Located in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in north-central China,also called Lycium barbarum,Wolfberry. the county of Zhongning is considered to be the birthplace of thegoji berry. The earliest record of the goji berry dates back about 4,000 years ago to the Xia Dynasty. According to a book on the berries titled Lycium Barbarum and Human Health, gojis grown in Zhongning have the highest content of flavonoids than goji berries grown anywhere else in the world. It is said the large temperature difference between day and night and the rich soil are the reasons why they've become so prized.
For the people in Zhongning, it's something to be proud of. The antioxidant-rich goji has long been touted as the ultimate superfood. Praised for its purported immune-boosting and vitality-enhancing properties, it's an easy product to market to the masses.
In the markets, goji berryare found sun-dried and dehydrated, which renders them slightly more tart than their fresh counterparts. Cooks will stew them with meats like chicken and duck; it's great for deep and dark medicinal broths. Goji is also a common ingredient in Chinese herbal teas, usually served with dates, dried longan fruit, ginseng root, green tea leaves, and citrus. The ubiquitous ingredient can be found in a wide range of dishes, from savory to sweet.
Zhongning is the epicenter of the goji production and it rakes in a total of $232 million USD annually, according to a 2011 report by The Epoch Times. Approximately 3,500 tons of those berries (about 60 percent of the yearly haul) are shipped to more than 30 countries and generate more than $30 million USD. In 2013, the goji cultivation area in Zhongning grew to about 32,000 acres.
I am given a cup of goji leaf tea; it has a distinctly bitter taste. They say that the tea has all the antioxidant benefits of the berry.While sipping tea in the store, I notice all the other goji products on the shelves. There's goji candy, goji wine, goji honey, and goji beer. It's an endless stock of berry products.
In most restaurants and stores across China, gojis are but an afterthought, occasionally sprinkled on dishes for color and just a smidge of extra flavor. But at Zhongning, goji berries are a lifeline. The county is loud and proud about its main export. Nearly every block has a goji store. The streets are flooded with berry paraphernalia and painted on select walls are cartoonish goji mascots with silly faces, waving at the locals—a constant reminder that in Zhongning, the goji berry is an inescapable and honorable part of daily life.