Ginan – The Japanese Ginkgo Nut

As the fall colors begin to reach their climax one can’t help but notice that there is one tree which tops the others with its brilliant yellow foliage…

The Ginkgo Tree

The Ginkgo’s fossil record can be traced back 270 million years, while its history of cultivation can be appreciated in the existence of 1500+ year old trees growing in Buddhist temples in China. Every time I see one of these magnificent trees I imagine a dinosaur munching on its leathery leaves in this land of volcanoes (I’m not really sure there were ever dinosaurs roaming Japan, so take that information poetically please…).

I had heard in a Plant Systematics class during college that the Ginkgo nut could be harvested and eaten, but few Americans are fond of the particular texture and flavor of the nut so I was yet to encounter it during my time in the States. During my last visit to a local farmer in Japan, however, I noticed his wife collecting buckets-full of Ginkgo nuts (called Ginan in Japanese) from the 40+ year old tree in their yard. I inquired and learned about the process of collecting, processing, and preparing the nuts for eating.

The next week I was riding my bike along a sidewalk when I realized I was rolling over a massive amount of fallen Ginkgo nuts. I stopped and walked around for a bit admiring the bounty I had discovered when I realized the source of the fruits was an ancient Ginko situated in front of a shrine. Beautiful. I was even lucky enough to have a spare grocery bag in my backpack. I went to work collecting as many of the flesh-covered fruits I could fit into my bag.

The odor of the female Ginkgo tree’s fruit is strong and not necessarily pleasant. It wasn’t painfully odiferous, but I can’t say I’d order a Ginkgo-scented candle either… Some people with sensitive skin have an adverse reaction from contacting the flesh of the Ginkgo fruit, but I was lucky and my hands didn’t seem to mind.

I came home and went to work squeezing the nuts out of their fleshy coverings. I discarded the fruit and washed the nuts. I then used one of my veranda’s screen doors to create a makeshift drying rack and spread the nuts out in the sun. At this point I’ve heard that the nuts should be dried anywhere from one week to twenty-one days… I’m going to leave them out until mid-December and hope for the best.

Today I noticed that several of the nuts’ shells were cracked. I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to sample the nut for the first time. I broke away the soft shell on four of the nuts and stir-fried them with a little bit of salt until they turned a bright and translucent green.

And they were delicious! The Ginkgo has a soft texture and a creamy taste. I think I might prefer them baked or roasted, but alas, I have no oven…so I will be boiling or frying the nuts while I’m in Japan. However, the Ginkgo is able to grow well in the Midwestern climate…so there is the possibility for future Ginkgo harvests at home…

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