Fresh Ginkgo Nuts
fresh gingko nuts 

the house

squish off fruity layer

crack shells, soak

simmer 30 minutes

. A gingko, lovely as it is with its evocative nickname—maidenhair tree: for its fan-shaped leaves resembling the pinnae of the Maidenhair fern.—raining gold in the fall, the seeds concealing edible lucky green jade, is not a good reason to buy a house. But as we considered living in that house, I noticed the garden/landscape had some unusual plants. I looked up and saw a tree to fall in love with. Of course, I looked down and picked up some of the seeds. I won’t fall in love with another house; I know better now.

I am not thinking about the house plants I could grow in the big living room window, about how the library will have enough room for most of our books, about where I’ll put things in the kitchen, how to get rid of the lilies of the valley, how I’ll arrange my “office”…

Ginkgos have been planted around temples in China and Japan, keeping off evil spirits, protecting against fire (even atomic bombs), the seeds are auspicious symbols for celebrating weddings. The leaves used medicinally for a digestion aid, relief of hangovers; increasing sexual energy and to stabilize the production of sperm; treating problems with heart, lung, asthma, bronchitis, wheezing, cough; memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease…

Ginkgo nuts are available in Asian markets either fresh (in the fall), canned, or frozen. If you have gathered your own, you must first get rid of the smelly outer layer. To prepare fresh nuts, crack open their shells and then pour boiling water over the nutmeats. Let them soak for about ten minutes until their skins are loose. Peel off the skins, then put the nutmeats in a pot full of boiling water, let it simmer for about thirty minutes, then drain. Rinse canned nuts before using. Japanese cooks add ginkgo seeds (called ginnan) to dishes such as chawan mushi, soups, and nabemono, stir-fries, rice. Cooked, salted seeds are often eaten as a snack with saké.

The remainder of this post is paraphrased from The Ginkgo Pages—an excellent source of information about ginkgo trees:
During the time of the dinosaurs seed plants (spermatophytes) were well developed and were the most dominant vegetation on earth, especially the lush seed ferns, conifers and palmlike cycads. The Ginkgo is the sole living link between the lower and higher plants. These primitive seed plants are called gymnosperms (meaning “naked seeds”) because their seeds are not enclosed in a ripened fruit but are protected by a fleshy seed coat.
Most gymnosperms (and flowering plants) have both sexes on the same plant, but the Ginkgo is a dioecious gymnosperm, male and female are separate trees. (apparently sometime female trees have a male branch grafted on to provide for fertilization)
The Ginkgo and the cycads are the only living seed-producing plants that have motile or free swimming sperm.
The leaves of the ginkgo are unique among seed plants, being fan-shaped with veins radiating out into the leaf blade: two veins enter the leaf blade at the base and fork repeatedly in two.
•★•The seed has a fleshy outer layer (the sarcotesta) which resembles a plum, attractive, but it contains butanoic acid which smells like rancid butter or feces when fallen. Beneath the sarcotesta is the hard sclerotesta (what is normally known as the “shell” of the seed) and a papery endotesta, with the nucellus surrounding the female gametophyte at the center.
The fleshy outer layer also contains small amounts of urushiol, an allergen that on contact with the skin is responsible for poison ivy contact dermatitis in sensitive people. When gathering the ripe fruits wear rubber gloves. Squeeze out the seeds in a bucket of water, wash them thoroughly and then dry them. After that they look like a large unsplit pistachio nut. Continue reading above about how to prepare fresh ginkgo nuts.

15 thoughts on “Fresh Ginkgo Nuts

  1. Hey Tess, my memory might be failing me here… but the Japanese word for bank is “ginko”. No “g”. You could say “ginkou” as well. Gingko is the tree. I had heard once that Gingko trees were planted along the streets in the Chiyoda financial district of Tokyo, not only because of the similar names, but because the trees are believed to be auspicious financially as well. I have seen them in October; they indeed shimmered like gold! Ginnan seeds roast up really nicely in a dry cast iron skillet sort of like pumpkin seeds. The article was fascinating, thank you! I can’t make my favorite Autumn dish Chawan Mushi without them. I am praying for the best outcome for both you and “J”.

    • Ginkgo = correct common English
      Gingko = dyslexic (YIKES!! I will fix it…)

      That’s interesting about ginko (bank) and ginkgo (tree) being homophones. The picture of golden trees in a financial district seems to imply something lovely.

      There are some trees on the UM campus and I remember reading an article in a local magazine written by a woman who saw them walking to work, yellow and beautiful. On her way home, the trees were all bare and she wished she’s seen them raining gold to the street…

      I was going to make chawan mushi, but I was not sure if my nuts were ripe: they didn’t have the bad odor (until I started squishing the outer layer). So we just ate them as a snack.

      Do you roast the nuts with the shells on?

  2. Hey Tess,
    Ginko versus Gingko. Japanese has a lot of that. Sake= salmon. Sake= alcoholic drink.

    To eat them as a fall treat, we roasted them minus flesh, but with shells on. I seem to remember that we were supposed to let them dry out a bit before roasting.
    Frankly, I recall that I just the cleaned off seeds, and popped them into the fridge, and then shelled them before adding them to the Chawan Mushi. I’m pretty “rusty” on this step, it’s been a while. But I don’t recall the putrid smell of the outer fruit at all when I actually used the nuts. It’s good that people use gloves when removing the flesh… the longer the fruit sits… the more unbearable the smell. Best to get them stripped down right away. Now it seems that I’m going to have to go to my local Botanical Gardens, and gather my share!. It’s almost Chawan Mushi weather!

  3. Actually, ginkgo isn’t a familiar term in Japan at all… You write 銀杏 and pronounce it Ichou for the tree, and Ginnan for the seeds.
    Interesting people see a parallel between ginkgo and ginko (bank) when the Japanese aren’t aware of it!
    I love Ginnan roasted and salted… I admire how you do this all yourself.

    • Rita,

      Thank you for the input about the language / homophone discrepancy.

      Seeing a parallel between ginkgo and ginko (bank) makes me dream (poetry!!), but if it is not accurate, then better to know about it.

      I’ll have to try roasting the ginnan if I have the chance. Doing this is fun and I am glad people read what I’m on about…

  4. Thanks for the reply Rita… although I was living in Japan at the time… I somehow had the feeling that I might have gotten things a little wrong there when I posted… it was some time ago.

    • Hey karla,

      Thank you! I can appreciate literary license as inspiration.

      Some “problems” or “questions” have come up with this house, but I hope to try roasting the fresh ginnan.

      • Hey Tess,
        I’m sure that I have learned many things while living in/or traveling to Japan over the years… some were true, some were “poking fun”, and some were just my overactive poetic imagination.
        Although we don’t have much of a fall season here in LA, there are still pumpkins everywhere, and trees that are lovely… like the Gingko and Liquidambar. A Nimono with simmered kabocha. For sure… whip out a little cast iron skillet, let the Ginnan dry overnight, and roast up the little ones with a nice dose of sea salt.
        Hojicha to go with them?
        I am sending you hopes about what happens with this house. If it becomes problematic, you are still zoning in on the best house for you!
        Gambatte kudasai!

        • Hi Karla,

          We went back to the house again today (maybe the major problems/issues have been clarified?) and I got some more ginkgo nuts. Chawan mushi and roasting are up on the list to do.

          I’m not falling in love again, but maybe I’m excited about having the keys in hand…
          (sort of like falling into liking)

          • Hey Tess, I remember a friend accidentally left a bag of freshly picked fruit in the trunk of his car. When we went to carpool on Monday, we opened the doors… WHEW! The nut will definitely announce its presence if it’s there. hee hee.
            I actually drove by this apartment several times and even parked the car and walked through the courtyard before I even called about it. The first time I went inside, it was all dark and dingy. The Landlord begged me to come back when she had the chance to air it out. I felt so-so, but took it. Now, after 3 1/2 months, I love it more and more each day!

  5. Falling in love with a garden is such a wonderful thing – and to have precious mature trees – so wonderful. My ginko is a baby still and I’m not quite sure if it’s the nutbearing type yet. Still I glory in its leaves. I often see the ginko nuts in the market canned. I’d love to scare some up of my own on a foraging trip though.

    Once again your still life of the golden ginko nuts is “aha”. What do they call that in Japanese? A little moment of beauty…something that takes the breath away…

    • a house with good bones
      and falling in love with a garden
      fan shapes and comfortable spaces

      In Japanese, or any other language, I don’t know.
      Haiku or poetry or art.
      or foolish optimism…

      I hope you find some ginkgo nuts—we were back at the house today and I picked up some more, but they spilled in the front seat of the car. I think I found them all, but if not, the smell will let me know.


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