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Goji Berries: A Health Trend With Deep Roots


Source : http://www.boston.com

By DEVRA FIRST
THE BOSTON GLOBE

Peruse the shelves of a grocery store and you will find cereal that contains goji berries, energy drinks made from goji berries, goji berry supplements and straight-up bags of goji berries. Shriveled and small, the pink of pencil erasers, goji has been anointed a "superfood," one in a line of fruits touted for their health-boosting powers: the acai berry, the pomegranate, the mangosteen, Tahitian noni. It has a sweet-tart flavor, like a golden raisin crossed with a rosehip and steeped in hibiscus tea. Goji berries can be eaten out of hand like hard, leathery raisins or used in baking, as you would dried cranberries.

Google "goji" and you'll find the fruit praised, often by people who are selling it, as a weight-loss aid, cancer fighter and "the most nutritionally dense food on the planet." Dr. Mehmet Oz recommended the berries as a good source of antioxidants to Ben Gordon of the Chicago Bulls on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." "They're the most potent antioxidant fruit that we know," he said. Quick to see marketing opportunities, companies from Bear Naked to Anheuser-Busch to Smashbox Cosmetics have included them in their products.

But goji berries are more than a trend. Today's yogurt-and-granola topper has a long history in Chinese medicine and cuisine. You'll find them at Asian grocery stores and herb shops, often for much less than in the natural food aisle.
"They're a very good tonic for the kidneys and liver and for diabetes," says Chinese food expert Fuchsia Dunlop, author most recently of "Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China." "You see them sometimes in soups where meat or poultry is cooked very plainly with tonic ingredients including goji berries."

They often are included in the rice porridge congee, steeped in alcohol to make medicinal wine, and combined with ingredients such as chrysanthemum to make tea, she says. "And because they're so colorful and beautiful, they're used to give color to white food or as a garnish with dim sum." You can eat the plant's leaves, too; they are small and have a similar texture to spinach.
At Little Q Hot Pot Restaurant in Quincy, Mass., goji -- also called wolfberry, Lycium barbarum and boxthorn -- is a frequent ingredient. Customers cook raw meat, seafood, vegetables and tofu in bubbling pots of soup laden with herbs and aromatics. "We use wolfberry for most of the broths," says manager Ming Zhu. "Sometimes we use them in rice and noodles also."

Zhu grew up eating goji berries. "Most Chinese people know it's healthy and good for your eyes," he says. "It makes your eyes brighter, that's what we're taught as a child." His father would make wine with goji berries and snake gallbladder, another ingredient that's said to promote optic health.
Each morning Zhu eats a spoonful of the fruit, steamed to soften it. "Just straight. Before I eat my breakfast, I have vitamins and a spoonful of wolfberry. I've been doing it for tens of years. I haven't done any scientific research, but I have very good vision." But goji shouldn't be viewed as a miracle ingredient, in the way that it's sometimes marketed, Dunlop says. "I'm quite skeptical of the idea that you should eat lots of those. I would rather take them as part of a very rich food culture," she says. "Food is medicine in China; everything has medicinal value. People have a very good sense of a holistic diet, adjusted to take into account the weather or how you're feeling.
"Identifying one thing and eating lots of it to cure something -- I think people in China would think that very bizarre.

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