Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wolfberry myths and truths

Now that it's wolfberry season and I have more of the things than I know what to do with, I've been poking about online for ideas. I remember reading that they mustn't be touched, so I checked that out.

If you Google wolfberry oxidize black, you get a whole bunch of sites that say,
"Wolfberries grow in protected valleys of Inner Mongolia and Tibet. The berries are never touched by hand; they will oxidize and turn black if touched while fresh. Harvesters shake the large bushes so that the ripe berries fall onto mats, where they are then dried in the shade."
This contains 4 utter falsehoods. If you have a site that repeats this nonsense, shame on you.

If any wolfberries actually grow in Mongolia or Tibet, they don't grow in sufficient quantities to ship in significant volumes to anywhere else. (Just imagine how expensive they would be, carried from their secluded valleys.) Wolfberries have to be picked by hand since they don't fall off the bushes, which isn't a problem since they don't oxidize when touched, let alone turn black. They have a robust outer skin like that of a tomato. Wolfberries are dried either in the sun, or in enclosed dryers. There's plenty of evidence available online. I've touched my berries extensively, with clean hands and with dirty hands, and they don't turn black, ever. Wolfberries are also not fertilized with unicorn manure in a midnight ceremony involving the sacrifice of a phoenix.

The fresh berry in my hand has been touched repeatedly.
The dried berries from the packet must have been bigger when fresh.

The ones I dried weren't any more pleasant in their dessicated state than their fresh state. Their marginal sweetness and strong bitterness were both enhanced, with the bitterness winning out completely. So I decided to try some from China. All I could find was a small packet of S&B dried 'kuko no mi' for 130 yen. Eaten directly from the packet, they're very chewy, slightly sweet, and slightly bitter. Not wonderful at all. After soaking, they're reasonably palatable and might plausibly make a positive addition to food. So the next thing to do is to try following some recipes that feature them.

Washed and touched berries. Still bright red.
Dried berries from China soaking in water.

And also, since they seem so popular in China where they grow, I assume they must have some better varieties so I'm going to try potting the seeds from the dried wolfberries. The soaked berries are larger than my biggest ones, so I hope to grow a plant that produces bigger fruit, assuming it's happy with the conditions in my garden.

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