How to Select a High Quality Goji Berry

Lycium barbarum is the genus and species (Latin Name) for the true goji berry. This berry predominantly grows in an area referred to as the "goji belt" which is located in northern China and flows into some mountainous areas of Tibet. Nature does not recognize political boundaries so the actual country is not as important as the soil and climate conditions.

In other areas of China a very similar berry called Lycium chinensis is also grown. The nutritional benefits of Lycium barbarum are believed to be superior to the Lycium chinensis.

Wilderness Family Naturals' Organic Goji Berries currently come from Ningxia China. According to Dr. Earl Mindell, R.Ph. M.H., Ph.D. there were three areas where he found the highest quality goji berries. He based his conclusions on research using an FT-IR spectrometer. An FT-IR uses light waves to excite bonded atoms coupled with highly sophisticated mathematical formulas. This results in a "fingerprint" of the organic molecules found in each substance. Dr. Mindell collected goji berries from well-known goji growing regions in Asia: Ningxia, Xinjiang, Gansu, Tianjin Shi, Qinghai, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, and Tibet.

Using the FT-IR they found one group of nutrients that set a few of the regions apart from the rest. All the goji berries had high amounts of carotenoids and antioxidants. In addition, they all had high levels of vitamin C and beta carotene. But a few of the regions had goji berries that also contained large amounts of bioactive polysaccharides, also called proteoglycans.

Proteoglycans are a family of complex carbohydrates that are bound to proteins. They are produced by this plant as a defense mechanism. It is believed by researchers that goji berries are one of the richest sources of glyconutrients.

Dr. Mindell also found that growing seasons with less sunlight or rainfall and years with abnormally low summer temperatures yielded less glyconutrients. Conversely, no matter what area they came from, exceptional growing seasons yielded higher amounts of glyconutrients. However, Dr. Earl Mindell found that the berries in Ningxia and Xinjiang consistently had the highest levels of glyconutrients each year. In Ningxia and Xinjiang glyconutrients were always present, regardless of the growing season. The FT-IR peaks representing the glyconutrients did vary depending on the growing season. After extensive research, it was his opinion that it was the combination of unusually alkaline soil (pH 8.2-8.6) and extreme temperature fluctuations (from 102 to -16 degrees F) along with adequate rainfall that produced the berries with the highest glyconutrients.

Goji berries sold out of the "goji belt" are available in 4 grades. These 4 grades are "super", "king", "special", and "grade A". The most expensive and the largest are the "super" grade. "Super" grade berries are 41% more expensive than "grade A". To be classified as this size there are approximately 240 berries per 50 grams. By contrast there are approximately 480 grade A berries per 50 grams. The largest berries are produced by the longest established bushes/vines. The longer established the bushes, the better quality the berry. This is very much like grapes used to make wine.

Optimal dryness for our berries yields approximately 10.0% moisture content. This ensures a tasty, ready to eat berry with a long shelf life. Goji berries are harvested during a six week period in the fall with a short, much smaller harvest season in July preceding it to catch the early berries. These berries must be dry enough to preserve them until the next harvest a year later.

Prior to selecting our producer we sampled goji berries from a number of suppliers. Since that time we have sampled even more. Originally, the berries from most companies in the US had higher moisture contents and began to taste fermented as the year progressed so that by August I could find no moist plump goji berries that did not taste fermented. By contrast, the drier berries, like as the ones sold by WFN, after 2 years of storage, still did not taste fermented. This is the sole reason we have chosen drier berries. They readily plump up when soaked in water and can be blended into a goji puree easily. They also soften quickly when put into soups or cooked cereal (like oatmeal), yet they store very well. However, even though there is so much you can do with goji berries, most people in the US just eat them as they are, as a dried fruit snack right out of the bag.