Gingko nuts with their subtle flavor and soft, chewy texture have been an essential ingredient in high-quality dishes for centuries, prized for important occasions such as weddings and ancestral ceremonies.
The nuts are in season now, and people are busy harvesting them. They are best eaten if they rest for about 15 days after harvesting.
As the fruit ripens, it becomes much easier to get the outer layer off, which reveals the hard shell. Inside that is the light yellow gingko nut in the shape of a small egg.
The reason why gingko nuts are much loved in Korean cuisine is their healthful properties. Traditional medical books, including the "Dongui Bogam," claim that gingko nuts are effective in treating respiratory diseases. Mothers used to feed roasted gingko nuts to their daughters as they were carried on a palanquin to their wedding.
"It's difficult to go to the toilet when you are in a sedan chair. Roasted gingko nuts discourage urination. But raw gingko nuts have completely the opposite effect: they are diuretic."
But too much of a good thing can be harmful. Gingko nuts contain toxic cyanogenetic glycoside which in large doses can cause stomach ache, vomiting and diarrhea.
"If you find it difficult to peel off the hard shells of ginko nuts, put them in empty milk cartons and heat them up for three minutes in the microwave. Then the roasted nuts inside the shell will pop like popcorn," says a farmer who plants ginko trees at a farm in Yesan, Sough Chungcheong Province, where about 40 percent of Korea's total gingko production come from.