Though some sellers of bamboo products claim the bamboo skewers originated in Japan, this simple cooking tool probably developed independently in many locations where bamboo grows. Bamboo splits easily, but shows greater resistance to bending. Thin shafts of split bamboo find many uses today including darts, chopsticks, toothpicks and cooking skewers. Bamboo skewers replace steel skewers in many grilling and serving tasks.
Some species of bamboo, a giant grass with a hard hollow stem, grow as much as 150 feet tall in only six weeks. This amazing growth rate makes the bamboo an important renewable resource. A stand of the bamboo most often used as raw material for crafts and construction replenishes itself in only three years after harvest. Manufacturing items from bamboo requires different tools and skills than when working with wood. Splitting dry bamboo into thin splints by hand provides the stock for skewers and other bamboo utensils.
Bamboo skewers function nearly as well as metal skewers. The bamboo imparts no metallic taste to acid foods. Inexpensive bamboo picks cut costs, allowing serving grilled foods in quantity without buying an array of metal reusable skewers. Bamboo skewers biodegrade, eliminating cleanup without adding to landfill problems. Sustainable environmental practices include replacing plastic disposable cutlery with bamboo equivalents.
Bamboo skewers come in many more forms than the long straight kabob skewers used in grilling. Serving skewers include simple grips formed from curled bamboo slips. Craftsmen shave down one end of the bamboo until the slip bends and then curl or knot the slip to form a small handle. Paddle skewers incorporate a wider section of bamboo at the handle end and provide a stronger grip for heavier portions.
After soaking in cold water for 30 minutes, bamboo skewers hold arrays of fruit, vegetables and meats for either grilling or roasting. Reducing portion sizes allows skewered food to cook before the skewer dries out. Long cooking times on a hot grill might set the skewer afire. Different sizes and styles of bamboo skewers serve as both decoration and tableware for hors d’oeuvres and snack platters. Skewered pieces of garlic, fruit or chili peppers dropped into bottles of vinegar add flavor and allow chefs to recover the flavorings easily, according to Susan Reynolds of the University of Georgia Extension.