Goji Berries: Explore the Ancient Superfruit

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(HealthCastle.com) Goji berry, also known as wolfberry or gǒu qǐ zǐ (寧夏枸杞子), has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.  Although marketers often promote it as Tibetan or Himalayan goji berries, the majority of the goji berries are grown and produced in Ningxia and Xinjiang (Northern) regions in China.  Because of the premium quality, Ningxia goji berry is recognized as the superior-grade product that is uniquely used by practitioners for therapeutic purposes.  

These bright orange-red ellipsoid berries ripen from July to October and are picked carefully from the vine onto trays to avoid spoilage.  The fruits are then preserved by drying them under the sun on trays or they go through a mechanical dehydration process for about 48 hours before packaging and shipping around the world.   

The Benefits of Goji Berries

Since the early 21st Century, the goji berry has been considered as "super fruit" by the Western countries for their high nutrients and the high content of antioxidants to keep us healthy.  Some of the "claimed" benefits include:

  • improving vision
  • promoting longevity
  • maintaining healthy blood pressure and blood sugar level 
  • strengthening the function of kidney, liver and heart
  • relieving anxiety and stress
  • maintaining healthy immune system  

When it comes to measuring the values of antioxidants in food, the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capcity (ORAC) unit is used to identify the free-radical-destroying ability of an individual food.  The higher the ORAC unit, the greater the ability to destroy the free radicals that attack our body.  Although there is a lack of Canadian information about the daily requirement intake of antioxidants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends having a minimum of 3000 - 5000 units per day.  The following table shows the antioxidant potential of a variety of food:  

Fruits (per 100 g) ORAC Score
Goji Berries 25,300
Prunes 5,770
Raisins 2,830
Blueberries 2,400
Red Raspberries 2,400
Blackberries 2,400
Strawberries 1,540
Oranges 750
Red Grapes 739
Apple 218
Banana 210

*Source: http://www.purehealingfoods.com

Other than antioxidants, goji berries are also a good source of Vitamin B, protein, essential fatty acids, iron, zinc and potassium.  Because of it's high content of Vitamin A and C, only 3 grams (about 1 tablespoon) of dried berries is enough for your daily Vitamin A requirement and is equivalent to the Vitamin C content of three oranges!  

The Use of Goji Berries

In Eastern cuisine, goji berries can be used in almost every course of a meal.  Traditionally, they will be rinsed with water before cooking.  One of the most popular ways to use goji berries is to add to clear soup together with meat and/or vegetables to give a slight sweet flavor to the soup.  Often, you will see goji berries in stir-fries and steamed meat dishes.  The vibrant orange-red color not only gives a great visual impact to the dish, it also has high level of Lutein and Zeaxanthin to keep eyes bright and improve vision.  Let's not forget desserts - Goji Berries and Longan Jelly or Goji Berries and Osmanthus Jelly are very popular, especially in Summer.  If all the above ideas are too time consuming for you, try the goji berries tea by adding a teaspoon of berries and honey to two cups of hot water in a thermos cup for 10 minutes.    

Since the benefits of goji berries have started to get more Western media attention, the ways to use them have expanded rapidly - blend in smoothies, mix in cereal, add to granola mix to make snack bars, eat as a dried fruit snack or sprinkle on salad.  

Take Home Message

Different forms of goji berries products are now available in supermarket with many health claims.   Consumers should be wary about the information on the package and always read the nutrition labels and ingredient lists before making a decision as some of the products are relatively pricey.  Despite the "claimed" health benefits of goji berries, there is a  minimal clinical research on their effect on humans.  But this doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy goji berries in moderation and have them as part of your balanced diet.

 

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