In the US, goji berries are most commonly sold already dried, but farmers’ markets, specialty shops, and your own garden are wondrous things so you might be wondering what to do with fresh goji berries.
Goji berries are a fun, tasty addition to your smoothies, cereals, salads, and anything else you’d care to toss them in. They’re delightful and highly versatile.
So what can you do with fresh goji berries? You can dry them, can them, freeze them, and add goji berries to your meals, such as oatmeal, and as a topping for smoothie bowls.
This article will discuss a few ways to actually eat fresh goji berries, but more importantly, we’re going to help you make sure you can store them effectively in the long term so that they don’t go bad before you can eat them.
What Are Goji Berries?
If you’re walking through a bulk food section and you see some little pinkish-red berries, or possibly some wrinkly dried red berries that are smaller than raisins and definitely not cranberries, they’re quite likely to be goji berries.
Fresh goji berries, also sometimes known as wolfberries, originate in China where they have a long history of being used for medicinal purposes. Depending on ripeness, they’re a pleasing sweet and sour type of berry. The longer they’re left on the bush, the sweeter they’ll get.
This particular berry is an autumn-growing fruit and will last until after the first frost. Since they often travel quite far, they might have been picked before they were ripe, leaving them tarter than ideal.
If you can find fresh frozen berries, these will have a sweeter flavor, since they’re picked when ripe and frozen immediately. If you grow your own goji, then pick as needed when they reach your preferred sweetness.
Health Benefits of Goji Berries
One of the most interesting nutritional aspects of goji berries is that they have all 9 essential amino acids, which is unusual for plant-based food, let alone a berry.
They’re also great sources of vitamins C and A, zinc, and iron. As with most plants, they have a good amount of fiber in them and a whole array of antioxidants.
In ancient Chinese medicine, most remedies are linked to organs or specific body parts. Goji berries are thought to be good for treating issues with your kidney or liver, as well as your eyes.
In America, they’re often cited as a weight-loss tool. This is mainly because they are very nutrient-dense and low-calorie, so you can eat a lot of them, fill up nicely thanks to the fiber, and not increase your calorie count obnoxiously.
As a part of a balanced diet and lifestyle, goji berries are simply one more fantastic and tasty way to proactively boost your health and immune system by providing your body with a great selection of highly potent antioxidants.
Washing Fresh Goji Berries
All fresh produce should always be washed before you eat it and goji berries are no different. You should also wash them before you decide how you’re going to store them for long-term keeping.
If you’re going to keep some to eat them fresh, you can keep them in the fridge without washing to keep them from going mushy, but remember to wash them before you eat them.
To wash your goji berries, place them in a colander with holes small enough that you won’t lose your berries down the sink. They’re fairly hearty since they have skin like cranberry and unlike a raspberry, for example.
You can run them under cold water and use your hands to make sure they each get nice and clean.
If they’re not organic, you may want to use a produce wash to try to remove any leftover chemicals. You can also just use a mixture of white vinegar and water. Depending on how many goji berries you have to wash, you can fill a bowl with 1 cup of water and ¼ cup of white vinegar, or an equivalent ratio for your needs.
Add your goji berries and use your hands to mix them around for a minute. Then give them a good rinse under clean water to make sure you’re not left with any vinegar taste.
Pat them dry with a tea towel or paper towel before taking the next long-term storage steps
How to Freeze Goji Berries
Freezing goji berries is one of the best and easiest ways to store your fruit to give it long-lasting freshness. After they’re washed, make sure they are completely dry before you try to freeze them.
Whenever you freeze food, your most important goal is to minimize the size of the ice crystals that form and destroy the integrity of your food, so putting them in the freezer wet is one of the worst things you could do.
The more quickly you can freeze them, the better. This is also a great way to keep the ice crystals as small as possible. In order to speed up the freezing process, you’ll want each berry to freeze individually.
This is easy to do. Simply line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and spread out your goji berries in an even, single layer. Put them in your freezer like this, at the coldest setting you can.
It should only take about 30 minutes to make sure each berry is individually frozen. At this point, you can pour them all into a single freezer-safe Ziploc bag or Tupperware container. Try to remove as much air as possible to keep the possibility of developing ice crystals low.
As long as your frozen goji berries are sealed properly, they will last in your freezer for 3 months or more. It’s a good idea to label your bag or container with the date frozen so you know how long they’ve been in there.
How to Thaw Goji Berries
If you’re using frozen goji berries in a recipe for baking, you don’t have to worry about thawing them. You can add them to the recipe frozen and they’ll cook up just fine. This works just as well if you’re putting them into a sauce that is going to be cooked.
If, however, you want to eat your goji berries fresh, you can easily thaw them by just leaving them on your counter. If you spread them out evenly they’ll thaw quickly, usually within 10 minutes. If you’re thawing out an entire bag or container at once, it may take longer. It’s also a good idea to place the container in the sink while it defrosts to catch any condensation or water dripping off.
How to Dry Goji Berries
If you find goji berries at a store, they’re often dried. This is a very useful way to store and eat your berries, and if you have a fresh supply, it’s not difficult to dry or dehydrate them yourself.
One of the first steps to drying your berries is to pierce the skin on each berry first. This is a bit of a tedious task, but it speeds up the drying process and helps your berries dry more evenly.
The traditional way to dry goji berries is simply to spread them out in an even, single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let them dry.
The trick is to make sure they’re kept in a cool, dry place, preferably out of direct sunshine. If you live somewhere with a lot of humidity, this may not work well for you, as dry air is a crucial component of the drying process.
If you live somewhere where it’s still hot and dry outside, you can cover your berries with cheesecloth and put them out in the sun to speed up the process. Just make sure you check on them occasionally, keep them dry, and turn them every now and then.
Use an Oven to Dry Goji Berries
As an alternative, not to mention a quicker solution, you can dry your goji berries in your oven.
- Take your baking sheet and put it in the oven at low heat, around 150F.
- Check them every half hour or so, but it can take a few hours to get them dry enough.
- Turn them every now and then to keep them drying evenly.
- How long they take to dry will depend on how many you have on the baking sheet.
Dehydrating Goji Berries in a Dehydrator
If you have a dehydrator, you can use this to dehydrate goji berries very effectively and easily: just follow the directions that come with your model.
Dry goji berries should still be a nice bright pinkish-red color, and they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months.
Freeze Dry Goji Berries
Freeze-drying fruit is a way to remove all the moisture from your berry during the process of extremely fast and cold freezing. There are special, commercial-grade machines that accomplish this in the food industry, but you can also make it work at home with some dry ice.
You’ll need some heavy-duty rubber gloves to protect your hands and a large cooler.
- Put your fresh, clean goji berries into Ziploc bags so that they lay flat in a single layer.
- As you’re closing the bag, get out as much air as humanly possible. Double and triple-check to make sure that your bag is sealed properly.
- Place your bag(s) at the bottom of the cooler and then, making sure you’re wearing gloves and your arms are covered, cover your berries completely with dry ice.
- If you’re freeze-drying many bags of goji berries, layer them with dry ice between each layer, and then make sure there’s a good layer of dry ice on the very top.
- Leave your cooler uncovered to allow off-gassing and leave for around 24 hours.
- When there’s no more dry ice, your berries are adequately dried.
It’s still a good idea to move them out of your cooler wearing your gloves, but when they’ve returned to a normal temperature, they are safe to handle.
Once goji berries are freeze-dried, you can store them either in your freezer or your pantry. This is a very effective way to dry your berries, and they’ll store nicely for at least a year if kept sealed.
Rehydrating Goji Berries
You don’t need to rehydrate goji berries in order to eat them, but you certainly can. They’re quite tasty added dry to granola, salads, or ice cream, and they have a slightly chewy texture, almost like candy.
If you’d prefer them to be back to their almost-like-new state, you can simply soak them in a fresh bowl of water for 20 – 30 minutes before eating them.
How Can Goji Berries
If you’d like to can your goji berries, you can do so either using a boiling water method or a pressure canner. It’s quite easy, either way, though you will need proper canning jars and lids, such as Wick Jars.
Start by making sure all your berries and your jars are nice and clean. If you’re using mason jars with aluminum lids, you’ll need to warm the lids in very hot, but not boiling water.
You can preserve your berries with or without sugar.
If you’re just using water, you’ll need about 7 quarts of water in a pot.
- If you’re using sugar to help your berries retain their color, shape, and sweet flavor, you can add ¼ cup – 2 cups of sugar to your water and bring it to a boil. You’ll also want to add your preservatives, such as 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or ½ teaspoon of citric acid per quart of water.
- While your water is getting ready to boil, fill your jars with your goji berries. Tap your jars on the counter to get the berries to pack down.
When your syrup or water is boiling, fill the jars with the liquid, leaving about ½ in at the top to allow for expansion.
If you’re using aluminum lids, place the lid and ring in place and tighten. If you’re using Wick jars, you’ll need to place the rubber seal and then fit your lid on with the clamps to hold it in place while it’s in the canner.
Using jar tongs, place your jars of berries either in a boiling water bath or a pressure canner. If you’re using a boiling water bath, you’ll leave the jars for 15 minutes if they’re pint-sized and 20 minutes if they’re quart-sized.
If you’ve got a pressure canner, they’ll only need 8 – 10 minutes respectively.
Using your tongs again, you can remove your jars when they’re done. Place them on a cooling rack until they’re cooled and then store them in your pantry for up to 2 years.
You can make sure they are sealed properly by pressing aluminum lids in the center, making sure it doesn’t pop up and down. If it does, it didn’t seal properly.
If you’ve got Wick jars, you can try to lift the lid. It should be stuck down tight, only being unsealed by pulling the rubber tab.
Other Options for Storing Goji Berries
If you think you’ll be eating your goji berries within the week, you can store them in an uncovered bowl on your counter, out of direct sunlight for a day or two, or you can keep them in an airtight container in your fridge for up to a week.
If you’re refrigerating, place a piece of paper towel between layers of goji berries to keep them dry and prevent them from squishing and sticking to each other. It’s really important that they are kept in a sealed container or Ziploc bag because exposure to fridge air will make them expire quicker.
How to Use Goji Berries
Goji berries can be used in many ways! One of the most traditional ways to enjoy them is to simply place a small handful in a cup with boiling water and make tea out of them.
You can also add them to any breakfast choice, from cereal to oatmeal to pancakes. You can sprinkle them into your salads for lunch and mix them into your savory rice and grain dishes for dinner. Of course, you can bake with them as well, using them much like raisins in your recipes.
They also make great additions to condiments like salsas, salad dressings, and sweet syrups.