Are Goji Berries a Superfood? Here's What You Need to Know About the Tangy Fruits
For thousands of years, goji berries have been used as medicine and food in Asia. They're a staple ingredient in Chinese soups, along with juice, wine, and tea. But in recent years, the berries have become increasingly popular in North America, ultimately finding their way into big box supermarkets and health food markets alike. But what are goji berries, and are they good for you? Read on to learn about these vibrant berries and how to use them at home.
What Are Goji Berries?
The goji berry is an oval-shaped berry with a bright red-orange hue. It's native to Asia and South Africa, though most of the world's goji berries hail from northwest China. Goji berries, also known as wolf berries, grow on a woody shrub that can reach about 12 feet tall. What's more, the berries are part of the nightshade family, meaning they're related to produce like eggplant and tomatoes. (Coincidentally, goji berries look like tiny bite-sized Roma tomatoes.) As for their taste? Fresh goji berries are said to be bitter and slightly sweet, while dried goji berries have a tangy, sweeter flavor that's often compared to cranberries. The dried form is also easier to find, as that's how they're usually eaten.
Their Health Benefits
Goji berries are often called superfoods, and for good reason. They're exceptionally high in antioxidants, which combat harmful molecules called free radicals. In excess, free radicals can cause oxidative stress, "leading to inflammation and chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer," explains Kelsey Lorencz, R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Graciously Nourished. But eating antioxidant-rich foods (like goji berries) can help minimize or avoid damage caused by oxidative stress, says Lorencz.
The bright berry may also protect your eyes. According to Lorencz, goji berries contain a high amount of carotenoids, aka plant chemicals that support healthy vision. Carotenoids also happen to be plant pigments, and are responsible or the bright red-orange color of goji berries (as well as many other fruits and vegetables, like carrots). Moreover, the berries offer fiber, vitamins A and C, iron, and even some protein and healthy fats.
How to Use Them
In the United States, goji berries are mainly available dried; they're usually sold in resealable bags next to other dried fruits. You can use them like you would raisins (think: in granola or trail mix), but they have a chewy texture that some folks don't like. If that's you, soak the dried berries in boiling water for several minutes to make them plump, soft, and rehydrated. Alternatively, if you're not in a rush, soak the dried berries in water in an air-tight container, then refrigerate overnight. (The soaking water can also be consumed as a tea, so be sure to save it.)
From there, enjoy the rehydrated goji berries like dried cranberries. Add them to your morning smoothie or oatmeal, suggests Lorencz, or use them to elevate your avocado toast. For a sweet treat, use goji berries to switch up classic baked goods, like our Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. Even savory dishes are an option when it comes to goji berries—add a handful to tomato sauce or chicken soup. The tart flavor of goji berries is also a welcome addition to fall salads, like our Autumn Greens Salad with Sunflower Seeds.