Goji Berries

Goji Berries

The first time goji berries popped up on my radar was last winter, at London’s Borough Market: amidst the fudge makers and the pie ministers was a natural foods stand that sold all manner of esoteric goods. Dried goji berries were prominently featured, with various health promises attached.

I tend to take these clamorous claims — a better eyesight! improved marital activity! eternal life! — with so many grains of salt I could salt-crust a chicken, so I shrugged and walked away.

But the berries wouldn’t let themselves be forgotten so easily. I read about them repeatedly over the next few months (in Heidi’s super natural book in particular) until, my curiosity fully aroused, I caved in and bought a small bag while in NYC in the spring.

Goji berries, which may or may not be the same as wolfberries depending on whom you talk to, have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia and the bulk of the world production is grown in China, but they have recently benefited from an increased popularity in the West, where they are touted as a superfood, uncommonly rich in antioxydants and nutrients.

A fair amount of marketing mythology has flourished around their origin and properties, while assorted crooks jumped at the opportunity to sell goji juice as if it were liquid gold, but none of the fountain-of-youth claims seem to be supported by independant medical research. In any case, the berry, though not particularly flammable, can pride itself on having sparked lively debates.

Being neither a doctor nor a botanist, I chose to concern myself with the berries as a cook: alone in my New York hotel room, surrounded by the stash of apples and yogurt I had also purchased (if you need me to launch into a detailed rant on the subject of hotel breakfasts, just let me know; my soapbox is polished and ready to go), I proceeded to examine the berries and assess not their nutritional, but their organoleptic characteristics, as they say*.

Tiny and crimson pink, dried goji berries have a texture that can be described as a cross between that of raisins (chewy) and dried figs (pleasantly grainy). Their flavor, subtly tart, hints at herbs and tea. Less sugar-intense than most dried fruits — in fact, they straddle the line between the sweet and the savory — they definitely grow on you until, one handful leading to another, you realize that the bag was, indeed, quite small.

I bought another one when I was in London again recently, and got them from The Spice Shop this time**. Having already established that the berries made for a good snack, I decided to use this new crop in my cooking. Goji berries can step up wherever one would use raisins or dried cranberries, and I’ve had good success inviting them into my very chocolate cookies (recipe in my cookbook or here) or into an Indian-inspired pilau rice, with roasted cashews.

I have a little left — what would you do with them?

* Organoleptic: being, affecting, or relating to qualities (as taste, color, odor, and feel) of a substance (as a food or drug) that stimulate the sense organs. The word is used more and more frequently by French food experts, and it always amuses me because it seems like the least sensual word one could find for such a sensuous concept.

** While the berries seem to have reached full fad status in NYC and London, I haven’t seen them sold in natural foods stores in Paris. They may, however, be available in Chinese shops; I’ve yet to conduct this particular research project.

  • http://muffintop.wordpress.com C(h)ristine

    I grew up with these berries–which we used to make tea (Korean “gugija cha”). I was totally bowled over when I saw them in mainstream American supermarkets. Of course, i had to go look up “goji” to confirm that they were the same thing (they are).

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    I tried goji berries a couple months ago per a friend, and I wasn’t a fan! I may like them in certain meals, but not plain. Props to you for not initially following a fad, for fad’s sake!

  • http://chezpim.typepad.com Pim

    I didn’t now you can eat goji berries outright. When I grew up in Asia they are almost always used in cooked dishes. It’s an important ingredient in Chinese chicken broth, for example.

    I’m sure you can find them at Tang Frères or Paris Store in the 13e, they are a common ingredient in Asian cooking.

  • http://www.xtrinity.com/wasabimon/ Wasabimon – Stephanie

    I enjoy then somewhat, but dry they always taste like soap to me. I soak them in a little water or apple juice before using them, and have found that they’re quite good this way in smoothies, cereals, yogurts, and savory sauces (they actually go quite well with red wine, and I may try soaking them in it sometime).

  • http://mingoumango.blogspot.com/ mingoumango

    Ma mère a l’habitude d’en mettre dans ses soupes/bouillons/potions, tout simplement, mais ça n’a pas tellement de goût, je trouve. Entre nous, on appelle ça de la ‘mort aux rats’ ;-)

  • Cayenne

    I put them, along with dried blueberries and slivered almonds, in my steel cut oats. Softens them up and (perhaps) livens the flavor a bit.

  • http://tastingspoons.blogspot.com Carolyn T

    Just this week the Oprah show had an M.D. do a show addressing men’s issues. Much of the show was answering questions about how men’s uhm . . . organs work and don’t work, but one question was about exercise (athletes) and diet, so blood sugar doesn’t go low. The doctor highly recommended goji berries as the one, single item that provides a huge amount of antioxidents.
    PS – love your blog, Clothilde. Bought your book too and enjoyed each and every story.

  • andrea-michelle

    I’m a nutritionist who combines Eastern & Western medicine. They’re powerful antioxidants, and best eaten in small doses.

    I make my own trail mix/meal on-the-go with raw macadamia nuts, raw cashews, some sunflower seeds, a few dried dates, & goji berries.

    The non-nutritionist in me likes them with champagne!

  • http://www.ode2food.wordpress.com Supriya Raman

    Thanks for this info. I just got to try out these berries. Initially I wasn’t too crazy about them. I tried soaking them in wine and juice and it tasted much better!

    I am now working on a dish where I can incorporate this. Do follow up for the recipe on my food blog http://www.ode2food.wordpress.com

    Also check out “my truth” blog at wwww.supriyaraman.com for some absulote entertainment and enlightenment all at once :)

  • rainey

    When I tried them I thought they were like slightly less sweet dates. So I used them in oatmeal cookies. I didn’t soften them but doing that in a little apple juice couldn’t hurt a bit. ;>

    I like Cayenne’s idea of cooking them with oatmeal and, as we have arrived at oatmeal-type mornings, I think I’ll make some up tonight to enjoy in the morning. Thanks for that fine tip!

  • kirstyn

    Once when some dried goji berries made their way into my pantry, I concoted a few batches of delicious scones. I made a sweeter-than-usual scone and mixed in the tart berries with dried apricots and cherries.

  • http://shukuen.blogspot.com Shuku

    Clotilde, here in Asia we use them as a natural sweetener in soups and herbal teas. Chrysanthemum tea with honey and a handful of goji berries in them is really, really good. Most herbal soups I make generally have some dried red dates and these berries thrown in for good measure; they add sweetness and flavour.

    –Shuku

  • http://notesfrommyheart.com Precious

    Oh, I grow up with that stuff. Every day Mom would chuck a handful into our broth.

    Apparently, they work like “soldiers” that carry the nutritional quality of the broth into your body for better absorption.

  • http://nami-nami.blogspot.com/ Pille

    I first saw them at the Borough Market, too, but wasn’t totally convinced, so skipped them. Now I’m quite keen to try their organoleptic characteristics myself:)

  • Barbara

    I’ ve seen a recipe for cupcakes at http://www.cupcakeblog.com. I wanted to make them, but couldn’t find the berries.

  • http://www.thamjiak.blogspot.com/ rokh

    in chinese cooking, it can be used when boiling savoury soups or can also be made into sweet soup (dessert), one very simple way is boiled goji berries with dried chinese red dates (jujube) and in the end sweeten with sugar to taste. really refreshing and good for health.

  • Phil

    Coincidentally I was throwing a handful of wolfberries into a tea pot just last night before reading your article this morning.

    In northern China we have a quite famous medicinal/herbal tea called 八宝茶 (Ba Bao Cha or 8 treasures tea) which is supposed to be good for circulation and replenishment of “qi”. There doesn’t appear to be a definitive listing of the 8 treasures but it always includes green tea, chinese wolfberry, dried longan (dragon eye fruit), dried Chinese red date (jujube) and rock sugar. Options that I’m aware of for the remaining 3 are dried citrus peel, dried chrysanthemum flower, ginseng, lotus seeds and snow fungus. Options which I use at home are to add fresh fruit, apple and lemon. The tea is served in a gaiwan which is something similar to a rice bowl with a lid. In a restaurant serving ba bao cha the waiters often use a long spouted water kettle from which they are able to launch a jet of hot water into your tea bowl from 2m without spilling a drop!

    Something to consider for your remaining handful of wolfberries though the other ingredients may also be a challenge to buy.

  • http://mzkitchen.blogspot.com/ Madam Chow

    We put goji berries in oatmeal, yogurt, and bake them into scones!

  • http://www.cookthink.com Claire

    I had never seen goji in their whole form – just as little bottles of “energy booster!” stuff at the health food store. Nice to know the red syrup comes from something – even if it looks a heck of a lot more appetizing in it’s normal form…

  • michelle

    Chicken, ginseng and wolfberry soup…just flavor with a pinch of salt..delicious.

  • gingerpale

    “Organoleptic” sounds even worse in English, I’m pretty sure.
    A very unfortunate group of syllables!

  • Nina

    Hi Clotilde,
    Big fan! I just finished making a breakfast recipe out of your book! :) My husband and I eat Goji berries daily. We purchase the organic kind from Ebay. Remember to rinse them off in water with a few drops of vinegar to cleanse them of any chemicals.

    A few of our favorite recipes are:
    – Goji Berries blended with organic Apple Juice over ice. :)
    – Goji Berry – Almond Muffins. I pulverize almonds in my MagicBullet (useful mini-device for all cooks and foodies). Then I add the almond ‘flour’ to my muffin batter and add the Gojis last. Make sure to hydrate the Goji berries before adding them to the mix by letting them sit in a little water, so they are soft and not hard.
    – If you are into healthy living and drink a Green Power smoothie every morning, a few sweet goji berries sprinkled in will take the salty edge off seaweed, wheatgrass, fish oil or algae.
    – We also love the combination of dates, walnuts and goji’s in all types of baked goods.

    TIP: Never put a pound of goji berries into the food processor by themselves. Believe me, they will not turn into a fine powder. What you will get is a sticky, gooey, sweet mess that will take forever to clean. :(

    Hope my tips help you!

  • Alex

    I wonder if they would be good with wild rice? I like to throw pomegranite seeds, almonds, and some toasted sesame oil in with already-cooked wild rice to make a sort of rice salad. It would be an intercontinental mixture, but goji berries seem like the might work well.

  • http://www.winosandfoodies.typepad.com barbara

    I didn’t like them when I first tried them raw as a snack. I quite like the Goji Juice drink though.

  • mj

    This stuff is all over Asia and is sold quite cheaply here. (Here being Singapore).

    My parents put this in a herbal chicken soup of sorts. Just dump the berries plus a combination of chinese herbs and simmer a chicken in the pot.

    We don’t really eat the berries (even though they don’t taste very bad after being cooked) because all the “goodness” is supposedly already in the soup.

    It is supposed to be very good for your eyes.

  • http://teaandcookies.blogspot.com Tea

    I was given a bag of these by my mother–who does not take these claims with a grain (or handful) or salt and is always first to jump on the health bandwagon. I found them too grainy and unpleasant to eat on their own (perhaps when holed up in a hotel room, but not when there’s a pantry at hand that is fully stocked with more pleasant snacks). They have lingered, neglected, and I nearly threw them out recently.

    But all these suggestions are making me think of things to try. Perhaps reconstituted in water would be better–in a wild rice stuffing for roast fowl of some sort. I’m curious about the soup ideas as well.

    Great suggestions–thanks everyone!–and for posing the question, Clotilde.

  • Rose

    ha ha.

    I never actually knew their english name, wolfberry. Growing up my mom called them by their name in mandarin “gou qi”. She used it all the time in cooked dishes and soups. I remember having it in “ba bao cha” (eight treasures tea), too.

    It’s so common here in Taiwan…I figure I most come across it at least once a week (if not more) eating out at restaurants (from the hole in the walls to fancy schmany digs).

    I notice you haven’t blogged much about cooking chinese dishes. Maybe it might be a nice segway into producing some Chinese inspired dish.

  • ginger

    I grew up with these. Here in California, they can be found just about anywhere the Asian population lives (which is everywhere here). We put them in chicken soup, oatmeal, added them to stir fried garlic asparagus with oyster mushrooms, trail mix, muffins, granola bars, cooked them with vegan fish tossed around with chives and sugared soy sauce, cooked them with catfish fillet and fermented sweet rice, brewed them as tea alone, or with dried Longyan and dried dates and asian almonds. And of course, ate them right out of the bag. The most disgusting use of it, is when brewed with various other herbs as Chinese medicine…ick. But its so versatile because the sweetness is subtle, and lends color to any dish.

  • helen

    i grew up with them.. they are good in soup

  • berkeley girl

    i too grew up w/ them – we call them ky tu in Vietnamese – and i would buy them from an asian supermarket or a chinese herbal medicine store, where they’re much cheaper. i thought maybe some of your readers might have a hard time imagining what type of soup one could add them too, as french soups and asian soups are totally different. b/c i’m vegetarian, i would put them in a simple tofu and greens (asian greens, like baby bok choy, napa cabbage, yau choi, spinach, etc.) in a vegetable-based broth (i usually make vegetable broth by boiling daikon, carrots, and bean sprouts). goji berries add flavor to the soup of course. when i was still a meat-eater, i remember them in chicken and hair seaweed soup. most recently, when i was in malaysia this weekend, a restaurant boiled greens in broth with goji berries.

    -berkeley girl

  • Kate

    My mother would force-feed me gao qi when I was a child, and I was never a fan of the taste (neither was she, but she believed every last ounce of its “healthful” benefits). I recently tried steeping them in water sweetened by rock sugar and adding agar to make a gao qi jelly, which I found much more palatable. And I’m sure you would be able to find them in the Chinese stores in Paris–they’re immensely popular among the Chinese.

  • http://www.estouest.blog.lemonde.fr est

    Following your post, I found some in Tesco in a nice fancy bag, but it was £9.25 for 250g! In a smaller chinese shop I found them at £1.25 for 100g but I could feel the berries were stone hard so I basically walked out of the store empty-handed… tips welcome!

  • http://www.cheeseandchoux.com Liz

    I love these! I used to buy them from a local healthfood store before it closed. I especially love them in granola, muesli, and trail mix.

    My fiance won’t eat them, so I lied and said they were cranberries.

  • http://www.cakespy.com Cakespy

    I agree with some of the above comments that maybe they’re good in some things, but certainly not alone (health benefits or not!). Although I had some Goji-flax muffins with cranberries which were pretty good recently.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/rcfl/ ruth

    thanks for your post! i have been wondering if goji berries were the same as wolfberries since they looked exactly the same! and i had no idea they could be eaten raw!

    i too grew up with these little yummy berries. my aunt used to make delicious chicken and ginseng soups with these. when i was little, i was always told they were good for the eyes, and called goji berries “ngan kong kong” (cantonese for bright eyes). another way i love them is spinach wilted in a broth with goji berries.

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com Steamy Kitchen

    My mom always used goji berries in Chinese soups and I never would have thought it would become a snack.

    Lovely Dani Spies sent me a pack that was packaged as a healthy snack. It was pretty good!

  • http://deepnavyblue.blogspot.com/ AMR

    I first bought a 300 gram bag for $18.00 (Canadian) a year ago and thought, oh dear, this is going to get expensive because I really liked them. Shortly thereafter, wandering my favourite Chinese market, I spied bags of dried Lycium fruit and thought they looked very similar to goji berries. I bought them. They were even more delicious than the ones I found at the health food store AND only $3.00 (for 350 grams).
    Lycium, wolfberries, and goji berries are all one in the same. I have tried a few different brands and they range from more sundried-tomato-like (they’re in the nightshade family) to cranberry-fruity (which I prefer).
    They do absorb liquid quickly and nicely and I use them wherever a raisin or cranberry could go. I also like them dry. Super delicious. And I can easily read words on the horizon. Ha!

  • Alisa

    Man! you are fun to read!!! …..salt-crust a chicken…. :)

  • http://circumscription.blogspot.com Will

    Given their high cost, sweet-savory quality, and pretty color, it seems like these would make a great garnish. Salad comes to mind—sounds like goji berries would go great with a mustard vinaigrette and a little shaved reggiano. Throwing them on top of guacamole for color and texture seems like another good possibility.

    If they’re good sweetened and cooked, what about in some kind of quasi-savory coulis?

  • http://circumscription.blogspot.com Will

    Sorry about the double post, but their use in flavoring broths and their low sweetness also makes me think—what about in a liqueur? This would be an expensive little experiment, but I’d love to steep some goji berries with a little orange zest in grain alcohol for a month or two, just to see what the results would be like. It sounds like they could benefit from the sugar that gets added in liqueur making, too, rather than just becoming cloying.

  • ClaraParis

    I can confirm that they’re available in the Chinatown in the 13e; I was there the other day and found them even in the smaller shops.
    I most definitely did not buy them, though- I am of the party that finds they taste awful!

  • http://www.teeteringbetween.blogspot.com sinda

    My daughter first encountered them at school (she is 7), when her teacher had them out as ingredients in a smoothie. She loved them in the smoothie, so we bought some for ours at home. I’ll have to try them in some savory dishes now, too, as well as oatmeal and scones – love the tips!

  • http://www.thesecretingredientonline.blogspot.com The Secret Ingredient

    With Thanksgiving right around the corner (for we Americans, at least!), I would use them in my whole wheat stuffing to serve alongside the turkey. My dad uses raisins, but I prefer dried cranberries—maybe this could be a new tradition!

  • http://www.hungryhostelite.blogspot.com DEe

    Will,

    in traditional chinese medicine, wolfberries are one of the many ingredients used in herbal liquers. They are steeped for ages, and bring great flavour and colour to an otherwise bitter concoction. Their sweetness is often made use of in soups, along with dried red dates. another thing is, as some readers have noted, wolfberries are definitely not high cost if you buy them at chinese grocers or medicine shops, since they are pretty much an everyday ingredient in chinese cooking.

  • Erin

    I use these quite frequently, one of my favorite uses is in my homemade granola. They are also good in mashed potatoes, salads, rice, I could go on.
    Skip trying to find them in health food stores, the price will be triple to what you will pay in an Asian market.

  • http://www.fruitcakeornuts.blogspot.com shayne

    I saw goji berries just last week and looked at them and opted to buy the dried cranberries, as always. Maybe i will try these next time I have a few $ extra in my budget.

  • serena

    I see many people have made good suggestions and added more information about goji berries. So I will just say, yes, you can get them at any Chinese herb medicine stores, and most Chinese food stores. And yes, make sure you rinse them out before using them!

  • http://lusks.livejournal.com Lynette

    These are wildly available here (Scotland) in the supermarket. Quite expensive though!

  • Dio

    I discovered them last month. We were buying supplies for a camping trip and thought “these are interesting”. The flavor didn’t do too much for me or my fiance(too mild). However, she kept eating and eating them. She was having one of the worst eye strains ever while waiting for new glasses. I wonder if her body knew what she needed better than she did.

    I’m really excited to start trying them in soups, especially with chicken soup season getting here. I’m tempted to try them as a paste with some fresh herbs in a dumpling, too. Do you think that would go well with duck?

  • Ming

    My mum usually adds them to her chicken soup (made with black chicken). I’ve also had them added to chinese veggies cooked in stock.

  • http://paintamammoth.livejournal.com katerina

    I put them in hot tea. Especially in black tea, they give a good extra spark.

  • http://wandernut-eats.blogspot.com wandernut

    I’m a Chinese Malaysian living in Malaysia, and my mom puts a handful of these dried berries in every soup she makes. Adds a lovely sweetness to the soup. Not to mention yummy to nibble on after.

    It’s also a yummy snack when mixed with pumpkin seeds (or a mixture of seeds), nuts and raisins.

  • Kat

    I purchase them in San Francisco’s Chinatown fairly cheaply ($5 per lb or so). While my mother likes to use them in savory chinese dishes, I prefer to use them in baking: they’re slightly sweet and almost a bit smokey, so they go well with autumn-themed dishes. (I recently tossed 1/2 cup into a pumpkin bread recipe, alongside crystalized ginger).

  • alandavid

    i live in Tokyo and these things are in lots of Chinese and Japanese food over here. They’re lovely :)

    I also love the name wolfberry,

  • http://nookandpantry.blogspot.com/ Amy

    Growing up my parents would always add these to their tea. I had no idea they had such amazing health benefits until they hit US stores.

  • http://www.stoons.ca/ Sue-on-the-farm

    Hi!

    Before I get side-tracked, which I promise I will in just a quick sec, I will answer your question “what would you do with [a few dried goji berries]?”. Throw a few in my morning oatmeal or add them to a poppy-seed quick bread loaf/muffin topped with a ground almond-brown sugar-butter-cream glaze or get hubby to bake some into his cherry tarts or add them to my saskatoon muffins.

    Reading the suggestion from Alex about wild rice sounds excellent and now I want some wild rice right this instant!

    I’ve just discovered your site/blog this morning and I’m enjoying it immensely! I have always been a fan of cookbooks and read them like novels, and will be looking for yours when my daughter comes home from university and we go on a girl’s shopping trip.

    What caught my eye was this line “they would be built as a riff on this time-honored recipe” … one of my all-time favourite things to do, though I’ve never heard/read it quite that way … “as a riff”. Love it!

    Granted, my years of playing in my kitchen are no where near as sophisticated as yours, nor as frequent lately, your attitued towards food resonates with me at a very deep level.

    A new fan.

  • http://www.passionaterations.com Ate-to-the-Bar

    I discovered these through a co-worker. I suspect I won’t be doing much with them, for reasons I explain here.
    But its fun to see I was onto a food fad. Thanks for the blog!

  • osage

    Another name for wolfberry/goji/lycium is matrimony vine(!).

    If you look in the various herbal books, it is a well known medicinal.

    I have grown it in my garden for many years. The berries produced by my plant are rather small, but sweet and tasty. I would encourage anyone with garden space to give it a try.

  • http://www.farmerdeville.com Farmer de Ville

    I recently (two summers back) planted a goji berry bush in my garden. So far, I’ve had lots of green leaves to show for it – still waiting on the berries. I’ve had the dried many times, interestingly earthy, mealy, and sweet. As I’ve yet to find any fresh examples here in Oregon, I’m hoping this coming summer will bring some to my bush…

    – Farmer

  • http://kenkoutravel.blog122.fc2.com/ min

    I did not know this in english. We say this Kuko in Japanese and it is good for eyes. Chinese use this for the reason for many cooking and dessert.

  • Saskia

    I found them on my favorite drugstore web page under the organic/natural foods section. I have been ‘sitting’ on the bag waiting to find something to do with them, too afraid to try them out. Yes, I have been releasing my inner chicken. But thanks for the clarity of what they are like. Now I have the nerve to be adventurous.

  • Fuuchan

    We’ve always had these little guys around the house for as long as I remember, but never once have I ever fathomed eating them out of hand or a s a dried fruit!

    I’ve always had them in savory dishes, only, particularly as a part of a medicinal herbal mix in chicken soup.

  • Bunny

    Are goji berries really the same as wolfberries? I hear they aren’t.

  • Sam Tong

    Dear Sir / Madam,

    It is known that one of the best Goji Berry origin is from Ningxia, China. We specialize in doing Ningxia Goji Berry. The Australia materials prove that our product contents the best antioxidant amony different brands in the market. It is a bad season for the Ningxia Goji Berry due to the heavy rain during the harvest time. Our company is one of the suppliers in Ningxia still having the best stock in a reasonable price.

    Please do not hesitate to contact us for any enquiry. Thank you.

    Sam Tong

  • Mary

    I have started a daily breakfast of a small bowl of granola with dried rasberries, 2 TBS of dried Goji’s, and 2TBS of raw walnut pieces. Sometimes I do milk, sometimes not. I gotta say- I feel a change- this start to the day has been a pick me up to say the least.

  • anne

    I soak them in vodka.

  • tasha

    I just found a big bag of goji berries at wal-mart for $.88. I know they are very expensive elsewhere so I was happy to find them.

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