Go Nuts! Ginkgo Nuts

leaves budding in May some nuts still on branches nuts on the ground maidenhair fern

A ginkgo tree is lovely with its summer grey-green fan-shaped leaves fluttering in the slightest breeze. The tree is often called the maidenhair tree because it’s leaves resemble those of maidenhair ferns (Adiantum). The term “living fossil” describes these trees: the ginkgo may be the oldest living seed plant. 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. These primitive seed plants are called gymnosperms (meaning “naked seeds”) because their seeds are not enclosed in a ripened fruit but are protected by cones or by a fleshy seed coat.

We are lucky to have a female gingko in our front yard. This is our first year in this house, and I’ve watched the tree, waiting for the edible “nuts” to fall. Some may disagree. The fleshy seed coat may look like yellow cherries, but it smells something like very stinky cheese or even dog feces. In many East coast cities of the U.S. ginkgos were planted during the past century as street trees for their beauty and long lives free of pests. But in the autumn, the “fruit” dropping from female trees to the sidewalks is slippery and smelly. Most people don’t realize what lovely jade green treasure is hidden inside. For more information about ginkgo trees, art, myth, movies and more, take a look at The Ginkgo Pages.

My tree has dropped an abundance of nuts, so many that we two won’t be able to eat them all. I’m hoping that this does not indicate a problem with the tree itself. I’ve seen maple trees produce a prolific number of seeds in the few years before they died, as if they had a genetic disposition to reproduce excessively before death.

rubber gloves double plastic bag
for squished coats
nuts in tub clean shells

The seedcoat contains a small amount of urushiol, an allergen that may cause a mild form of poison oak (poison ivy) dermatitis in sensitive people, so when picking up and cleaning the seeds it is advisable to wear latex gloves. I dumped the nuts into a tub of water and one by one squished off the sticky fruit, dropping it into a waste bag to my right, and putting the clean nuts on a cookie sheet to my left. It’s not difficult, though it is tedious. A book on CD helps pass the time.

drying on cookie sheets inner skin simmering nuts water evaporated

I washed off the residue from the outer coating of the nuts, then we cracked the shells with a pair of pliers. Last year I had a nutcracker, but it’s been lost in the move. To remove the inner thin skin from the nuts, you can soak them in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes. They should peel off easily. It might be because my nuts were much fresher than they were last year, but the skins did not peel off easily; I had to actually simmer them for 5 minutes or so! To finish cooking them, I read about a restaurant simmering the nuts in salted water to cover until the water evaporates. Which is what I did. I could have left them in the hot pan a little longer, but they were quite tasty as they were. To see how I prepared gingko nuts last year, take a look at my old post.


Ginkgo nuts make a nice snack with beer! They are bland perhaps like chestnuts, with a texture almost like soft gummy bears.

A note of caution: Ginkgo nuts can cause food poisoning -especially with children- caused by MPN ( 4-methoxypyridoxine) when seeds are eaten for a long period and/or in large quantities (over 5 seeds per day—adults can tolerate 10 nuts per day). MPN is heat-stable. Studies have demonstrated that convulsions caused by MPN can be prevented or terminated with pyridoxine.

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2 thoughts on “Go Nuts! Ginkgo Nuts

  1. I’m not certain if I’ve had gingko nuts. I assume they can be dried?
    It’s just that I’ve eaten alot of stuff over the past few decades and sometimes I don’t know what I’m eating. But that’s ok, I usually know the cook or the restaurant looks fine to me.

  2. Pingback: Salmon with Chestnuts and Ginkgo Nuts « Tess's Japanese Kitchen

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