Updated: November 25, 2019
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All About Menma (food): Taste, Origins, How to Make it + More!

This article is all about menma (the food, not the character from the popular anime 'Naruto'). We will cover the following topics: What is menma? What does menma taste like? Can bamboo kill you? How do you make menma at home? And more. Enjoy!

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What is menma?

Menma is the Japanese word for fermented slices of bamboo shoot. Interestingly, menma is not traditionally made from Japanese bamboo, but from a different vairety of bamboo called 麻竹 (machiku) found in southeast Asia. Although menma actually originates in Taiwan, it is now most well-known as a common ramen topping.

What does menma mean in Japanese?

Most Japanese people don't even know the origins of the word 'menma,' but it's actually quite interesting.
Menma itself originates in Taiwan, where it is usually eaten as a topping in rice porridge. When it was first introduced to Japan, it was sold with the name 'shina chiku' (支那竹, Chinese bamboo). At the time, ramen was still called 'shina soba' or 'chuka soba' which means 'Chinese soba,' and so menma (called 'Chinese bamboo' and therefore logically a great ingredient to include in a Chinese dish) was added as a topping.
However, the Taiwanese government apparently didn't like having their product labeled as 'Chinese bamboo,' and made a fuss to have the name changed. The name 'menma' was therefore created as a combination of the words 'Ra(men)' and '(ma)chiku' (麻竹, South Asian bamboo), men + ma = menma.

What does menma taste like?

Menma is bamboo, which has a particular flavor that is difficult to describe to those who have never tried it. Menma is made by fermenting fresh bamboo shoots, pickling them with salt, drying them (in the sun or by other methods), rehydrating and de-salting them, and then adding more flavoring. The resulting product has a fairly salty, pickled taste and a distinctive crunch when bitten into.

Can bamboo kill you?

A growing bamboo shoot
Did you know that raw bamboo shoots are actually filled with natural toxins called cyanogenic glycosides which turn into cyanide (you've probably heard of this poison before) when the bamboo is crushed? Because of this, it's not safe to eat raw bamboo (not that you'd want to, as it has a woody texture and horribly bitter taste). Luckily, cooking, fermenting, and drying bamboo gets rid of most of the dangerous toxins and makes it safe to eat. So could you die from eating bamboo? Probably not, unless you ate a large amount of raw bamboo, which is unreasonable.

Make your own menma at home

If you don't live somewhere with a Japanese supermarket, buying menma at the store will probably be out of the question. If this is the case, you might be wondering, how do you make fermented bamboo shoots at home? Turns out, It's not too difficult! Here's a detailed video that explains the process:

In closing

I hope that is article has answered all of your menma-related questions! If you're hungry for more information about ramen, feel free to check out our all-about-ramen article:
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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