Bamboo, one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, has been cropping up in everyday household items: cutting boards, bath mats, frames, coasters and makeup applicators. Made in China? More like grown in China, the predominant supplier of Moso bamboo, the most common species used in manufactured products.
So what's the appeal? "Since bamboo grows and regenerates so quickly, it's clearly a renewable resource that can and has been used in many household products," said Elaine Fogerty, county agricultural assistant with the Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station, Cooperative Extension of Passaic County, N.J.
In fact bamboo fits the criteria for a rapidly renewable material, meaning it has a harvest rotation of less than 10 years — 3-5 years to be precise — compared to 10-20 years for its tree counterparts.
Equipped with an extensive root system, bamboo continues to produce new shoots for decades and requires no replanting, according to the American Bamboo Society.
Bamboo is also cheaper than the more commonly used hard maple, said Kim Teresi of Chef Central in Paramus, N.J.
"Bamboo is more durable than hardwood," she said. "While bamboo is technically a grass, it is in fact harder than maple or oak. This means that even the sharpest knives will not easily scar it."
She is referring to cutting boards, the top seller of their bamboo inventory.
"All cutting boards gain a few scars and cuts throughout their lives. The shallower cuts, however, are far easier to clean and sanitize," she said. "Fewer deep cuts translate directly into fewer bacteria."
From an aesthetic standpoint, she notes, bamboo can be "visually stunning," particularly its contrast of light, its natural color and dark textures.
This makes it perfect for items like cheese-serving boards and salad bowls, Teresi said.
What you can buy, where you can buy it
Here are a few of the bamboo products in stores.
Mosaic Bath Mat by Splash Spa, $24.99. Water-resistant, with a non-toxic varnish. Available at Bed, Bath and Beyond, bedbathandbeyond.com.
Bamboo cutlery tray by Seville Classics, $14.99. Available in 14-inch and 18-inch sizes. Available at Bed, Bath and Beyond, or sevilleclassics.com.
6-piece brush set by EcoTools, $11.49. Also uses recycled aluminum and 55 percent hemp linen. Available at Bed, Bath and Beyond, or target.com.
Totally Bamboo 6-piece bamboo kitchen utensil set, $5.99. Includes spatulas, turners and serving fork. Available at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Bamboo striped placemat and 6-piece coaster set, $1.99 each. Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Large oval platter by Totally Bamboo, $35. Available at totallybamboo.com.
Bamboo cutting board set by Totally Bamboo, $19.99. Available at Chef Central.
Salad Hands by Totally Bamboo, $7.99. Available at Chef Central.
Hand wash with mild soap and cool water. Do not soak or put in dishwasher. Occasional use of mineral oil ($7 at totallybamboo.com) will help maintain appearance; apply, leave on overnight and rinse.