Go Nuts for Ginkgo Nuts – Finding, Harvesting, Processing and Cooking Ginkgo Nuts

Ginkgo biloba is a tree that is fairly unnoticed until the fall when it shows off its beautiful golden colors or less excitingly when the vile smell of the tree’s fruit permeates the air.  The tree is fairly common as it is hardy in zones 3-8.  Unfortunately, homeowners often cut their trees down when they find out that that sudden smell of dog poop and vomit is coming from the fruits of the female species of the tree.  The male tree, however, provides only its striking fall colors.  Fortunately for us, our neighbor has both a male and a female ginkgo tree, allowing us to harvest the ginkgo fruits that fall over on our side.

Ginkgo biloba is, of course, known for its improvement of cognitive abilities and ginkgo nuts are used throughout Asian cuisine.  Ginkgo biloba is an ancient fossil with similar species found over 270 million years ago.  The tree escaped extinction being rescued and domesticated by Buddhist Monks in China and it is said that in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb, the only tree to survive was a ginkgo tree.  Just a note if you have never had ginkgo nuts – the fruit and nuts can be highly allergic to some people and eaten in large quantities can be poisonous.

Now on to the harvesting:

Recognizing a Ginkgo Tree


Your first scan should be for beautiful golden leave colors – this tree is still a bit early – in a few days the gold will be at its peak.  This is actually the male tree – the female tree is a few feet over to the right and about 5-6 times the size.



The leaves of the tree are very characteristic – “biloba” actually means two lobes and from the picture it is obvious why.


The fruit looks like a sweet plumb, but a quick olfactory test will confirm that it is ginkgo  if the smell gets you ready to gag.


Harvesting the Ginkgo Nuts


Here is my harvesting setup –  a container with collected fruits – a container for the discarded fruit and – a container for the nuts.



A bucket with about half the ginkgo nuts collected – this was from November and the tree still had a significant amount of fruits on the tree.  If you soak the fruits in warm water for 1-3 hours – the nuts will separate very easily from the fruit.


You will want to wear gloves when separating the nuts from the fruit.  Some people are allergic to the oil in the fruits which can bring about a rash similar to poison ivy.  Even if you’re not sensitive to the fruits, you will want to wear gloves because of the smell.


After the ginkgo nuts are harvested, give them a good thorough washing and scrubbing to clean off any excess fruit stuck to the nuts.


After that it is time to dry the nuts – dry them in the oven at the lowest temperature for 1-2 hours.  After that, I would leave them out exposed to air in single layers inside for another week or two.


Once you are ready to use them in cooking, you will need to deshell them – this is actually pretty easy as the shell breaks very easily.  If the brown husk did not separate, we have another trick for you.  Pour hot water over the nuts and wait 10 minutes – after that the husks should easily be able to be rubbed off.


The ginkgo nuts are now ready to be cooked – you can use them in your favorite Chinese recipe.  The most common way to cook them is to

  1. simply boil them in water until chewy – sometimes they will turn green (depending on the age of the nut)
  2. pan fry them in a little oil

Below a video of the process:

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