Goji Berries

Goji berries (pronounced go-jee) have been grown in China for centuries. The research supporting their many health claims, though, is still in early stages. This month I examine the hype, and sorts fact from fiction when it comes to all thing goji.

Goji Berries

Nutrition Notes

From a nutrition standpoint, dried goji berries pack a powerful punch.  They're relatively low in calories and are a decent source of protein, fibre, vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and potassium.

Goji berries also have a high oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) - a measure of their antioxidant power. The berries and their roots contain beta-sitosterol and kukoamine - two phytochemicals with cholesterol-lowering properties. 

Goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but only recently have they garnered media attention in North America for their reported health benefits.  Traditionally the fruit and roots of the plant have been used for treating diabetes, hypertension, fever, malaria and preventing cancer - although evidence of its effectiveness remains scant.

Despite the proliferation of health claims surrounding goji berries, there have been minimal human or animal studies to prove their effectiveness.  One of the most recent studies, which was industry-sponsored and published  in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2008), found that consuming goji berry juice for as little as two weeks increased energy and improved gastrointestinal function in study participants.

Despite the hype, goji berries aren't a silver bullet or cure-all.  You're best off enjoying these berries, like all berries, as part of a healthy diet.

Per 4 tablespoons, about 1/4 cup (50 ml) of dried goji berries:

Calories 

78 kcal 

Total Fat 

0 grams 

Protein 

3.2 grams 

Carbohydrate 

17 grams 

Sugar (natural)

10 grams 

Fibre 

3 grams 

Sodium 

67 milligrams 

Vitamin A 

6000 IU

Vitamin C 

11 mg

Calcium 

43 mg

Iron 

1.5 mg

Source: National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 slightly revised May, 2016

Note: Goji berries may interact with certain medicines, including blood thinners, hypertension drugs and diabetes medications. If you're currently on medication, consult your pharmacist or doctor before consuming goji berries. 

Varieties

Goji berries come from deciduous, woody perennial plants that produce red, oval berries one to two centimetres in length.  The berries are vine-ripened and harvested during the summer months in north-central China.

Goji berries have many aliases.  Their scientific names are Lycium chinense and Lycium barbarum, and they belong to the Solanaceae family, which also includes potatoes, eggplants, chili peppers and tobacco.  More commonly they are referred to as Himalayan and Tibetan Goji berries, the wolfberry, Matrimony vine and Duke of Argyll's tea tree.

Buying

While fresh goji berries are a common staple in the areas around where they are grown, elsewhere in the world goji berries are sold dried or as an ingredient in tea, juice, cereal and other health foods. 

Eating dried goji berries are the best way to stock up on nutrients, since many goji products only contain trace amounts of the berries. 

You'll find dried goji berries, goji berry juice, goji berry energy drinks and freeze-dried goji powder in natural food stores and many larger grocery store chains.

Storing

Dried goji berries should be stored like any dried food - away from moisture, preferably in a cool, dark place.  Products containing goji berries should be stored according to package directions.

Preparing

Dried goji berries can be eaten whole or added to salads, granola, trail mix, cooked dishes and baked goods.  Dried goji berries can easily be rehydrated.  Simply pour boiling water over them and let them sit until they are plump and juicy - use as you would any fresh berry.

Eating

Dried goji berries have a soft, chewy texture - as a result they are versatile and can be added to a variety of dishes, or eaten on their own.  Sometimes referred to as ‘red diamonds', goji berries have a pleasant taste that's slightly bitter; they taste like a cross between cherries, cranberries and raisins.  They pair well with naturally sweet foods such as other fresh fruit.

Healthy ways to enjoy

Breakfast

  • Add a handful of dried goji berries to a morning smoothie - they pair well with sweet fruit such as kiwi, mango and peaches. 
  • Sprinkle goji berries on a bowl of hot oatmeal for a delicious morning meal.
  • Make your own goji berry juice by blending a handful of rehydrated dried goji berries with ice water.  Add a few sprigs of mint, and a drizzle of honey for a refreshing twist.

Lunch

  • Add dried goji barriers to a fresh spinach salad with water-packed tuna and shredded carrots.
  • Sprinkle dried goji berries on a bowl of lentil soup for a nutrient boost.

Dinner

  • Add a splash of colour to a chicken stir-fry by adding some dried goji-berries prior to serving.
  • Dried goji berries are a tasty addition to any whole grain pilaf.

Snacks

  • Enjoy goji berries than on their own.  Munch on a handful of dried berries for a healthy mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
  • Make your own trail mix by combining equal parts dried goji berries, raisins, roasted almonds and cashews.
  • Add goji berries in place of raisins to you favourite low fat cookie, quick bread or muffin recipe.
  • Make your own goji-pops by blending goji berries with low fat yogurt and pure fruit juice.  Pour into popsicle moulds and enjoy on a hot summer's day!

More Information

Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfberry

Did you know?

  • Each August goji berries are celebrated in China with an annual festival around the time of their harvest.
  • Young goji berry shoots and leaves are sold and consumed as a green, leafy vegetable.
  • Legend has it that one herbalist who ate plenty of goji berries lived to be 252 years old!