If you’re a South African, it may be none of the above. Rather, there’s a good chance it’s the Cape gooseberry you think of first.
That’s what they call this small little yellow-colored fruit. Even though the plant is native to a different continent – South America – it has been heavily cultivated for some 200 years in the Cape Peninsula of South Africa. It thrives in the Mediterranean climate there and in turn, has become the de facto favorite of the region.
The photo you see above was taken by one of us at a bed and breakfast in Nelspruit, which is adjacent to Kruger National Park. This antioxidant-rich breakfast was the right start for the day. You too can experience this superfood, regardless of where in the world you live.
What is a golden berry?
Reportedly native to Peru or Chile, this perennial bush grows 2 to 3 feet in height. The berries it produces have a unique sweet and sour flavor. The other parts of the plant are not edible and actually poisonous. The USDA gives the plant a 7 to 10 hardiness rating, which means it can tolerate light frosts, though it grows best in warmer, coastal environments.
You can read more about its history and how to grow it in Fruits of Warm Climates.
The scientific name for it is Physalis peruviana and in the UK, the common name for it is the same word as its genus; physalis. Calling them golden berries is mostly done in the US. Peruvian groundcherry (or just groundcherries), Cape and poha berries are more commonly used identifiers throughout much of the world.
Some superfood companies call them the Inca berry or Incan berries as an ode to ancient empire in pre-Columbian America. A clever nickname, but don’t be fooled by any marketing which implies it’s something different and only “similar to” the Cape gooseberry (as we see one company claiming). What they call an Inca berry is the same Physalis peruviana species.
Like tomatoes, eggplants, and white potatoes, this fruit is a member of the Solanaceae family, more commonly known as nightshades.
Don’t be misled by those who say nightshades are bad for you. That thinking stemmed from the discovery of lectins, as they were first discovered in potatoes. But it was eventually discovered that lectins are in every food and living organism; plants, animals, and everything in-between. If it was once alive, it contains lectins.
Much of the macrobiotic movement never caught on to that updated science and in turn, they are still holding onto the belief that nightshades are unhealthy because they contain lectins. Well, here are the facts about nightshade plants and vegetables. Aside from the high amount of carbs in potatoes, this family of food is generally quite good for you.
Be careful because many sources cite the information by volume – e.g. one pint or quart of the berries.
That data is helpful in Africa, Europe, and elsewhere where they often eat them fresh. But in the United States, it’s almost impossible to buy fresh golden berries (more on where to find them below). Almost all of our consumption in this country is in the dried form and hence, why the following data is for that version.
|Serving Size: 1 ounce (28g)|
|Calories From Fat||0|
|% Daily Value*||% Daily Value|
|Total Fat 0g||0%||Vitamin A||25%|
|Trans Fat 0g||Vitamin C||20%|
|Total Carbs. 17g||6%||Iron||6%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||24%|
|*Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet
Source: Navitas Naturals
What are they good for?
The health benefits of golden berries extend beyond the typical ones you would expect, like high vitamin C, fiber, and so forth. Yes they have those things too – but in addition – they may offer advantages you won’t get with blueberries, strawberries, and all the other popular types grown in North America.
The biggest may be the withanolides they contain.
Primarily found in nightshades, withanolides are a type of plant steroid which you won’t find in many common foods. Or at least in sizeable amounts. A few exotic superfoods do contain high amounts though.
For example, new research suggests that the anti-cancer and reproductive health benefits of ashwagandha root – which is an ancient remedy in Ayurvedic medicine – are probably due to its withaferin A content (1).
In the world of berries, you will find withanolides in golden and goji.
So why should you care about this class of compounds? Here are a few good reasons, though please keep in mind these findings are preliminary and this food should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
1. Potent anti-inflammatory
In 1995, the fruit’s first withanolide was discovered; withaperuvin-E (2).
In 2016, three new types of withanolides were discovered in it. Those were in addition to the seven types scientists already found during the past two decades. In the lab, these compounds demonstrate potent anti-inflammatory activity (3).
Perhaps this is the reason why some people with arthritis, muscular pains, and gout report relief when they eat them regularly. In Columbia, it’s been long used as a purported herbal remedy for various ailments involving inflammation (4).
2. Cancer research
Several type of these withanolides have been studied in lab for their believed anti-cancer characteristics.
Using tumor models – which are basically human cancer cells grown in specialized mice – scientists at Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research found that withanolide E induced apoptosis (programmed cell death in the tumors). The models were human renal carcinoma cells AKA kidney cancer (5).
In the chart, WE = withanolide E derived from the fruit. Drozi = drozitumab, which was an antibody medication previously researched for malignant cancers.
As you see in the chart above, the withanolide E actually performed better than the drozitumab. When combined, they had a synergistic benefit.
When it was being tested for non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, drozitumab never made it past the phase-II clinical trials (6). The drug was shelved in 2007, because it didn’t seem to work well enough. One has to wonder if the outcome might have been different, if they had combined the treatment with withanolide E?
How withanolide E works, at least according to the 2015 study by Frederick Labs, is because it “sensitizes renal carcinoma cells” to apoptosis, by signaling a decline in the levels of cFLIP proteins within the cells.
The aggressive MCF-7 breast cancer cell line has also been studied and the researchers claimed the withanolide E (11):
“…significantly reduce the sizes of the tumor nodules in the human breast cancer MDA-MB231 xenograft tumor model”
To reiterate, these are all preliminary lab studies involving animals, not humans. There have been no studies involving people. Golden berries should not be misconstrued as being a cancer preventive method or treatment.
A lot more research is needed to know what benefits these compounds might offer humans, if any. Also, keep in mind that some studies derived the withanolide E from the stems and leaves rather than the fruit.
3. Reproductive health
For fresh Cape gooseberries, their ORAC value – a measure of their antioxidant activity – measures as being 3,874. That’s actually higher than fresh goji (3,290) and almost as good as fresh blueberry (4,669).
Yet this next piece of research suggests that the golden berry may offer additional antioxidant benefits, by possibly boosting the body’s ability to make more of the internally created antioxidants (superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase, and catalase).
Though keep in mind this is just one study. It was published in 2016 and involved animals, not humans.
Using a weekly dosage of carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), researchers inflicted testicular toxicity on rats (12). Over a period of 12 weeks, this caused a “significant decrease” in their blood levels of sex hormones; testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone.
The rats who were also given a golden berry juice supplement demonstrated the following:
- Decline in sex hormones was less.
- Deformities in spermatogenesis were lower.
- Testicular activity of the rats’ natural antioxidant defenses was higher.
These finding are what led them to conclude:
“The results clearly demonstrate that P. peruviana juice augments the antioxidants defense mechanism against CCl4-induced reproductive toxicity and provides evidence that the juice may have a therapeutic role in free radical-mediated diseases and infertility.”
Neither Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine have touted this fruit for having sexual libido or fertility boosting properties. It will be interesting to see whether or not future research concurs with these findings. Who knows, it might turn out to be a testosterone booster but for now, claims like that are unproven.
4. IBD and colitis
This is only an animal study (4). The benefit can’t yet be claimed in humans, but hopefully someday soon we will find out if it can help people who have an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.
Using an acid which was administered through their rectum, colitis was inflicted on rats. Some of these rats had their diet supplemented with a berry extract.
After examining the colon tissue for both groups of rats, it was found that the group getting the fruit had a “significant improvement” in markers associated with colitis, such as MUC2 up-regulation and down-regulation of COX-2 and similar enzymes.
Their conclusion was this:
“The Physalis peruviana extract showed intestinal anti-inflammatory activity in the TNBS-induced colitis model, placing this species’ calyx, a natural derivative, as a promising source of metabolites that could be used in treatment for inflammatory bowel disease.”
Liver, kidney, hematological (blood) toxicity has not been detected in animal studies, even when very high amounts of the berry were eaten (13). Nor has it been found to be genotoxic.
While it is theoretically possible to be allergic to any food, documentation of a Cape gooseberry allergy is not found in published medical literature on PubMed.
The most likely side effect of eating golden berries in humans would probably be related to its high fiber content. Each a 1 ounce serving contains 6 grams of fiber, which is 24% of your daily value.
While that normally would be a good thing, for those with gastrointestinal motility issues, it is possible to eat too much fiber. Consuming a lot at once can lead to stomach cramps, bloating, and intestinal blockage. However for healthy individuals, those side effects are very unlikely, even if several servings were consumed at once.
In fact, its high fiber content may be why some claim to have weight loss with regular consumption of this fruit. As part of a balanced diet, healthy fiber intake can help you feel satisfied longer after eating a meal or snack.
Several years ago as part of a piece on The Dr. Oz Show titled How To Blast Fat After 40, the number one so-called “belly blaster” on his list was the goldenberry. Though the reason cited was not fiber content, but rather “being rich in B complex vitamins” (14).
Being that no human weight loss studies have taken place involving this food, we feel it’s totally premature to claim it helps you with belly fat. Though if it does, losing weight may be an undesired effect for some people.
Where to buy?
Living in America offers many opportunities for your health. Unfortunately, this fresh fruit isn’t one of them!
We have only seen fresh golden berries for sale at Whole Foods a couple times. That was in the Los Angeles area. As seen in the photo, they were imported from Columbia and how much they cost was a lot. If memory serves right, it was at least $5.
We’ve never seen them for sale elsewhere. Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Kroger, etc. don’t carry them.
Outside of Southern California, we haven’t seen them at other Whole Foods locations. Even during the summer and fall months, we didn’t see them at their stores in Orlando, Ann Arbor, or Columbus.
You can easily find them fresh in Southern Africa, Australia, and Europe. In the US, your odds are slim.
Your only option may be the dried. But guess what? That’s not a bad thing!
Some antioxidants like vitamin C are more prone to deterioration and in turn, dried fruit will almost always have less. Though when it comes to phytonutrients like withanolides, those should remain regardless of what form you’re eating them.
Plus, the advantage is that they have a long shelf life and are quite affordable versus the fresh.
You can even buy golden berries at some Costco locations in the US, though we’re not sure about their Canadian stores. The brand they sell is Made In Natura and they are USDA certified organic. If you’re a Costco Australia or UK shopper, some of those locations sell Terrafertil, which is another quality brand.
Our favorite brand is Navitas Organics. They were formally branded as Navitas Naturals, until they made their full product line USDA certified organic.
On a per ounce basis, rarely are they the cheapest option, but they usually are the best tasting brand available. If you like the flavor of Sour Patch kids, you will love what golden berries taste like.
Navitas Organics have just the right amount of moisture intact for the perfect chewy texture. Their color is bright, not the dark brown we’ve experienced with most other brands.
You can buy Navitas golden berries at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and the occasional normal grocery store. Though what we do is buy them through Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program, as it offers an excellent value.
How to eat?
Compared to most berries, there is one additional step in the preparation of golden. Before washing them, you first have to remove their husk – the leafy outer shell.
After doing that, they’re ready to eat just like any other fruit.
They’re delicious plain, just on their own. Slicing in half makes them easier to eat, so you don’t have to stab your fork into their skin. That can be quite annoying to do with cherry tomatoes, right?
With the dried version, you can enjoy them straight out of the bag.
Whatever form you’re working with, both are equally versatile. Here are some recipes where we (or someone cooking for us) have incorporated this superfood…
In South Africa, you are unlikely to see strawberry jam or grape jelly. It seems to be easier to find goldenberry jam for your morning toast or muffin.
Want to try it? Get a fruit spread on Amazon.
These vegan gluten free muffins were made by Yolandi Cronje, the pastry chef at Singita Boulders Lodge in South Africa. They were tastier than any muffin you can get from bakeries in Los Angeles (where Superfoodly is headquartered).
She didn’t share her recipe, but it seems you can easily add a few handfuls of the dried fruit to your own batch, regardless of whether or not it’s gluten free and vegan.
Last but certainly not least is a simple recipe for our own kitchen…
No talent needed, as anyone can whip this up! Here’s what you need…
- 1 serving oatmeal (1/4 cup dry). Steel cut if you have the time, but instant will work too.
- 1 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
- 1 tbsp. hemp seeds
- 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup fresh blueberries
- 1/4 cup dried golden berries
- Monk fruit sweetener to taste
First make the oatmeal, then add all the goodies in. By adding them last, the fruits, nuts, and seeds will stay raw or close to it.
The flavor of chocolate and Cape gooseberries makes the perfect pair. It’s like having dessert for breakfast… and you don’t even have to feel guilty about it.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.