Autumn Ingredient: Ginkgo Nut

The ginkgo represents the autumn taste. Unfortunately, in the United State we do not see a lot of fresh ginkgo nut in the markets. You can often find them, though, in pills in the supplement section. When I see ginkgo nut in an Asian market, I buy a lot and freeze them so that I can enjoy them throughout the year. You can also find ginkgo nut in a can, but the flavor of the fresh nut is so much better.

The flavor of ginkgo nuts is bitter and medicinal. Yet, I truly love them! My memory of ginkgo nuts goes back to my childhood. My mother and I went to Nara Park to pick ginkgo nuts in the fall. The smell of the orange ginkgo fruit is very strong and unpleasant. The fruit can cause an allergic reaction such as a rash because of the butanoic acid in the outer flesh layer, so we picked the nuts using plastic bags in our hands to avoid touching the ginkgo fruit. We used our shoes to break the soft and stinky orange fruit first, and then we took out the hard-shelled nut. Beautiful gold colored ginkgo leaves covered the ground. The fall sunshine landed softly and caused more leaves to glow with the golden yellow hue. We were looking down and picking nuts. It was so beautiful and calm. Now, surprisingly, the stinkiness of ginkgo nuts is an appetizing smell to me.

Ginkgo Tree:

The Ginkgo is a living fossil, which dates to as far back as 270 million years ago. It is an unusual plant with separate sexes, female and male. Male plants produce small pollen cones in spring and fly a range of 1 km to pollinate the female plant, which does not produce cones. Instead, the female plant forms two ovules at the end of a stalk. After the pollination or fertilization, these become seeds. The Japanese botanist, Sakogoro Hirase, discovered the male ginkgo sperm in 1896. The seed is 1.5-2 cm long and orange-colored. This orange outer layer contains butanoic acid and smells like feces once it falls off the tree. The ginkgo nut has a soft and fruit-like outer layer and a football-shaped hard-shelled nut inside. Inside the brown, thin-skinned shell is a milky green ginkgo nut, which turns jade-colored when cooked.

The ginkgo tree grows to between 66 and 115 feet high. The unique fan shaped leaves are 2 to 4 inches wide and 6 inches long. In spring, the leaves are bright green, in summer they become a darker green and in fall they turn golden yellow.

The ginkgo tree contains oil and grows straight which makes it a great resource for furniture, Igo/Shogi tables and cutting boards.

Nutrition Facts: Carbohydrate, Omega-6 Fatty acids, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Vitamin A, C, B-6, Niacin, Calcium, Zinc.

4-Nethoxypyridoxine in nut may cause poisoning to some people, especially children, when they eat more than 10 seeds a day (3 seeds a day for children) or over a long period of time.

Medicinal Uses: Prevents Alzheimer’s Disease; improves blood flow; helps urinary incontinence; stabilizes the production of sperm; treats asthma, bronchitis, wheezing and coughs.


When I get fresh ginkgo nuts, I toast them in a sauté pan with no oil, until the thin brown skin peels easily and the nuts are translucent jade in color. Skewer 3 ginkgo nuts on a bamboo stick and sprinkle with sea salt. Goes great with beer, sake and shochu!

Ginkgo Nut Okowa

Serving for 4

1 cup Japanese short grain sweet rice

2 cups Japanese short grain rice

30 ginkgo nuts, shelled and peeled

2 teaspoons sea salt

4 tablespoons sake

1 tablespoon toasted black sesame seeds

1. Wash sweet rice in cold water and soak in water for 30 minutes. Drain.

2. Then, wash the rice again until the water becomes translucent. Drain. Set aside in the strainer for 30 minutes.

3. In a medium sized pot, mix the sweet rice, rice, ginkgo nuts, sea salt, sake and 4 cups water together. Cook on high heat with a lid until boiling, turn heat down to low and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow it to steam for 10 minutes. Keep the lid on at all times and don’t stir until the very end.

4. Serve ginkgo nut okowa in a rice bowl with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Copyright © by Mamie Nishide. All rights reserved.