Goji berries, also known as wolfberries or by their scientific name of Lycium barbarum, are a reddish-orange berry with a sweet and sour flavor. One variety of goji berries tastes almost like a tomato while another leans more toward the tangy side of the berry family—closer to a cranberry. Goji berries have long been used as a central ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, and the vast majority of goji berries sold in the United States are dried and imported from China.
What Are Goji Berries?
Indigenous to Asia, goji berries grow on vines and look a bit like tiny grape tomatoes; like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant, they belong to the nightshade family. Goji berries aren't easy to find fresh in the United States, though. When you do come across them, you can expect to pay a hefty price.
How to Use Goji Berries
Dried goji berries are readily available and easy to use in smoothies and raw vegan elixirs. If you don't have a powerful blender, you may want to rehydrate them first in a little water or apple juice to soften them before you blend them. Goji berry powder is also available and can be stirred directly into juices, herbal teas, or even just water.
Dried goji berries make an exotic topping for desserts or breakfast bowls, can be added to baked goods ranging from cupcakes to homemade energy bars, and add a punch of flavor and texture to granola. They make an interesting addition to trail mix, add a wonderful zest to a salad, and give flavor and texture to everything from salsas to soups and casseroles.
What Do They Taste Like?
The dried goji berries frequently found in health food stores are generally the more berry-flavored variety, although you wouldn't call them sweet. The flavor is tart and sour, kind of like a cranberry, with an almost herbal note. Dried goji berries should be chewy but still just slightly soft. The higher water content of fresh goji berries dilutes the tartness some, so they taste a little less like a cranberry and a little more like a tomato.
Goji Berry Recipes
You can use dried goji berries in place of raisins or Craisins in recipes of all kinds. You may need to increase the sweetener to compensate for the tart flavor, though.
Where to Buy Goji Berries
Frequently marketed as a superfood, goji berries are almost always sold dried (rather than fresh) in the U.S. and can usually be found in the supplement section or occasionally in the bulk foods section at natural foods stores and organic co-ops; they're also readily available online. Your local Asian grocery store may have a better price, though, and some larger Asian grocers also stock frozen goji berries.
Herbal teas containing goji berries and goji berry powders are available online and from natural food stores, and may be available in well-stocked grocery stores. There are also goji berry supplements in capsule form.
Raw vegan goji berry varieties (which are labeled raw or sold on raw vegan food websites) are carefully collected and dried at low temperatures specifically for those on a raw vegan food diet.
Keep dried goji berries in an airtight container in a cool, dark location. Avoid exposing them to any type of moisture, which causes them to get sticky and clump together. With proper storage, dried gojis remain fresh for at least a year; some producers add sulfur dioxide and other preservatives, which can increase the shelf life. Fresh gojis should be eaten shortly after harvest; you can store frozen gojis for up to six months.
Nutrition and Benefits
Goji berries are high in antioxidants, giving them anti-inflammatory properties and helping to protect the body from free radicals. A 1-ounce serving contains 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, plus all nine of the essential amino acids humans don't produce and thus need to obtain from food sources.
In traditional Chinese medicine, goji tea is used as an immune-boosting tonic and blood-health tonic. Goji berries are frequently touted for their anti-aging properties as well, although no definitive studies have proven this benefit.