Do Goji Berries Live Up to the Hype?

Strip away the marketing hyperbole attached to goji berries and you’re left with a food that is highly nutritious and adds interest to many recipes. They also make a handy snack and delicious tea.

Wild rice with vegetables, butternut squash and goji.
David Bachar

A few weeks ago in my Hebrew column I enthused over chia seeds, which have quickly made the leap from specialty shops to the big spice dealers, and from culinary obscurity to home kitchens and restaurants. Then it was pointed out to me, and rightly so, that goji berries have made an equally big splash, and are now enjoyed and grown by many people, including in private gardens.

Like many of the foods that are marketed as having wondrous attributes, goji seeds came from afar – from China, Mongolia and the Himalayas. In one legend, it is said that a Chinese man ate goji berries every day and lived for more than 250 years, from the 17th until the 20th century. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to sellers who advertised goji berries as having medicinal properties. A class action suit was also filed against goji sellers for false advertising.

Still, many people, including the world-renowned vegan guru David Wolfe, rave about goji berries, which are said to have more antioxidants than blueberries, more beta-Carotene than carrots, to boost testosterone levels, protect against Alzheimer’s, improve the figure and much more. Looking at just a few of the websites that sing the praises of these berries makes one wonder how the cosmetics industry manages to compete with this fruit, which promises to eliminate all skin blemishes, including those caused by aging.

Like many others who recommend the magic berries, Wolfe also sells them on his website – in natural form, as well as in drops, capsules and combined with chocolate.

An acquired taste

Mango, cherry and goji sorbet.
David Bachar

While many apparently believe in the wonders of the goji berry, the more skeptical say that while the berries are rich in healthful phytochemicals, to describe them as a miracle cure for everything from obesity to impotence is an exaggeration and a cynical marketing ploy.

Bottom line, like many other things touted as superfoods, goji berries are probably being overhyped. One should always strive to maintain a varied diet that includes fresh foods in an array of colors. Every fruit and vegetable has its own healthful properties. If goji berries appeal to you, add them to your regular diet alongside the more familiar fruits and vegetables.

The taste of goji berries is a little strange at first, but it definitely grows on you. There are some foods, like some people and songs, that don’t impress you that much when you first encounter them, but then gradually work their magic on you.

One big advantage of the goji berry is its high nutritional value relative to its small size, and the level of satiety it provides. Unlike the tiny chia seeds that cannot be eaten alone just as they are, goji berries make an ideal snack for hikes, work or school. And another thing that goji berries have going for them: they can be used to make a wonderful tea. Just put 10-20 berries in a cup of boiling water, wait a few minutes and you’ve got a delicious and subtly sweet beverage. They also enhance the flavor of other herbal infusions, including those that are somewhat bitter. In short: These little berries pack a big punch.

Once you’ve acquired the taste, there’s no end to what you can do with them. They will improve any granola or dessert; they go well with most salads and with many rice dishes. They also make a great addition to shakes and pastries.

A plate of squash and goji salad.
David Bachar

Wild rice with vegetables, butternut squash and goji

Ingredients:

1 cup wild rice, soaked

in cold water for two hours

1 ½ cups boiling water

1 cup diced butternut squash

6 medium celery stalks

2 medium kale leaves,

chopped

10 basil leaves, chopped

1/3 cup goji berries

1 tsp crushed cilantro seeds

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp coconut oil

olive oil

Cook the rice until tender. Heat the coconut oil in a skillet. Add the squash and celery and sauté for a few minutes. Cover the skillet and simmer for five more minutes. Uncover the skillet and add the kale, basil, goji berries and seasonings. Sauté for another two minutes and turn off heat. Combine the contents of the skillet with the rice. Add a little olive oil and check the seasoning.

Squash and goji salad

Ingredients:

½ acorn squash, peeled and

finely grated

1 cup butternut squash,

finely grated

300 gr orange melon,

finely grated

¾ cup cooked wild rice

10 basil leaves, chopped

10 mint leaves, chopped

½ hot green pepper, chopped

1/3 cup goji berries

freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tbsp olive oil

salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Mango, cherry and goji sorbet

Ingredients:

1 mango, sliced and frozen

1 frozen banana, sliced

¾ cup frozen cherries

1/3 cup goji berries

2 slices dried pineapple

2 dates

1/3 cup coconut milk

Combine all the ingredients in a blender until the texture is smooth. Garnish with slivers of cocoa beans and coconut if desired.