Ingredient Sleuth: Goji Berries (AKA Wolfberries)

I have to admit the popularity of goji berries as a "new superfood!" turned me off to exploring these little orange-red berries. Doesn't help reduce my skepticism that these nutritional powerhouses are now the subject of MLM schemes and connected to tall tales ascribing insane longevity to them. But I kept hearing about them and began to see them at Whole Foods, then realized that finding them bobbing in Ma-La hotpots with other traditional Chinese ingredients like red dates, indicates they are not "new" - though they are new to me, and I'm guessing maybe to a few of you, as well?

Goji Berries

Goji berries

Look Here - Goji Berries, Good for Eyes

Health benefits of berries, in general, include the high levels of anti-oxidants, Vitamins A & C, along with other nutrients which vary by berry. Antioxidants also help boost immune function, protect vision, and may help prevent heart disease.

Goji berries share these health benefits with other berries: they are rich in vitamin A and C - more per weight than oranges - and they have more beta-carotene that carrots. See what eye docs say about lutein and zeaxanthin.

The primary components being studied are polysaccharideslutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein you may have heard of before (kale, eggs and other foods are good sources) but it may be that zeaxanthin is new to you, as it was to me. Both lutein and zeaxanthin have been studied for their potential to protect against age-related macular degeneration but recently the second component, zeaxanthin, was noted to concentrate in the eye to offer more protection than lutein which settles in the eye in more diffuse ways.

Preliminary research suggests brain-boosting brain benefits as well as protection against age-related diseases like macular degeneration and even Alzheimer's (The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease).

Goji in hot porridge

Mixed grains, raisins, goji berries, toasted walnuts.

How to Eat

So how much do you need to consume and how to use them?

I tried to calculate amounts from the medical journal studies I read. 15 mg was the amount used in one study. All the converters I found start at larger increments and there's the whole volume versus liquid thing. Makes my brain hurt. Hey, there's more than one reason I went to law school instead of med school!

I'm going to say it's roughly equivalent to a Tablespoon a day (thanks to all who weighed in - pardon the pun - on my math conundrum posted on FB.) Put them in your cereal, or your smoothie, maybe on a salad as you would craisins or raisins or cranberries. Add to granola.

As mentioned earlier, in Chinese hot pot soups or stews they work well. The flavor of them is described as cranberry crossed with cherry. I find them neither as tart as cranberries nor as sweet as cherries. Think of the tartness of a pomegranate aril in the texture of soft raisin.

Two conversion calculators were some help and may be worth bookmarking later: See GourmetSleuth.com.

Where to Find

Chinese herbalists, groceries and online. Whole Foods carries them as well. Look for Lycium barbarum or Goji or Wolfberry.  I get mine at Nam Bac Hong, the herbalist on my Boston Food Tours - Chinatown Tours. If you are on blood thinners, you should consult your doctor before adding any TCM Traditional Chinese Medicine to your diet as many are known to interfere with those drugs.

Also anyone with food allergies, you'll want to be aware that these are new to the West and some studies are beginning to track allergic reactions and cross-reactions.