The “nuts” (technically gametophytes) produced by female Ginkgo biloba trees are an edible seasonal delicacy that should be eaten in moderation. In this article, you’ll find out how to identify, process, and eat ginkgo nuts!
Ginkgo biloba nuts: edible fossils
What were you doing 200 million years ago? If you’re a Ginkgo biloba tree, the answer is pretty much the same thing you’re doing today.
That’s because Ginkgos are one of the oldest living tree species in the world, surviving virtually unchanged from their Jurassic ancestors. Equally impressive, each tree can live to be thousands of years old and they’re incredibly robust. In fact, six ginkgo trees (which were already hundreds of years old) growing in close proximity to the atomic explosions of Hiroshima survived the blasts.
One of our favorite things about Ginkgo trees? Their delicious nuts.
Step by step: How to find, process, and eat ginkgo nuts
Let’s go forest-to-table (or more aptly park-to-table) so you can learn how to identify, process, and eat your own ginkgo nuts!
Step 1: Find female ginkgo trees in the fall.
Ginkgo trees are native to China, not the US. While you won’t find them growing in our forests, you will find them growing in public parks, cemeteries, and commercial landscapes.
How do you identify a Ginkgo biloba tree?
The easiest way to identify Ginkgo biloba trees is via their attractive fan-shaped, two-lobed green leaves. Those leaves turn a gorgeous golden-yellow in fall, making the trees even more easily identifiable.
Most Ginkgo trees planted today are males, not females. That’s because Ginkgos are wind-pollinated plants and the males can’t produce fruit/seeds, only pollen.
In the fall, female Ginkgo trees’ pulpy fruit (which looks like a cherry-sized persimmon) ripens and drops to the ground.
The orange fleshy outer layer (botanically called a sarcotesta) has an unpleasant pungent odor, similar to bad cheese. Thus, fruit drop can create quite a stinky mess – not ideal in a public park or similar landscape!
But if you see: a) fan-shaped, two-lobed leaves on a tree, plus b) stinky, orange-colored, cherry-sized fruits on the ground below the tree in the fall, you’ll know you’ve found a female Ginkgo and ginkgo nuts!
Step 2: Gather ripe fruit using plastic bags or gloves.
If you’re not in love with lady Ginkgos after reading Step 1, it gets worse… That’s because ginkgolic acids in the leaves and fruit pulp/sarcotesta can induce contact dermatitis (similar to poison ivy rash) in people who are sensitive to the compounds.
Foraging translation: cover your hands with plastic bags or wear gloves when gathering Ginkgo fruit.
When is the best time of year to collect Ginkgo fruit/nuts? We prefer to gather Ginkgo fruit in early fall when it has first fallen from the trees and the pulp is still intact.
If you wait later in the year, fallen leaves can make it difficult to spot the fruit. Also, depending on the stage of decomposition, the pulp can be very difficult to remove/clean from the inner shell (sclerotesta).
Step 3: Remove fruit pulp and wash nuts clean.
Bring your Ginkgo fruit back home and prepare to remove the pulp in your kitchen sink. If the pulp is still soft, this process is quite easy: simply squeeze it in your gloved hands and the nut pops out.
Compost the pulp, then rinse and scrub the nut until no pulp remains. As you can see, ginkgo nuts look similar to an unopened pistachio nut, albeit more round.
If you collected older Ginkgo fruits with dried pulp on them, you’ll need to soak them for 12-24 hours before starting the cleaning process!
Step 4: Dry the ginkgo nuts.
We usually dry our Ginkgo nuts for 24-48 hours prior to cooking them. We simply lay them on a towel over a wire rack (to allow airflow underneath), then put them in a room under a ceiling fan.
Drying reduces internal moisture and reduces the likelihood of the nuts popping during cooking as steam builds up pressure inside the shells.
Step 5: QUICKLY cook nuts (don’t overcook).
Now it’s cooking time! Cooking ginkgo nuts is fast and simple.
A perfectly cooked, pan-roasted ginkgo nut has a jade-like color and a chewy, gummy texture. If you cook them too long, they’ll turn yellow-brown and have a much firmer texture.
How do you perfectly pan-roast a Ginkgo nut?
1. Pre-heat a skillet (we like to use antique cast iron) over medium heat, then add a bit of oil plus your ginkgo nuts.
2. Immediately cover them and set a timer for 2 minutes 45 seconds. Shake the pan every 20-30 seconds as they cook.
As mentioned earlier, you might have a nut or two pop/explode during cooking. In addition to the lid helping hold heat and evenly cook the nuts, it also helps contain any potential poppers.
3. Once your cooking timer goes off, remove the ginkgo nuts from the heat. Then turn them out on to a cutting board or countertop to let them cool for a few minutes.
Step 6: Crack shells and remove gummy, green-colored nuts.
After your ginkgo nuts are cool enough to handle, crack open the hard shells. We use a wooden muddler for this step, but other kitchen tools work fine, too.
Now remove the shells and the brown, papery endotesta that covers the jade-green Ginkgo nuts (gametophytes) inside.
Step 7: Plate and serve!
Now comes the best part, plating and serving your gorgeous Ginkgo nuts!
What do ginkgo nuts taste like?
Ginkgo nuts have a delicate umami flavor with mild hints of pine nut and pistachio and a slight, but not unpleasant bitter. Their gummy texture is not at all like typical nuts though.
How do you eat Ginkgo nuts?
In China and Japan, Ginkgo nuts are eaten in a wide range of dishes. Sometimes they’re eaten as-is or they’re added to soups and desserts.
Ginkgo nut warnings:
You don’t want to eat a lot of ginkgo nuts at once because they do contain ginkgotoxins. As a general rule, an adult shouldn’t eat more than five ginkgo nuts at a time, and intake by children should be more limited.
Treat ginkgo nuts as a unique seasonal treat, not something you eat in large quantities or eat consistently throughout the year.
Recipe: Pan-roasted ginkgo nuts with honey and smoked salt
We it comes to putting Ginkgo nuts in recipes, we like to keep it as simple as possible so the nuts are the central feature. We think their flavor and texture pair beautifully with honey and smoked salt:
Roasted ginkgo nuts with honey and smoked crystal salt
A simple, fast, and delicious pan-roasted Ginkgo nut recipe. A good way to show off the unique flavor and texture of ginkgo nuts!
- 20 ginkgo nuts (or 4-5 nuts per person)
- honey (drizzled on plate as nest for Ginkgo nuts)
- smoked salt or large-flake salt, dusted over nuts and honey
- 1 tsp cooking oil
Pre-heat small skillet over medium heat. Once heated, add a teaspoon of cooking oil, then add cleaned Ginkgo nuts to pan. Immediately cover with lid and set timer for 2 minutes, 45 seconds. Shake pan every 20-30 seconds to help turn and evenly heat/cook the nuts.
Remove pan from heat and turn nuts out on to cutting board or counter top. Let cool for a few minutes, then crack shells (we use a muddler). Remove hard shells and papery inner coating.
Drizzle honey on plate, then place your Ginkgo nuts in honey. Sprinkle with salt and serve. Can be eaten with toothpicks or small forks - smear a bit of honey and salt on each nut before eating!
Also be sure to check out the video version of this article in our ginkgo nut Google web story!
You might also enjoy these other foraged, seasonal tree treats:
- Black tupelo (with whipped honey butter tupelo recipe)
- How to eat your Christmas tree (and other edible conifers)
- How to make acorn flour, cold- or hot-leached
- Hickory nut ambrosia
- Maple syrup-candied crabapples
… and more foraged goodies from Tyrant Farms!