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Fall 2010

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

Ginkgo fruits

October 12, 2010

Harvesting ginkgo fruits: Breaking the stink barrier

Many area sidewalks are littered with the foul-smelling fruits of ginkgo trees. If carefully harvested, the fruits yield a nut meat that's edible in small amounts.

The downside of this ornamental tree is the tendency for female trees to drop stinky fruits. (The fan-shaped leaves are odor-free.)

About the size of cherries, the wrinkled pink-and-orange fruits of ginkgo exude very little odor if left unruptured. Freshly fallen fruits can

be kept on a countertop for more than a week without smelling bad.

Exposed fruit flesh, however, releases a stench reminiscent of vomit or dog excrement. Compounding the misery, the skin's soft pulp also contains urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy that can launch skin blisters. People who harvest ginkgo fruits would be wise to wear rubber gloves.

Soaking fruits in hot water makes it easier to pop out the seed without

having to wrestle for too long with the offensive skin.

Larger than pistachios but with thinner shells, the nuts are high in niacin, starch and protein, but low in fat. However, they also contain toxins.

Cooking them will break down bitter-tasting cyanogenic glycosides, but the nuts will retain the heat-resistant compound 4-methoxypyridoxine, which depletes vitamin B6. Children are especially susceptible to the toxin.

Roasted nuts are a translucent jade green with a soft, dense texture. They taste like a combination of edamame, potato and pine nut. Some people say they're reminiscent of chestnuts.

East Asians consider the nut a delicacy and use them in desserts, soups and with meats; but the Hong Kong government's Centre for Food Safety cautions people about the nut's toxicity, advising them "not to consume more than a few seeds at one time."