Ginkgo Nuts: Easy to Crack

Few trees are as interesting as the ginkgo bilopa tree: Impressions from prehistoric times reveal that it has remained relatively unchanged throughout the years.  It also has no known close relatives alive, making it somewhat of a living fossil. Six of the trees made history by surviving the horrific nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, proving their ability to withstand harsh conditions (they are still thriving today). In the West, extracts from their leaves are boasted to contain memory-aiding properties; in the East, blood-aiding properties. The trees serve as a lovely indicator of fall’s arrival, turning a brilliant yellow and littering the streets with their beautiful fan-shaped leaves. The ginkgo seems to have everything going for it.  Until one considers the awful odor.

In the States, treading on the foul-smelling, apricot-colored ginkgo fruit is considered a nuisance. In Far East Asia, however, the stench marks a harvest time. Though difficult to imagine anything good coming from the stinky fruit, for the past few weeks, I have seen Koreans underneath the trees, sweeping the fallen fruit into buckets and shaking the trees for more bounty. Once home, the highly poisonous pulp is carefully removed while wearing gloves to avoid nasty blisters and peeling.  What’s left is a smooth, pistachio sized nut, enclosed in an off-white shell.

It was a large grocery bag of these that ended up on my husband’s desk two weeks ago.  Confused as to what to do with them, he watched a co-worker give an imaginary demo on how to cook and open the nuts and took them home to give it a try himself. Cooking ginkgo nuts proved to be easy, and once opened, we recognized them as the light yellow-green garnish that often accompanies Korean porridge and their popular summertime chicken soup, samgyetang. I promise, once you try ginkgo nuts, you won’t have trouble finding dishes to add them to.

With a delicate, nutty flavor, ginkgo nuts can be a tasty, nutritious addition to many dishes. However, caution should be exercised. Though it contains niacin, vitamin A, vitamin B-6, vitamin C and other nutrients, the ginkgo nut can quickly become too much of a good thing, as eating a large amount at once or over a long period of time can cause illness.  Though there are different speculations as to what the safe amount is (some say as little as five), the general consensus is no more than ten a day. My husband and I limit ourselves to this amount at one time and wait a couple of days before eating them again. Ginkgo nuts should be avoided altogether by children, whose bodies are more susceptible to their mild toxins.

How To Cook Ginkgo Nuts:

If you gathered the ginkgo fruit yourself, remove the pulp using gloves to avoid any contact with your skin. Discard the pulp, as it is toxic.  Rinse and towel-dry the nuts.  To cook, pour a small amount of high smoke-point oil (just enough to lightly coat the nuts) into a deep pan. Add the nuts and cook on medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, as though making popcorn. After 2-4 minutes, the nuts will crack open, often popping high in the air. If you find this worrisome, use a pan with a lid, or cover the pan with a large plate until most of the nuts have cracked open. Though we cook and open ginkgo nuts using stove heat, roasting and boiling the nuts are excellent options, too.  Add them sparingly to rice, pasta, soups, and porridge.


About continuethislabor

Hi I'm Tera. I'm interested in how flavors work together and how we can work together to be responsible Earth citizens. Currently I teach English in S. Korea with my husband, but someday we will own a small organic farm. There, we will grow vegetables, raise chickens and goats, and play Catan in our little cottage while drinking good coffee.


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