Ginnan, Japanese Ginkgo Seeds

By Donnie | Articles

Shelled gingko seeds

I tried ginnan (銀杏 or ぎんなん) for the very first time today, and they were pretty tasty. When I got to the school, I saw the school nurse sifting through a tub of white-colored seeds. As I approached, I heard the nurse say “Donarudo.” “Ah, Ohio gozaimasu,” I replied. The nurse then asked “Ginnan kita koto ga arimasu ka?” (Have you ever heard of ginnan?). “Iie, kita koto ga nai. Sore wa nan desu ka?” (No, I’ve never heard of them, what are they?). She explained to me what they were and I was able to glean enough info to do a little bit of research. I realized that I actually had heard of them before. I remember hearing about them when I had chawanmushi for the very first time. Although the chawanmushi that I tried didn’t include ginnan, you usually find these seeds inside this savory custard. Do you know where ginan seed come from?

Well if any of you were hip to the whole “eat ginkgo to improve your memory” craze in the late 90’s/early 2000s, then you’re already part of the way there. I didn’t know people actually ate ginkgo seeds, but here in Japan, they do. So does this mean I’m super-charging my memory every time I eat them? Judging by the fact that I couldn’t find my keys the day after eating them, my guess is…no.

The school nurse is the sweetest lady, she actually showed my how to prepare ginnan and even gave me a small bag of ginnan seeds to go home and practice with. After I show you, you’re going to be like “that wasn’t difficult at all!” There are two ways to prepare ginnan. you can either go the stovetop route or the microwave route. I only tried the microwave route, so we’ll start there.

How To Prepare Ginnan (Microwave Instructions)

STEP 1: Put your gingko seeds into a microwave-safe container or bag
STEP 2: Heat the seeds for 2-3 minutes on high heat: As soon as you start hearing the shells pop, it’s time to take them out.
STEP 3: Take out the seeds and remove & discard the shells.
STEP 4: Salt the seeds, and eat up!

How To Prepare Ginnan (Stovetop Instructions)

I hope I’ve got this right. I think I remember my co-worker telling me, that when cooking on the stove, you don’t need to use oil.** It’s basically the same process. We just heat the seeds until the shells pop open, add salt/whatever seasonings you like, and eat 🙂

STEP 1: Put ginkgo seeds into a frying pan, over high heat.
STEP 2: Heat for 2-3 minutes (when you start hearing the shells pop open)
STEP 3: Remove and discard the shells
STEP 4: Salt the seeds and eat!

**In did end up using just a bit of oil, because I didn’t want to burn the seeds.

Please be careful if you’re using the stove method, because the ginnan will literally fly out of the pan at you. I had to dodge a couple actually. If you have a lid or something to contain the seeds as they heat, and eventually pop, it’s a good idea.

Where Can I Find A Gingko Tree?

Hmm. I’m not a plant expert, but this is what a gingko tree looks like.

But before you pick a random tree and start eating seeds from a tree you know nothing about…please, oh please, ask somebody first. I don’t want you to end up in some psychadellic craze because you ate some bad seeds, or worse yet, in a “seedy”*hospital in outskirts of some Japanese town. Asking someone who knows is a better idea. I know I’ve seen ginkgo trees here at my job and I also remember seeing a ginkgo tree at Sensoji Shrine in Asakusa. However, I don’t recommend stealing seeds from a gingko tree that resides on temple grounds.
*Heh, heh, that’s funny because we’re talking about seeds and I used the word seedy to describe the…ah…never mind.

October gingko seeds after the shells have been removed


Donald Ash

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  • Katharayen

    Whoa! Those look awesome! Do they taste of much?

    • Donald Ash

      The flavor is hard to explain, but i like it, and it has a the consistency of a nut and a bean.

  • Robbie Reilly

    Wow, this is an old article. But works for me! I just gathered a bunch of ginkgo seeds that fell from the trees here. Thought I’d give this a try. I had learned that you’re not supposed to touch them when they fall from the tree because of the corrosive nature of the soft outer skin (nature’s pesticide). I washed them and will remove the skins and cook like you described, probably both ways just to see the difference. Cheers!

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