Whether you first came across them in your fruit and nut mix, or as a garnish in your acai bowl, goji berries have actually been cultivated for many centuries and are still prescribed in Asian medicine for their health benefits. If you’re keen to learn more about these little red berries and the good that they can do for your body, then here’s everything you need to know about goji berries!
What are goji berries?
Despite having been around for centuries in Asian markets, the popularity of goji berries in the Western world only really began in the early 2000s, and so many people have yet to even try one!
Also commonly referred to as wolfberries, goji berries are the fruit of the Lycium barbarum or Lycium chinense tree, which both grow native in Asia but are now also cultivated on European and American soil to meet rising local demand. Because of their fragile nature, most goji berries are sold in their dried form as small, shriveled, and chewy berries that make a delightful addition to your fruit and nut mix or a colorful and nutritious garnish for your breakfast. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some fresh goji berries from your local farmer’s market or exotic grocery store, then be sure to try them in their raw and natural state to experience the sweet and tangy flavor of goji berry juice.
The history of goji berries
Today you can pick up imported dried goji berries from virtually any country in the world, but historically, goji berries were only really eaten in Asia, specifically China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan, where they featured heavily in traditional medicine.
Although goji berries may be a relatively new product on most grocery store shelves and we largely eat them for their delicious flavor rather than their medicinal properties, they actually have a very rich and deep history dating back to at least the third century CE where they were used widely in traditional Chinese and other Asian medicines as a healing herb.
Goji berries in Traditional Chinese Medicine
When researching the history of goji berries and their origin in Chinese medicine, one ancient Chinese tale crops up again and again. As the story goes, an inquisitive Chinese doctor discovered goji berries in a rural village, where he noted that the inhabitants all lived long lives, some even over the age of 100. Having spent some time observing the lives of these unbelievable centenarians who had reached unprecedented ages for their time, he notices how the oldest people in the village were all drinking from the same water well, which was overshadowed by a wild goji berry tree. On closer inspection, he discovered that the ripened goji berries were falling into the well, infusing the water with their health-giving properties, and thus deduced that goji berries were the cause of their unusual longevity.
How are goji berries used in Chinese medicine?
When it comes to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the book, Shennong Bencaojing, is perhaps the oldest written record available. Written by the emperor Shennong himself in the year 250BCE, the book records many of China’s oldest oral medicinal traditions and provides a vivid insight into the uses of different plants and herbs used in Chinese medicine.
Amongst the many hundreds of other entries, goji berries are described as helping to ‘treat the main evils of the internals including central heat, wasting thirst and generalized impediments’ as well as helping to ‘make the body light’ and ‘slow aging’.
Today, not much has changed for the goji berry in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and dried goji berries, goji berry tea, and goji berry juice are still prescribed today to help tonify the yin of the liver and the yin of the kidneys, to moisten the lungs, and to brighten the eyes.
Where are goji berries grown?
The Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense tree, both of which produce goji berries, are native to China and still thrive in the wild in many of the North-Central provinces as well across many other countries in Asia. As the consumption of goji berries began to increase in China, goji berry cultivation began, and they were farmed intensively for their use in Chinese medicine and as an ingredient in many Chinese dishes.
Particularly in the Ningxia region of China, goji berries have been cultivated along the fertile floodplains of the Yellow River for more than 700 years, and the region remains one of the single largest producers of goji berries to this day. As one of the most important crops in this part of northern China, goji berries are celebrated annually with a festival to mark the berry harvest and are referred to as ‘red diamonds’, bringing in an invaluable income for the farmers, growers, and local people who live there.
Despite having been cultivated in China for almost a millennia, the goji berry was not cultivated outside of Asia for many years and it wasn’t until the 1730’s that the Lycium barbarum tree was first brought to British soil. Even with goji berries finally growing in England, they were not seen as a food source, and instead, the plants were cultivated purely for their decorative appearance. It took a further several hundred years for goji berries to catch on as an ingredient, but when they finally broke through into the British market, they did so will full force, quickly gaining a reputation as a superfood and finding themselves on the shelves of all major British health-food stores. This hype for goji berries was also echoed across the United States, Canada, and in other parts of Europe, which then prompted attempts to cultivate goji berries on US and European soil.
Despite goji berries now being cultivated widely across the Western World, China still remains the single largest producer of goji berries worldwide, exporting tens of thousands of tons of dried goji berries to countries around the globe - but this could soon change, as the quantity of US and European goji production rises, it steadily reduces Chinese demand.
Why are goji berries usually sold dried, not fresh?
The vast majority of goji berries that are sold in grocery stores or online are dried, and it is quite rare to find them in their fresh, plump, and juicy state. The reason why goji berries are dried is actually very simple and comes down to the fact that despite cultivation attempts more locally, the vast majority of goji berries still need to travel a long way before they reach their end customer, in which time, fresh goji berries would have spoiled.
To prevent the harvest from going bad before it reaches the supermarket shelves, and to aid the storage of goji berries all year-round, they are often dried for convenience.
Does drying goji berries change their nutritional value?
During the drying process, goji berries lose their water-weight but retain virtually all of their nutrients. For this reason, a serving size of fresh berries is a lot larger than a serving size of dried berries. Although goji berry juice is considered to be a refreshing and healthy drink, removing the water from goji berries does not reduce their nutritional value in any way so long as the drying process did not involve significant heat treatment. Significant heat treatment, more often used when making goji powder rather than simply dried goji berries, can affect some of the heat-sensitive phytonutrients, such as Vitamin-C. Thankfully, the majority of antioxidants in goji berries are not heat sensitive and so remain intact regardless of the amount of heat used in the drying process.
How to eat dried goji berries
Dried goji berries are delicious as they come, but some people find them a little stiff and chewy. If you had tried dried goji berries before and did not like their texture, then the best thing to do is to rehydrate them with a little water. To rehydrate dried goji berries, all you need to do is to soak them in water. After just two hours of soaking in water, your goji berries will start to plump back up, giving them a softer and juicier texture once more. When you drain your soaked berries, don’t throw the liquid away! Just like in the old Chinese legend mentioned earlier, it will now contain some of the nutrients from your dried goji berries, so why not add it to a smoothie or drink it to ensure you get the most from the fruit.
How nutritious are goji berries?
Although some people doubt their status as a superfood, it cannot be argued that goji berries are extremely nutritious.
A single 28g serving of dried goji berries provides the following:
Amount / % of RDA
As you can see from the table above, a one-ounce serving of goji berries is a great low-calorie fruit snack, providing important dietary fiber and protein that will help to keep you fuller for longer - as well as helping you to jump-start your intake of several very important vitamins such as Vitamin A and C and other micro-nutrients like Selenium, Copper, and Riboflavin. Although at first glance, it may appear that a serving of goji berries is quite high in sugar, it’s important to remember that this is natural fruit sugar, and a one-ounce serving of goji berries contains roughly the same amount of fruit sugar found in an average apple.
So are goji berries a superfood?
The term superfood is not a scientific term but is, in fact, marketing terminology for any food that has perceived health benefits as a result of exceptional nutritional density. Over the years, a number of fruits, vegetables, and grains have been dubbed superfoods, including goji berries, but the jury is still out on whether any food should be given a superfood status. Regardless of where goji berries currently stand, it cannot be denied that they are incredibly nutritious, and consumption of them is strongly associated with a number of health benefits. Here are a few reasons why we think goji berries deserve their superfood status.
They contain a high amount of vitamin A and vitamin C
Vitamin A is crucial for many bodily functions, including the immune system, reproduction, and cellular communication. Vitamin A is also a critical vitamin for eye health and has been proven to help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Like vitamin A, vitamin C is also essential for many body functions and is integral to the repair of tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that helps to fight free radicals and to boost the body’s natural defenses. A single serving of goji berries not only provides 23% of your RDA for vitamin C but also 150% of your RDA for vitamin A - which is pretty impressive!
They are low in calories but nutritious
Whether you are looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it is essential to look at what you are eating, and one of the key components to consider is nutrient density. A single serving of goji berries is extremely nutrient-dense while also being low in calories, providing a good amount of protein and fiber, while not containing any fat or processed sugar. As snacks go, this makes goji berries a great option to consider as they will help to keep you fuller for longer while not using up too many of your daily calories.
They can improve fertility
One of the recorded uses of goji berries in Traditional Chinese Medicine is as a fertility aid. Goji berries have been scientifically proven to help improve both male and female fertility by improving hormone function and enhancing sexual ability. In some cases, a serving of goji berries a day has been found to be as effective as a viagra - something to consider!
They can help to alleviate insulin resistance
For diabetics, berries and fruit are often avoided as they can cause a rise in blood sugar and an insulin spike, but goji berries are not like most fruits. In comparison to strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, goji berries have a comparatively low sugar content and so do not cause an insulin spike. In addition, goji berries have even been found to help lower blood sugar levels and to improve sugar tolerance, which in turn can alleviate insulin resistance. Although there is evidence to suggest that goji berries can have a positive effect on blood sugar levels in some people, they should not be used in place of proper medication.
How many goji berries should you eat per day?
Like most delicious dried fruits, it can be difficult to stop eating goji berries once you start - but eating too many of them can give you a stomach ache, and if you are taking certain medications, then you may be unable to eat goji berries at all!
The recommended serving size for goji berries
The number of goji berries that you should eat depends on whether they are fresh, dried, juiced, or powdered.
Fresh goji berries
Fresh goji berries contain a lot of water weight, and so for this reason, it looks as though you can eat a lot more of them. If you are able to find fresh goji berries, then 150g is widely considered to be a good serving size.
Dried goji berries
Once dried, a punnet of fresh goji berries shrinks to just a handful, and so for this reason, 28g, or two tablespoons, is considered to be a good serving size for them in their dried state.
Goji berry juice
Goji berry juice is delicious and nutritious! Like most fruit juices, it can be easy to drink too much. The recommended serving size for fresh undiluted goji berry juice is 30ml taken twice daily.
Powdered goji berries
Goji berry powder is often consumed in capsule form but can come loose to be added to smoothies or other recipes. Generally, 2500mg is considered to be a good serving of goji berry powder; however, this may need to be lowered if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or are sensitive to goji berries.
Can you eat goji berries when pregnant?
Goji berries may be a popular fertility aid, but can you eat them when you are pregnant? The short answer is yes, but with caution! Goji berries are highly nutritious and can help to provide both mother and baby with essential nutrients during pregnancy, however, like all foods, they should be eaten in moderation, and if you suffer from high blood pressure or are diabetic, then you should consult a doctor first before eating them during your pregnancy.
Is there anyone who can’t eat goji berries?
The vast majority of people can eat goji berries without any concern; however, for those taking blood thinners such as warfarin, goji berries can cause a drug interaction. To be on the safe side, it is always best to do your research and ask your doctor if you are on any special medication to ensure that the foods you are eating do not pose a risk to your health.
Can you eat too many goji berries?
Like all good things, eating too many goji berries can have adverse effects, and you may find yourself with a stomach ache, bloating, diarrhea, and in some cases, you may also struggle to fall asleep. But don’t worry, for you to eat too many goji berries, you’ll need to eat significantly more than the recommended serving size, so as long as you don’t accidentally eat the entire bag in one sitting, an extra handful or two will be fine.
So long as they are enjoyed responsibly and in moderation, goji berries are a healthy and tasty snack that can be enjoyed by almost anyone, but, like any foodstuff, eating too much in one go can upset your stomach - so take note of the recommended serving sizes and portion out your goji berries to stop you from accidentally overeating.
How to tell if your goji berries are good quality
Like most dried fruits, the difference between good quality goji berries and poor quality goji berries can be hard to spot, but their subtle differences do make all the difference to how they taste and their nutritional composition. With more goji berries sold than ever, it can be hard to know what to look for when choosing which brand to buy, so here are some things to look out for to ensure that you only buy the very best quality goji berries.
Where do they come from?
Despite now being cultivated in the US and also in some parts of Europe, Asian goji berries are still widely considered to be some of the tastiest due to the fact that they are cultivated in their natural climate.
Are they dyed?
Goji berries are naturally a pink/reddish color; however, some retailers add pink dye to their berries to make them appear brighter and more appealing. Although this dye is usually harmless, it is unnecessary and, in some cases, can also make the berries taste a little bitter. For maximum flavor and to eradicate unnecessary chemicals, choose natural colored berries that have not been dyed or heavily processed.
Can you taste them?
Lastly, if you are shopping in-store and are able to, then always ask for a sample to try before you buy. Goji berries are quite expensive, and so it is only sensible to try the product before you invest. High-quality goji berries have a much more refined taste than lower quality goji berries and should taste slightly sweet. If the goji berries are overly sweet, almost like candy, then they may have been harvested too early and then dried with added sugar to mask their tartness.
Where to buy high-quality goji berries
As goji berries have become more popular in the Western world, they have started to appear more readily in grocery stores, and you can now pick them up quite easily - but not all goji berry retailers are created equal. If you are looking to buy only the highest quality goji berries, then we recommend trying one of these three locations.
Ayoub’s Dried Fruit and Nuts
We make no secret of the fact that here at Ayoub’s, we pride ourselves on our ability to source the very best quality dried fruits, including goji berries. To ensure that our customers get to taste the freshest and tastiest goji berries around, we only source our berries from Asia and never sell berries that have been artificially flavored or dyed. Pop into one of our stores, and we will gladly offer you a sample of any of our products to try so that you can taste the quality yourself before you buy.
Whole Foods Market
Another great place to buy high-quality goji berries is, of course, Whole Foods Market. As a premium grocery store, by shopping in Whole Foods, you can pretty much guarantee that the products you buy are of the best quality, though you may need to pay higher grocery store prices for this privilege.
Because goji berries spoil very easily, growers are limited to selling fresh goji berries locally, and so if you are on the hunt for fresh or local berries, then be sure to check out your local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are always a good place to shop as you not only find the best local produce but are also supporting your local growers and producers in the process.
How to store your goji berries so they last longer
Fresh goji berries go bad very quickly, but even dried goji berries have an expiration date. If you have a bag of goji berries sitting at the back of your cupboard, then here’s how to tell if they are still good to eat.
When did you buy them?
Even if stored in the perfect conditions, goji berries will only last for one year before they start to go bad. If you have an opened bag of goji berries and have not stored them correctly, then this can drop to as little as a few weeks. If the packet says that the berries have expired, or you cannot remember when you bought the berries, then it is best to throw them out and to buy fresh ones.
What do they look like?
Dried goji berries are usually a pinky/red color and look a bit like a raisin. If your goji berries have been left open and have started to go bad, then they may darken in color and shrivel up even more. Dark-colored goji berries are usually a sign that they are rancid and so you should throw them out and refresh your supply. Another thing to watch out for when assessing your goji berries is visible signs of mold - this can sometimes look like white powder. Mold typically begins to grow in moist conditions, and so you are more likely to see mold if the bag has been left open.
Are they mushy
Dried goji berries normally have a firm and slightly chewy texture. If your berries are soft and mushy, then they may have absorbed moisture and started to rot. On the other end of the spectrum, if your berries are as hard as bullets and are almost crunchy to eat, then they may have dried out too much.
Do they taste bitter?
Lastly, you can always tell a bad goji berry by how it tastes. A fresh, edible goji berry will taste slightly sweet, a little tangy depending on when it was harvested, and may have an earthy aftertaste. If your goji berries have gone bad, then they will taste bitter and will leave a nasty aftertaste. If you are not enjoying the flavor of your goji berries, then they could have turned rancid!
Storing goji berries correctly
Although the best way to stop your goji berries from going rancid is to eat them, you will still need to store them somewhere in between snack times. The two main enemies of goji berries are humidity and air, so to help them retain their freshness and to last for longer, you should ensure to store them in an airtight container that is completely dry. Even in their airtight container, do not store your goji berries in a humid place, and if you live in a humid climate, then you may want to consider storing them in the fridge.
Can you freeze goji berries?
When stored correctly, dried goji berries should last sufficiently long enough without needing to be frozen; however, if you have managed to purchase fresh goji berries or have grown them at home, then freezing them is the best way to ensure that they do not spoil before you can eat them. To freeze fresh goji berries, first wash, drain and remove their stems, and then spread them on a paper-lined baking tray so that they do not stick together. Place them in the freezer on the baking tray for approximately four hours, until frozen, and then decant them into a freezer bag or container to be stored until you are ready to use them.
Three recipes to try using goji berries
Goji berries are extremely versatile; however, as a relatively new ingredient to the market, many people don’t know how to use them in their cooking. The easiest thing to do with goji berries is to snack on them as they are, but if you are looking for something a little more creative, then here are three super simple goji berry recipes that you may want to try.
Goji berry protein balls
As a superfood that is high in nutrients, goji berries make a great addition to protein balls, granola bars, and other healthy snacks. Here’s how to make some simple protein balls using goji berries.
You will need
- 25 dates
- 1 cup of cashews
- 1 cup of oats
- ½ cup of dried goji berries
- 1 whole lemon
How to make goji berry protein balls
- Remove the pips from your dates and then soak them for approximately 20 minutes until they are soft.
- Meanwhile, zest and juice your lemon.
- Next, add all of your ingredients, except the goji berries, to a food processor and whizz to combine.
- Once the mixture is sticky but still a little chunky, add in your goji berries.
- Give everything another quick mix in the food processor and then remove the mixture and roll it into bite-size balls.
- For some extra tang, roll the balls in some more lemon zest, or for some crunchy texture, try rolling them in desiccated coconut.
Tip - if you don’t like the chewy texture of dried goji berries, try soaking them first so that they are soft and plump.
Goji berry smoothie
The great thing about smoothies is that you can put virtually anything into them - including goji berries! This smoothie can be customized depending on the fruit you have available or your own tastes.
What you’ll need
- ¼ cup of dried goji berries (or 2tbsp of goji berry powder)
- 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries
- 1 cup of water or coconut water
- 2 tbsp of chia seeds
- ½ a tbsp of flaxseed
How to make a glorious goji smoothie
- If you’re using dried goji berries, then soak them in water for at least 20 minutes, but ideally overnight so that they blend more easily. If you don’t soak your goji berries first, then the smoothie may be lumpy.
- Next, simply add all of your chosen ingredients to a high powered blender and blend them together.
- Drink your smoothie immediately while it’s fresh or stored in the fridge.
Tip: If you like your smoothie to be thicker, then add a few ice cubes or use frozen blueberries.
Goji berry tea
One of the more traditional ways to make use of goji berries is to steep them to make goji berry tea. Goji berry tea is warming and delicate, and you can eat the soaked goji berries after!
You will need
- Hot water
- A handful of goji berries
How to make goji berry tea at home
- Boil your kettle.
- Add your dried goji berries to a reusable tea bag or a tea steeper.
- Pour over the boiling water and allow to steep for at least five minutes.
Tip: If you think that plain goji berry tea is a little bland, then try adding a spoonful of honey, or some black tea to give the infusion a little more flavor.
Whether you’ve tried goji berries before or had never heard of them before reading this article, now you know everything you need to know about these little red berries! Will you be adding them to your snack draw?