Ginseng and.. Beer?

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With the International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival quickly approaching, local ginseng companies in Marathon County are gearing up for a weekend of celebrating the historic plant that heavily contributes to Wisconsin’s economy and export market. That means we should be seeing some interesting creations as growers are pairing up with other local venues. Some rumors indulge the idea of a vodka fused with ginseng, others have ice cream with ginseng, but we can assert that one of those rumors to be true right now — ginseng and beer.

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The International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival (IWGF) is the first event of its kind and will attract thousands of visitors from around the world. Hotels and travel accommodations are filling fast.

Hsu’s is partnering with Bull Falls Brewery, located near Wausau’s downtown and Riverfront districts, to engineer a special ginseng brew for the festival. The new brew will be a limited-time run for both companies as the fresh ginseng from the Hsu farm is only available for a few months out of the year. While this isn’t the first time a brewery took on ginseng as a constituent, this particular brew is the birthright of two Wausau, Wisconsin-based companies. Two (of many) things that Wisconsin knows best: beer, and ginseng.

Will it be a lager, an ale, a stout, a wheat, bock, pilsner, or even a malt? Stay tuned for more as we will follow up on this story again this summer.

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Ginseng Spans the Globe, but Some Stays Here

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Marathon County, the largest county in Wisconsin, is home to nearly 150 ginseng growers raising about 700,000 pounds of ginseng every year in an area that comprises a microcosm of the county’s available land. Almost 80% of that annual crop will jump ship to China.  But then where does the other 20% go?

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First it should be known, for those who are new to ginseng in general, that although ginseng has been cultivated in North America since about 1904, it has been quietly growing around the North 45th parallel marker for thousands of years. Discovered in China, it became a pillar of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a top tier herb and is still widely used today, here and abroad. Used mainly for its energizing and restorative properties, ginseng’s mystique is something that is catching on in Western culture.

As a finished product, most of that 20% ends up in China towns across the country, with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City being the largest recipients. Hsu’s US branches service all three of the cities mentioned, as well as Houston, TX and New York, NY. Demand for clean, potent American ginseng dictates the pricing for the higher valued Wisconsin variety because Wisconsin soil is low in metal count and nearly devoid of harmful microbial bacteria, which is why Hsu’s also maintains a presence in Ontario and Vancouver, Canada, even though Canada has an output of nearly 2 million pounds per year.

Canada began sourcing American ginseng seeds by the ton when the Canadian government heavily subsidized ginseng operations after watching their US counterparts take advantage of the niche trade.  Although the influx of subsidized Canadian growers flooded the markets and caused a crash around the turn of the millennium, American Ginseng from Wisconsin held its value over a ten year rebound.

Ginseng as an ingredient

Bulk ginseng products constitute a fair portion of that 20% of the ginseng that stays within the US. Our bulk powders are found in supplements, foods, soda, and beer. As functional foods are still on the rise many companies are seeing the value in adding American ginseng to their products. Specifications on ginseng are more articulate than many of the common foods you can find in the produce section of the grocery store, and therein lies the challenge of meeting those requirements.

Manufacturers of food and supplements are intrigued by ginseng’s potential as a beneficial substance, more so now than ever due to the large Chinese demographic on the West Coast and in scattered areas across mainland United States. With more ginseng proponents emigrating here to the U.S. and a growing 2nd and 3rd generation demographic on the rise, the likelihood of more American ginseng staying in America grows.

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DISCLAIMER: 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.

Aftermath: Natural Products Expo East

Baltimore, MD

Booth 5330 at the Natural Products Expo East was well-represented at the large-scale convention in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  Each year Hsu’s sets up for three days of meetings, educating consumers, and learning more about the scope of the Natural Products industry.

Of the many reasons to attend a trade show of this magnitude, the most important is exposure.  Depending on the show, the potential for visitors nears the tens of thousands.  Two symbols that grab the attention of passers-by are the Something Special From Wisconsin logo that we feature on many of our products, and our Hsu’s Root to Health logo.  Sometimes, we run into someone who is, or was, from Wisconsin and then we get into a conversation about beer, cheese, or the Packers and we feel right at home.

We quickly learned from our past experiences that the Natural Products industry has some good eggs, but also maybe a few cracked eggs too.  I for one learned my lesson last year when I got somewhat sick from eating off of each exhibitor’s counter.  Our advice to new exhibitors and visitors is to stay disciplined and try new products sparingly.

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High volume of traffic at Baltimore’s Natural Products Expo East

One thing we realized at last year’s expo was that a gap exists between the Eastern (Asian) and Western (U.S. and Europe’s) outlook on ginseng.  To bridge that gap is to essentially identify an international customer.  More specifically, it means tailoring to both Eastern and Western values simultaneously.  The world is getting smaller and our online presence is continuously being revamped and reevaluated to fit our global needs.  The addition of Hsu’s Amazon page is one way we can stay current.  Our trips to Expo West in Anaheim give us the insight into a broadened demographic with the large Chinese population on the West Coast.

The scope of competitors we find at the show typically doesn’t vary outside of Korean ginseng companies, but even they do not always travel to Expo East because of the lack of an Asian demographic on the East coast as opposed to the West.  This year we had the second American ginseng company join the Expo, the Ginseng Herb & Coop from Marathon, WI, along with a representative from the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin.

Brand identity is very important to all of the exhibitors because for every category of product there could be up to fifty or more competitors or like-minded businesses competing for the same pool of consumers.  At Expo East, one can see a lot of similarities in brand strategy, aura, and even product likeness among vendors.

The most volatile yet buzz-generating section is most always the food/confectionery aisles where vendors are displaying their organic cookies, smoothies, candies, and even finished pizzas, tacos, and much more.  Another pro-tip we have is to remember that even if something is labeled as organic, certified organic, all-natural, etc., do your research on the products, consult your physician, and know what you are putting in your body.  Non-dairy products almost always contain nut products such as cashews and coconut and the amount of children and even adults in the United States that suffer from food allergies is overwhelming.

We prepare for the Supply Side West trade show in Las Vegas starting on Thursday, October 6th by shifting focus to our ingredient division.  Hsu’s supplies many large-scale operations with clean and potent American and Asian ginseng powders and powdered extracts for private-label use.  Our ginseng is found in supplements, liquid extracts, and even a beer or two.

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Brief: Wild Ginseng

September 1st marks the beginning of the Wild Ginseng season in Wisconsin. Each State is allowed to set its own parameters for length of season, but since ginseng is most potent after August the trend is roughly the same across the country. Also, with Wild American Ginseng being listed as endangered, the season does not typically last more than two months.

Already, Hsu’s has seen its fair share of Wild Ginseng hunters bringing their fresh finds in exchange for hard-earned money. With the season being short, and the value of Wild Ginseng being as high as it is, thousands of people across the country are searching through anything that remotely resembles a forest.

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Kaitlyn Backhaus (left) and the Wisconsin DNR representative auditing the Wild Ginseng brought in by various hunters.  Pound for pound they must be inspected for the State’s records.

In its natural habitat on the forest floor, ginseng is able to sustain itself for many years and gain considerable potency as it ages. The only way to estimate Wild Ginseng’s age is to count the ‘rings’ that appear on top of the root. Those rings are actually the lifeline of the root, and if the original root dies, the lifeline, known commonly as the ‘mother root’, will spawn a new root in its place. If a root sustains a series of harsh winters and conversely a series of favorable winters the lifeline will expand and contract based on its conditions under the surface. The fluctuation of size found throughout the lifeline is how we determine the root’s age and thus will eventually be separated by age and size for its use as a finished product.

Rumors of 100-year-old roots are not uncommon, as we may have one of our own. However such an anomaly is something few hunters will witness within their lifetime. Given the amount of Wild Ginseng harvested every year, the days of finding a root of that caliber and age may be over, especially for future generations. That is why the cultivation of American ginseng may become more important than ever in the next few decades.

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EST. 100-Year-Old Wild Ginseng Root.  Found by Hsu’s founder and President Paul C.Hsu, east of Wausau, WI

 

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