties of bamboo for many years before launching her bamboo shoot startup, Bear Bamboo, last year. In 2019, her knowledge about upgrading the bamboo value chain in her native Ecuador was strengthened considerably when she attended one of INBAR’s training courses.
Bélgica’s vision is to scale up local production of these delicious, nutritious products for consumption all across Ecuador, and eventually internationally.
To obtain the final product, the edible bamboo sprouts, Bélgica choose the Dendrocalamus asper bamboo species. Bélgica’s research suggested that this group of bamboo species would be the most suitable for human consumption, mainly due to its size of the shoots and the fact that it is included in the standard Codex Alimentarius (STAN 241-2003), which lists species that are suitable for human consumption and their health and nutritutional benefits. Pickled bamboo shoots popular in Asia are mainly produced using moso bamboo, a monopodial species that does not grow well in Ecuador. Each 100 grams of D. asper bamboo shoots contains about 27 calories and 2.6 grams of protein, as well as being rich in fibre and containing vitamins A, C, B9 and minerals like Phosphorus, Calcium and Potassium, making them a healthy product for daily consumption
After cleaning and cooking to soften and remove the bitter taste, the bamboo shoots are preserved by soaking in in vinegar and spices, giving them a tangy, spicy taste which makes them an exotic ingrdient for everyday cooking and delicious as a snack. Bear Bamboo has been producing these bamboo shoots for about a year, and Bélgica is confidend that the process has now been streamlined and is ready to scale up.
Under Bélgica’s leadership, Bear Bamboo seeks to advance in the competitive global pickled product market, and in doing so improve the wellbeing, health and livelihoods of local people in the communities in which the plant grows.
To help promote startups like Bélgica’s, the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR), together with national and international partner institutions, works to develop projects for sustainable development using bamboo and applies different strategies for the production, marketing, and diffusion of such projects. Within a year of working together with INBAR, Bear Bamboo aims to project and position in the market with a product as adaptable and versatile as bamboo itself.
This article was prepared by INBAR’s Regional Office for Latin America and The Caribbean – INBARLAC