The Gingko: Stinky, Yes, But Also Edible

Newsflash: If you can get past the extraordinary stench and the toxic outer flesh, the fruit of the gingko tree is edible.

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Who would have thought it?

After all,the Gingko tree seems to have gone to a lot of evolutionary trouble to discourage predation of its potential progeny, starting with the extraordinary stench of its fruit (Gorgonzola cheese gone bad? dog shit? trenchfoot?). Then there’s the toxic outer flesh that can cause blisters and skin peeling.  Oh, and the fact that the fruit can be poisonous when consumed in large quantities or over a long period of time.

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None of those qualities deterred the charming and friendly Chinese lady I encountered this morning in Riverside Park, where she was digging in the leaves with a stick.  When I asked what she was digging for, she said, “Gingko fruit.”

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Her accent was so heavy that at first, I thought she was saying “Cocoa fruit.” Then I saw her collection.

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Unmistakeably gingko. I realized we were standing beneath an enormous gingko tree. “Very tasty,” she said. “Very good.”

While I have no plans to harvest and cook gingko myself, here is a fascinating post by someone who did just that. Chichi at Serious Eats describes the Gingko as “the Camembert of nuts” and the taste as “complex and utterly good to eat.” While I believe her, I doubt I’ll be trying any of these gingko recipes any time soon. I’ll just stick to my admiration of the Gingko’s glorious golden leaves.

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Note: If you decide to harvest gingko fruit, wear gloves when peeling to avoid a  bad skin reaction.

And if you’ve ever eaten gingko, or if you plan to, please leave a comment to tell us about it.

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9 Comments on “The Gingko: Stinky, Yes, But Also Edible”


  1. Please don’t let your dogs eat the seeds. They can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Oh, and expensive trips to the pet emergency clinic.


  2. When I introduced the Ginkgo tree to my homeschool science students, they chimed in, “Oh that’s the stinky tree!” I guess this tree makes an impression with all ages.

  3. Leslie Kuo Says:

    Yes, burdock is definitely used in Japanese cooking… I ate it on a trip there and Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, one of my favorite cookbooks, explains to American readers that they could substitute asparagus in the traditional burdock-beef-roll recipe. I had no idea burdock grows in the US!

  4. Alicia Says:

    I love your off-the-beaten-park-path stories about New York City. I’m in Colorado and haven’t been back there in years. Lovely.

  5. Leslie Kuo Says:

    I believe Georgia at localecologist.org told me that the fruit only smells bad after it starts rotting. If you pick them off the tree or soon after they fall, you can enjoy the nuts without facing the smell. Unfortunately, because many street ginkgo trees are male (because of the smelly fruits) I have never seen or foraged the nuts, despite debatably being a Chinese lady myself, ha ha.


    • Hi Leslie,
      Thanks for the comment! I’m not sure the nuts have to rot – I think it may be that once the outer covering is off, the interior fruit stinks – which means that peeling it in order to cook it releases the stench. Maybe Georgia will chime in here. I’ve walked on quite a few stinky streets in Brooklyn & Manhattan, and Riverside Park definitely has a few stinky paths. I enjoy it, oddly enough, because it makes you wake up and notice what you’re walking on and under. Not sure I’d want to have my windows open onto that smell, though. Another Riverside Park plant that I like to complain about is burdock, the sticky (not stinky) burrs of which get tangled in my poor dog’s fur. I learned from Tricia Vita at Amusing the Zillion that burdock root is edible and frequently used in Japanese cooking.


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