Taste Test: Ginkgo nuts


I love ginkgo nuts. They have a nutty, ever-so-slightly bittersweet flavor and a punchy-soft texture reminiscent of jelly beans that is, in my experience, quite unmatched by other nuts. They're also beautiful to look at — tiny egg-shaped beads that are a pale yellow when raw and take on a translucent, golden-green glow when cooked.

When I was in elementary school in Tokyo, my friends and I used to walk past a really stinky ginkgo biloba tree. The stink is one of the reasons why the trees aren't seen near busy streets in the US, even though it's the oldest tree specie in the world.

When you buy ginkgo nuts, they usually come shelled, with a light brown casing. The easiest way to prepare them is to fill a frying pan with oil, just enough to cover the nuts, and cook for about three minutes until they're shiny and translucent, and the brown casing starts to fall off. Make sure you pat away excess oil with a paper towel before serving, and sprinkle some good coarse salt on them.

My aunt prepared the ginkgo nuts in this picture for dinner last night. My brother and I both love them, so we immediately started popping them in our mouths. Then my mom and aunt both told us that we shouldn't eat more than 10 at once. My mom said it was bad for digestion; my aunt said it would give us nosebleeds and make us stupid. I wasn't sure if this was just folklore if there's some scientific truth to it, but my brother and I both counted back, stopped at 10, and saved the rest for later.*

As a supplement, ginkgo biloba extract is thought to improve blood flow and memory. Ginkgo contains antioxidants, which gets rid of free radicals in the body that can contribute to heart disease and cancer.

*Later, I found that my mom and aunt's warnings were in sync with side effect warnings that accompany ginkgo biloba extract. I'm sure the chances are low, but as with everything else in life, moderation is the key to staying healthy.

Every installment of Taste Test will explore recipes, the science, and some history behind a specific food item.

Image via masaya.yamauchi's Flickr