Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Oct 8, 2007 10:21 PM

Free ingredient can be found everywhere

Hi people, just to tell you if you weren't already aware - ginkgo nuts can be found almost anywhere. The ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba), besides providing the ginkgo nuts which are an ingredient in Chinese cuisine and were/are marketed as a memory aid (which isn't true, by the way), is an extremely tough tree that can handle any kinds of environmental conditions and pollution, and so it is planted frequenly in cities and towns and just about everywhere. You can easily identify a ginkgo tree by its leaves, which you can see in the pictures I have posted.

In early autumn (i.e. now/around the time of this posting), female ginkgo trees drop their fruits (the fruits develop with or without pollination - no males necessary). The fruits are yellow, spherical and about the size of a cherry, and they emit a nasty, sitnky odor as people squish them as they walk on them (remember, they're planted in cities). The odor smells like rancid butter. The yellow flesh surrounds a pit, and this pit consists of a "husk" or "shell" which surrounds the "nut" which is the part you cook and eat. The nut itself is sort of oblong or oval-shaped, like a tylenol, but more rounded/less cylindrical. Scrape off the yellow flesh, crack the shell with a nut cracker/hammer (this may be difficult as the squished flesh makes the pit slippery), and extract the nut.

When cooked, the nuts will turn green. The cooked nuts have a certain musty odor/flavor that goes well with rice. Add the nuts as you boil the rice. You don't need to use too many as the flavor comes through pretty easily, and too many might be overwhelming. Five for a medium bowl of rice (like 4 cups cooked) should be enough. The nuts provide some protein and some carbs - but since you don't use many they don't really provide much nutrition in general.

Some warnings though, the raw and cooked nuts contain a certain toxin that children are especially sensitive to. Never let a child eat more than 5 nuts in a day. Furthermore, the toxin can accumulate over time, so don't let a child or you yourself eat too many too frequently. Also, some people's skin might be sensitive to the flesh of the fruits, so be careful when collecting them - I myself haven't had this problem. As for being careful with regards to the usual caution you should take when collecting your own food from the wild (well, not really the "wild" in this case - like I said you'll se it in cities/towns), there isn't much to worry about, since there aren't many plants that have leaves like the ginkgo's, and none which have leaves that look like that AND have yellow stinky fruits. The ginkgo doesn't have any poisonous look-alikes or relatives (it doesn't have any living botanical relatives period, as a matter of fact).

I collected some once at my college (Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck). I can't really remember the taste too well. I can remember it was kind of weird and musty, but they weren't bad, but they weren't great either, and they do definitely go well with rice. I haven't gone out of my way to collect some more, but if I see another tree when I'm driving, I might pull over and col;lect some again.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Nice description. They are also available at Asian Markets. Here's a recent Digest article with a link to a discussion.

    I first bought some fresh in-shell which looked almost like large white pistachios. I microwaved them. I liked them. Not any distiguishable taste but a unique and pleasing texture ... the best I can describe it is if a corn niblet and a gummy bear mated sort of a soft gummy chew.

    Then I got some shelled vac-packed fresh gingko at a local Asian Market ... in-shell ... much better, almost a different thing.

    I liked the vac pack gingkos though. They are almost garbanzo sized. No real taste but they add a nice texture to things like soup and congee

    1 Reply
    1. re: rworange

      I'm telling you, you don't need to spend money on them - they grow the trees everywhere. Just keep an eye open for those distinctive leaves, and eventually you'll find some trees. Of course they need to be female trees (which you can only tell by seeing the fruits in autumn - or if you see catkins it's a male). Then again, maybe you live in L.A./ SoCal - if that's the case, I don't think they're as widely planted there.

    2. I forgot to mention that ginkgo may interact with anti-coagulants and MAOI inhibitors. Also pregnant women should consult their doctor.