Bamboo shoots commonly found in traditional Chinese dishes are being hailed as the next health food by scientists in India.

According to a review published in the May issue of Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, young bamboo shoots offer a range of health benefits that include antioxidant, anti-cancer, weight loss, digestion and anti-bacterial properties.

Young  bamboo shoots are rich in proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and fiber, and are low in fat and sugar, said a team of researchers at Panjab University in India, as they grow without the application of fertilizers.

And given the rising interest in health conscious consumers, bamboo shoots - which are among the fastest growing plants in the world - could become a sustainable, nutritious or "functional" food staple in the fast-paced market for the next big thing, researchers say.

While bamboo is more closely associated with furniture and clothing in the eco-friendly market, bamboo is commonly used in Chinese and Southeast Asia as a food ingredient.

Fresh shoots have a crisp, crunchy taste and sweet flavor, researchers noted. In Southeast Asia, they are mostly used in soups, snacks, hot curries, spicy stir-fries, salads, pickles, and spring rolls.

The most common preparation involves boiling the shoots in stocks, soups or salted water for use in assorted dishes. In Indonesia, for example, bamboo are sliced thin and boiled in santan, a thick coconut milk, along with spices to make a dish called gulai rebung.

They're also preserved in many different forms - dried, fermented, salted, pickled and canned. In Nepal, bamboo shoots are fermented with turmeric and oil and cooked with potatoes in a traditional dish that usually accompanies rice, called alu tama.

The study proposes that bamboo could also be categorized as a nutraceutical or natural medicine, as they contain phytosterols and a high amount of fiber that have cholesterol-lowering and anticarcinogenic activities.

The shoots are also said to improve appetite and digestion and in traditional Chinese medicine are used to treat infections.

Worldwide, more than 2 million tons of bamboo shoots are consumed annually of which about 1.3 million tons are produced in China alone.

Currently, bamboo fiber is a common ingredient in breakfast cereals, fruit juices, cookies, shredded cheeses, frozen desserts and other snacks.

Meanwhile, environmental and conservation activists say that mass deforestation to meet increasing industrial demand has had a devastating impact on the natural habitat and animals like the pandas, which call bamboo forests home.

Chinese hot and sour soup features bamboo shoots as a prominent ingredient. For the recipe, visit Epicurious at .