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.
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.