Goji Berry

Goji berry or Wolfberry is the name of the fruit of two different but very similar plants; neither of which I can pronounce. If you’re curious though, they are: Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. They are closely related species of boxthorn. Goji berries are a part of the nightshade family, and are related to eggplants and tomatoes.

Although the fruits are similar, they can still be distinguished from one another by subtle yet important differences in taste and sugar content. Both varieties, are native to Asia and have been used in traditional Asian cuisine and herbal medicine for thousands of years.

Dried goji berries taste similar to cranberries, meaning they aren’t what you’d probably consider to be sweet. Some say the juice from the goji berry tastes somewhat like tomato juice, having a pleasant tartness.

One early legend concerning the goji berry and its health benefits, states that a doctor some 2,000 years ago, visited a village and was surprised to find that most of the inhabitants were over a hundred years of age.

The doctor observed them for a while, and he began to notice something. The residents who lived the longest, were also the same residents who lived in the homes closest to the wells where goji berry trees were growing. It seemed that as the fruits ripened, they would eventually fall off into the water and the nutrients from the goji berries would then fuse with that water. The villagers living near these wells would drink the water and therefore get all the benefits of the goji berries.

Of course this is simply legend and can’t be verified. There are other variations of this story as well. But goji berries have apparently been popular for a very long time.

Another extreme example used to market the benefits of the goji berry claims that a man named Li Qing Yuen consumed wolfberries on a daily basis and lived to the age of 256 (1677 – 1933). Apparently this whopper of a tale (who knows, maybe it’s true after all) originated in a booklet by Earl Mindell in 2003. Although hard to believe, this booklet contained false and unverified claims.

Eventually the goji berry made it’s way to America sometime around the year 2000 where it’s since been marketed as a super food or health food amidst scientifically unsupported claims regarding the many benefits of the fruit.

Due to the bountiful number of unsubstantial claims regarding the many health benefits of the goji berry, dried and fresh berries have been included in a variety of snack foods and food supplements. Foods such as yogurt, granola bars, and trail mixes as well as fruit juices and tea blends have all featured goji berries in an attempt to make them appear healthier.

All these exaggerated claims about the goji berry has caused strong reactions. In 2006, the FDA placed two goji juice distributors on notice, and gave them warning letters with regard to unproven therapeutic benefits.

In the end, it’s likely nothing more than a trend that will slowly die out like most things. While there are definitely health benefits that come along with eating goji berries, they aren’t magic. In some ways it reminds me of the popularity that the açaí berry once enjoyed.

I wonder what ever happened to the açaí berry…

Here are some links to a couple recipes featuring goji berries: Chinese Yam and Chicken Soup and Cacao Nib Dressing Over Strawberry Almond Salad