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Fresh ginkgo nuts [moved from Boston board]

Fresh ginkgo has become more rare over the years (pronounced baht guo in Cantonese). They usually are available in the frozen section of Asian markets, but the taste of those are far inferior to fresh nuts. As has been posted, when the fall comes around, you may see more older ladies/gents hawking small bags of them on the street in Chinatown. They're usually harvested locally (literally in the local parks, gardens, etc wherever ginkgo trees are found) and taste great. When I was very young, we never had to buy ginkgo nuts, because my mom would make us all go harvesting for gingko nuts in Brookline. If you're adventurous and don't mind getting a little smelly, it's something you can easily do in the fall too.

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  1. Lol...now THAT'S an idea. Actually, here's something that's bugged me every since I learned about the nuts: are they really that smelly? And how do they smell? My family's once bought a durian (also renowned for its bad odor), but I really didn't mind the scent. Do newly fallen ginkgo nuts have similar scents?

    btw, when you say the taste of the frozen ones are far inferior to the fresh nuts, how inferior is that? Would you say...use the frozen ones in sweet soups?

    20 Replies
    1. re: CFoodC

      I personally think durians stink far worse than ginkgos, but while durian seems to be a love it or hate it scent for most people, ginkgo is universally repulsive. Basically it smells like rotting fruit. We use to take our pickings back on the Green Line train, and you should've seen the looks we got from the passengers.

      I find the frozen ones mainly lacking in texture. While there's a nice crispness or more body to fresh ginkgo nuts, the frozen ones are kind of mushy. There is also less of the nuttiness to its flavor.

      1. re: kobuta

        Rotting fruit, eh? I've never actually found rotting fruit all that repulsive. Now rotting fish or (far worse) rotting squid is just disgusting.

        Given what you've said about the texture and nuttiness, I think I'll go pick them myself when I find them. :) Thanks a bunch for the suggestion!

        1. re: CFoodC

          Ah, but one rotting orange or apple hardly describes the stench of the ginkgo. Rotting meat may also be appropriate when you really smell how powerful the smell is. Good luck with your harvesting! A lot of the elderly I see seem to be out there by like 6am, so you'll have to get there early. :)

          1. re: kobuta

            Y-you're kidding me... @_@ 6AM? I guess those elderly folks are really dedicated.

            You know, you've really got me curious on the stench of the ginkgo fruit now. Even if I end up missing the harvesting of the nuts, it'll still be worth the experience just to see how awful the stench is.

            Yes, I'm a bit strange.

            1. re: CFoodC

              This reminds me of the Italians I know who used to go on the medians of a highway (keep in mind this was ages ago and there was less traffic) to pick dandelion greens before the flower appeared. Boy, were they good.

              There were gingko trees at college, female ones, and BOY was the smell bad. I don't think they plant female trees in public anymore, so I haven't had the curious experience since.

              CFoodC, I've never had the 'pleasure' of durian, but gingko fruit was miiiiiiiiiiiighty bad.

              Meanwhile, I never knew they were good to eat!

          2. re: CFoodC

            You should wear gloves and old clothes and have lots of plastic bags to wear on top of the gloves and to triple/quadruple bag the smelly stuff. I would say the foul stench is closer to rotting fish/meat than rotting fruit. You're either gonna to be making a mess in the park or at your home. The stinking fruit and liquids that the skin encapsulates has to be removed before u can begin to clean/dry the nut inside. I would do the removal of the outer layer at the park or wherever you find the tree if you can. It sometimes squirts too, sorta like a lychee, so using a plastic bag over ur gloves as u squish em keeps you from getting spritzed with that stuff.

            1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

              Wow...you really know your stuff. I'll keep this in mind if I manage to beat the elderly early birds to the nuts. Thanks for the tips!

        2. re: CFoodC

          One other note, keep in mind that pretty much any Durian you buy in the U.S. was probably frozen which significantly diminishes its smell.

          1. re: StriperGuy

            Huh. That's a good point. I never considered the effects freezing would have on the Durian. I imagine if you multiply it by 2x or 3x, the scent would be fairly intolerable. Of course, that's true of any odor.

          2. re: CFoodC

            The ginkgo nuts themselves don't stink, well, at least not even close to Durian. What really stinks is the apricot-like fruit that encloses the ginkgo nuts. They are yellow orangish in color, and seem harmless enough until you break them, but you have to do to get to the ginkgo nuts, which has a semi-thin shell and looks similar to pistachio nuts with and without shell.

            The smell of the fruit? It's not just rotten fruit, but more like..well, before i knew what it was, i found myself checking the bottom of the shoes to see if I'd stepped on something that some puppy left behind. Thankfully gingko nuts are tasty and slightly bitter, and if lightly pan roasted (shelled) has a most beautiful translucent jade green color. Certainly not what you'd get in a frozen or canned version.

            The old Asian ladies have it down. After their early morning session, you see a pile here and there of golden yellow fruit pulp where they'd been cleaning and getting the nuts. I try not to go and get in their way because, well, i can't get up that early, but also because a gingko fruit slinging fight could get pretty smelly...:)

            Definitely do wear layers of plastic bags over your hands. Not so much for the stink of the fruit, but for the thickish layer of residue that gets on your hand that's like a 2nd skin, almost like a thick coat of paint.

            All this trouble will seem worthy after you see the beautiful jewel like ginkgo nuts, for sure. Go harvest 1st thing in the morning if the night before was windy.

            1. re: HLing

              Thank you so much for posting this. You've just solved a great mystery that's been lingering in the back of my mind for a while. I suddenly recall a few intances when I'd been walking somewhere (usually when I'm out of state), and I smell something that would make me check the bottom of my shoes. It may not have been Ginkgo, but I'll be sure to check to see if there are any Ginkgo trees nearby in the future.

              1. re: HLing

                After you've removed the smelly fruit, how do you get the nut out of its tight shell? I find that to be the most challenging part!

                1. re: chowmeow

                  yeah..it's sort of like you've just got done leaping over obstacles and you find out that now you have to jump through hoops...

                  I only know what I've done in the past:

                  Ideally you will have done breaking the fruits and squeezing out the nuts into a plastic bag while in a well ventilated area (try outside). Get as much fruit off as you can. It will be smart to pick up the ones that are very ripe and easy to rub off.
                  So then with the ginko nuts you wash them by putting a few in your hands and rubbing them against each other under running water.

                  Dry them as best you can with paper towels, and lay them out to dry on a rack lined with more paper towels. You may as well take a break while it dries and the shell becomes white in color. Be careful that they don't grow moldy from too much moisture.

                  Once they're dried then you can use a nut cracker to carefully crack them open. OR, you can, as I have, just use my teeth and crack them open. They won't stink if you've done a good job cleaning them.

                    1. re: HLing

                      I'm having troubles getting them out in one piece.

                      I've got some fresh ones from a tree in town. The shells are thin, but hard. The nuts inside are very soft and green, almost like gummy bears. This makes it very hard (impossible so far) to crack the shell open without crushing the nut.

                      Would there be an advantage to letting them "age" at all? Does the nut get harder with time off the tree? Can you cook them in the shell?

                      1. re: yanagiba

                        If you cleaned and then dried the nuts well, they can last for a few months. I still have some from last year, though really dried up and would be usable only as dried beans, not the fresh kind. *edit: these would be usable to put in stew or congee, but you'd have to cook them for a long time.

                        It's not easy to get them out in one piece. using a nut cracker you'd want to find the right spot on the nut, about 2/3 to 1/2 way down the length, over the crack on the side, and with a force that's pressing but not cutting through all the way. Sometimes it helps to wrap it in a cloth and then crack..so it's a indirect pressure that opens it ...as with everything else it takes practice.

                        I've also toasted them in shell, but you'd still have to open them after their toasted.

                        Either way, after toasting (shell-less) there's still the membrane around the nuts that is a little bitter at times. I've found that if I take the toasted nuts and put a lid over it to let the moisture build (this is just after it's done roasting) they will come off more easily when you rub them against each other. After all this you'll see a beautiful jewel that's worth all the trouble.

                        1. re: HLing

                          Well, 20 ginkgos later and I'm starting to get the hang of it. Like you said, it just takes practice. I've found that a quick strike with a small hammer along the widest part of an edge works pretty well. Sometimes it opens up almost the entire seam.

                          "Jewels" is an apt description, especially when you can get them out without even a single scuff mark (for something called nuts they are fascinatingly soft and fragile). Now if I could just prepare them faster than I eat them...

                          Thanks for the help.

                          1. re: yanagiba

                            What do they taste like?

                            Are they akin to a common nut?

                            1. re: dolores

                              They aren't crunchy and are kind of soft and chewy.

                              To me they taste kind of like water chestnuts without the crunch

                2. re: CFoodC

                  Durians really stink. Bad. The ginko nuts need to have their outer shells removed, wash them, and store in the fridge. Try to use latex gloves as the smell stays on your hands for days.

                  Are they really safe to eat?

                3. OK I read this thread and I have read the threads which mention durian. I ask you - what is it that makes people even want to taste something that smells foul? Is it the adventure? The quest to seek something very different than one has known?

                  I was once at a plant nursery that was selling a plant that smelled like rotting meat. It was meant to attract flies which would then propagate it. Why? I would like to know.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Gio

                    I personally like the taste of Durian (in small quantities, mind you). And Ginkgo supposedly has good health benefits (though I hear that it can kill you in large quantities) and tastes great. But you are correct in that some people may just do it for the adventure.

                    In the case of the plant that attract flies...I don't imagine that people buy the plant for food purposes. Rather, if a person were nuts about plants (perhaps owning exotic or different plants) or if there were other benefits to be derived from the plant or even to study the symbiotic relationship between fly and plant (say, if the buyer were a scientist)...

                    1. re: CFoodC

                      Not sure how many would be considered a large quantity, but i've had 50-100 roasted ginkgo's at a time before and didn't have a problem. Similar amounts in soups too.

                      1. re: CFoodC

                        I never was able to take a bite of Durian on a recent trip to Chinatown. The smell drove me away, even though some people nearby said it was delicious. I won't eat fugu either. I consider both of them 'courage food'.

                    2. I'm glad i found this post. There are many, many big huge female ginkos on my street and no Asian ladies in sight.
                      Do I pick them up right after they've fallen? I can't pick them off the trees' they're too tall. Are fallen nuts rotten? And do you need to roast them to eat them?
                      I have never tried this, but since they are right outside the door and I'm smelling them anyway, I might as well give it a try.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: wearybashful

                        The ones on the ground are easier to clean as theyre riper so the gunk on the outside is easier to clean.

                        Roasting them and having them in soups are the only ways I've had them.

                      2. its almost that time of year to see little old korean ladies picking ginko nuts off of the ground in DC.

                        My mom and I are going to pick some in our neighborhood (30 mins outside of DC) and get stinky so to say. I love them fried in a little sesame oil and thrown into salads or mixed into steamed rice. They are also good in samgyetang and in rice cakes