03 Jan 2022

Goji: from wolfberry to nutraceutical star

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The market for goji berries exploded in 2014, when large retailers also jumped on the product, promoting mainly dried berries from China. It is a fruit that initially raised hopes of rapid growth and therefore an interesting potential for producers, but today it is struggling to break out of the nutraceutical niche and no longer represents a culture that attracts significant new investment. Goji can be likened to a 'luxury good' that is approached by desire rather than necessity.

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Goji plants produce an orange-red, ellipsoidal berry about 2 cm long that is both sweet and spicy and have been an important part of traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years due to its medicinal properties and chemical composition. It was Chinese farmers who discovered these berries when they observed wolves eating them. This is why they are also known as 'wolfberries'. The extended Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes, aubergines and potatoes, also includes these berries.

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Dried goji berries

Lyciumbarbarum and Lycium chinense originate in Asia, in fact in terms of trade volumes, we find in first place China, which in the regions of Xinjiang, Shaanxi, Gansu, Habei, Inner Mongolia, but also Japan, Korea and Taiwan reaches a production of 95,000 tonnes/year from 82,000 hectares of cultivated land.

Remaining on the national territory, fresh goji is cultivated from Alto Adige to Calabria: in Tuscany we find Bio Fattorie Tosc ane in Val di Chiana Aretina and Toscana GojiNatural Goji in Fondi, in the province of Latina, which offers the possibility to buy the plants as well as the fresh berries; Suedtirol Goji which cultivates the solanaceae in Valle dei Molini in Alto Adige, Italgoji in Villareggia (TO), in Canavese. There is also the Lykion business network, which brings together some 30 companies from Calabria and there is even a Goji Italia Consortium, specialising in the supply of plants and fertilisers.

In terms of yield, an investment of 30,000 euros per hectare required for cultivation corresponds to a selling price to the consumer of around 20 euros per kilo.

This species has recently been considered a functional food due to its antioxidant, hypoglycaemic and anti-tumour properties: several studies have been carried out on the goji polysaccharide complex and found beneficial effects in relation to lowering blood glucose levels and the impact of total cholesterol (LDL and HDL) and triglycerides. These berries are therefore able to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, regulate blood glucose levels and control hormonal balance. They are also an excellent ally for controlling body weight and slowing down the ageing process.

Initially, 'wolfberries' attracted intense attention, leading to a rapid growth in consumption for their documented nutraceutical value: they are traditionally cooked or dried before consumption, used as herbal teas, or in combination with both meat and vegetarian dishes. They are traditionally cooked or dried before consumption, used as herbal teas, or paired with both meat and vegetarian dishes. In addition, goji berries are used for juice production, mixed in yoghurt with other fruits, as the basis of energy bars, herbal teas, jams and smoothies.

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Culturally, this species has limited requirements: it adapts to different types of soil and does not have high water needs, preferring sunny areas and well-drained soils. Although they are classified as niche products, their beneficial qualities have meant that their consumption has gone beyond seasonal limits and demand has grown for domestic and industrial use, as well as by pharmaceutical companies and especially food supplement companies.

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