What are Ginkgo Nuts?

wiseGEEK Writer

Ginkgo nuts are the seeds of ginkgo trees, found inside the tree's extremely smelly fruit. Despite the pungent smell of the fruit, the nuts are very popular in traditional Chinese and Japanese cuisine, especially for dishes for special occasions. The nuts are often roasted, where the resemblance between ginkgo seeds and the chestnut is even more closely understood.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Ripened ginkgo nuts grow into an oval shape, about 1 inch (2.54 cm) long and are pale yellow to green in color. A persimmon type fruit that needs to be removed surrounds the nuts — the fruit is what often imparts the smell many find so disagreeable. You then must dry the seeds, crack them, and many recommend boiling them for about 10 minutes, which allows the outside flesh of the nut to fall away from the core of the nut. In most cases people don't eat the inner core of the nuts because this is bitter.

Like other types of nuts, ginkgo nuts may cause nut allergies. If you've not eaten them in the past, you may want to try a few at first. It's also important to wear gloves when removing the fruit. Some people develop dermatitis from contact with the fruit pulp. If you want to try ginkgo, but would rather eliminate all this work, you can usually find them canned in Asian grocery stores in the US.

Ginkgo nuts in Chinese dishes may be added to soups, stews or stir-fried dishes, or the nuts may be eaten singly. It's only recently that ginkgo has come to the attention of most non-Asian Americans, as potentially helpful in memory retention. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo nuts are considered to be an aphrodisiac.

Part of the reverence for the nut and the tree is that these trees are ancient. Scientists believe the ginkgo has been in existence for over 100 million years. It may have provided food for animals of the past. Eating ginkgo nuts today is truly eating a food that very likely early humans learned to harvest and eat too.

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Discussion Comments


My sister harvested some ginkgo nuts from a tree in a local park. She said that the smell was almost too much for her, but she really wanted to experiment with cooking the nuts to see what all the fuss was about.

She said that the fruit was super soggy and so gross to peel off. She did this outside, and she rinsed the nuts before bringing them into her house.

She tried boiling and roasting them, but they just didn’t taste that great that way. So, she decided to fry them. After rolling them in egg and dumping them in a mixture of flour, pepper, and salt, she cooked them in the deep fryer for a few minutes, and she said they tasted awesome that way.


It’s kind of weird that people ever started eating something that smelled so bad and was so hard to access. It makes me wonder who thought that something stinky would taste good on the inside.

Ginkgo nuts sound like a lot of trouble. All that drying, peeling and boiling sounds like a lot to go through just for some nuts.

They must be wonderful for people to do all this just to eat them. Personally, if I can’t get a nut already roasted and salted in a can, then I do without. I would never eat one that stunk before it was peeled, either.


@alisha - I stay away from ginkgo biloba because of all the possibly hazardous side effects and interactions with other medications. I am already taking a blood thinner, and the ginkgo leaf that ginkgo biloba is made from can cause hemorrhaging.

Because of this, I would never eat a ginkgo nut. I’m not sure if the side effects are identical, but I wouldn’t be willing to risk it.

Some people take this supplement even though they take a daily aspirin to prevent heart attack. This is not a good idea, since aspirin and ginkgo both thin the blood.

@alisha-- Yep, ginkgo and ginkgo biloba are the same thing, it's the other name of the tree. Ginkgo biloba extracts and tinctures are made from the leaves of the ginkgo tree. The nuts and fruit are said to have the same health benefits as the leaves.

It's really unfortunate that ginkgo trees and fresh ginkgo nuts are looked down upon because of the scent of the fruit, because fresh ginkgo nuts are far superior in flavor and nutrition than the canned and dry roasted nuts. And they're pleasing to the eye as well, they remind me of soybeans but bigger.

@burcinc-- Not just Chinese supermarkets, but Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese supermarkets carry ginkgo nuts as well. I'm sure you'll find one or the other in your area.

@alisha-- I think female ginkgo trees tend to have the unpleasant smell much more than the male trees. It's also planted in many neighborhoods in California.

Cities need to be able to differentiate between the male and female trees and plant accordingly. It's best to plant away from homes, as it can be disturbing to people. Unfortunately not too many people in the US eat ginkgo nuts regularly, and they don't see ginkgo trees favorably for that reason.

Not just the nuts of the tree, but the fruit is also a delicacy in Asian cuisine as far as I know. The nut is definitely used much more however. My favorite Chinese dish, called "Buddha's delight" is made with ginkgo nuts along with mung bean noodles, chestnuts and a few other ingredients. It's very delicious.

I can find and buy ginkgo nuts easily on the West Coast but when I go to visit family in the Midwest, it's harder to find.

We have several ginkgo trees in our neighborhood. When the fruits start to ripen, the neighborhood smells very bad! The odor reminds me of the odor of trash that's been waiting to be picked up for far too long!

I understand that the nuts don't smell bad like the fruit, but I don't think I could ever get myself to deal with the fruit to get to the nuts. There are several people on the neighborhood who do pick them up when they're ripe and I think they cook with the raw nuts.

I've also seen animals eat the fruit! I don't know what they find in it but I've seen raccoons, squirrels and dogs eat it before!

By the way, do ginkgo nuts have anything to do with ginkgo biloba? I've taken ginkgo biloba supplements in the past.

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