Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth while staying healthy? Get the best of both worlds with the goji, a low-calorie superfruit.
Slowly but surely, goji berries have been popping up in your smoothies, trail mixes, yogurts and even acai bowls. These small red berries—also known as wolfberries and scientifically as Lycium barbarum—closely resemble raisins when dried and are similarly munchable. They’re usually cooked before being eaten, and they’re often used in Chinese soups and herbal teas. While most commonly found in Asia, these bright berries have in recent years been making their way into Western countries, where they’re marketed as a “superfruit.”
Newfangled? Nope. Goji berries have been used for at least 1,800 years as a medicinal herb and food supplement in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, and an ancient Chinese legend from the Tang Dynasty (618–907 A.D.) told of their remarkable youth-preserving properties.
Goji’s newly on the go in the U.S., though. Actress and Tenafly native Lea Michele, best known for her role on the hit TV show Glee, touts dried goji berries as her grab-and-go snack. “Goji berries may not sound like the most delicious thing, but I found myself becoming addicted to them,” Michele told US Weekly in 2018. With their rich, sweet taste and a long list of purported health benefits, it is no wonder they have worked their way onto supermarket shelves and into the diets of many.
Berries in general are known to be rich in antioxidants. Enthusiasts of the goji berry claim that it has anti-aging, anti-cancer and anti-inflammation properties, and that it helps stabilize blood sugar, fight depression, boost the immune system, protect vision, prevent liver damage, enhance sleep and promote liveliness in the bedroom. A website of the U.S. National Library of Medicine is more restrained, noting that the fruit has long been used to treat diabetes, promote weight loss and enhance quality of life, but, despite some promising early studies, these uses have yet to be definitively supported by Western medical research. Still, there seems little dispute that, at a slender 100 calories per ounce, this antioxidant powerhouse is a good source of essential amino acids, dietary fiber and vitamin A.
Beyond strictly physical health, some research suggests that goji berries can help with overall well-being. One study compared people who drank goji berry juice for 14 days with a group that didn’t, and the juice-drinkers reported increases in energy levels, quality of sleep, calmness, athletic performance and feelings of happiness.
Goji berries have also been lauded for their ability to help lower blood sugar, alleviate insulin resistance and improve and recover cells that produce insulin. If you take medication to help with your blood sugar or blood pressure, however, speak with your doctor before incorporating them into your diet.
Most supermarkets and health stores sell these berries dried, both prepackaged and in the bulk section. (Fresh goji berries are harder to come by in the U.S.) When purchasing dried goji berries, check the label and avoid any added sugars or preservatives such as sulfur dioxide, sometimes used to help fruit maintain its color. If dried berries aren’t your thing, goji berry powder is also popular and can be the basis of smoothies, juice or tea.
Storing dried goji berries is as simple as keeping them in your pantry. Most will stay good for about a year, though brands with extra preservatives may have a longer shelf life. Experts suggest keeping the berries away from any moisture to avoid clumping.
Goji berries can be eaten in varied ways. Throwing them into salads, cereals and yogurts is a great way to liven up a familiar dish. If you want to take your goji berry game to the next level, some connoisseurs recommend cooking pork or turkey using goji berries to add extra flavor. However you choose to eat them, these beneficial berries bring a lot to the table.