Dried goji berries are a commercially available food product, derived from the fruit of a plant commonly referred to as wolfberry. The plant is native to Asia and parts of southeastern Europe, and produces many small edible red berries. Wolfberries are often marketed as a superfruit, referring to their high nutrient value, antioxidant content, and good taste. Outside of the production region of the fruit, the dried form is usually the most common way that they are sold and consumed.
The wolfberry is actually a name that refers to two closely related plants most commonly found in China and the Himalaya region. The species are deciduous woody perennial plants, with the scientific names of Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. They are both species of boxthorn from the family Solanaceae, which includes other foods such as potato, tomato, and eggplant. The plants average one to three meters in height and produce orange or red berries about .4 to .8 inches (1 to 2 cm) across.
One of the primary marketing claims of dried goji berries is in the nutritional benefits of the fruit. Wolfberry contains a substantial percentage of the daily recommendation for macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. The fruit also seems to have a high content of vitamins, especially Vitamin C. Dried goji berries may contain as many as 19 amino acids and six essential fatty acids as well. The product is believed to contain many antioxidants, mainly carotenoids such as zeaxanthin and beta-carotene.
Claims about the health benefits of dried goji berries are far reaching; however, the scientific evidence to back them up is more limited. Proponents link the fruit to improved immune function, reduced visual impairment, weight loss, and even cancer prevention. There are also some who believe that the fruits can improve male virility and potency. General health and longevity of life seem to be the most commonly proposed benefits. Although many of these effects may be true, they are difficult to prove conclusively in laboratory testing.
There are many popular methods of consuming the fruits from the wolfberry plant. In the regions they are grown, they are often ingested in their original form right from the plant. Some people also enjoy making them into a juice or as an addition to herbal tea. The dried fruits also make an adequate snack on their own, although some people find the taste rather sweet for their preference. For this reason, dried goji berries are often used as an accompaniment to other foods such as cereal, yogurt, and salad.