Preparing ginseng

Businesses for months have been preparing ginseng themed products for Wausau’s first-ever Ginseng Festival

Dan Sosnowski has never worked with ginseng before, and there’s a reason for that: The earthy, bitter medicinal root isn’t something Sosnowski, the general manager of Polito’s Pizza in Wausau, wants to cook with.

But with the first-ever International Ginseng Festival coming Sept. 15-17 to Wausau, Sosnowski and other local businesses are getting ready by making ginseng-infused wines, beers and foods.

“It’s probably one of the hardest pizzas I’ve had to think of because (ginseng) has a really earthy taste to it,” Sosnowski says. “Matching it with food isn’t the easiest thing to do.” Sosnowski ended up working ginseng into the sauce for a special pizza Polito’s will serve by the slice during the festival.

No one can blame Sosnowski for struggling to come up with a recipe. Ginseng isn’t typically added to food. In general, the root is used in teas, energy drinks, and as a supplement.

It so happens 95% of ginseng grown in the U.S. comes from Marathon County and 80% of that is exported to countries in Asia. The Wisconsin climate provides the perfect conditions for ginseng to flourish—it in fact grows wild here.

Since it’s such a rare plant (one pound of the root can easily go for more than $40), there were no recipes local businesses could follow when creating a product for the festival. “I scoured the internet for a recipe,” Sosnowski says. “I’m an active member on several pizza forums and I couldn’t find anything. I reached out and didn’t get any feedback from any other pizza places.”

Brian Larson, co-owner of Lil’ Ole Winemaker Shoppe, says he couldn’t find a recipe for a ginseng wine, but ended up treating ginseng as he would any other additive. The wine he concocted for the festival has the appearance of a clear liquid. As this writer can attest, the wine has the earthy and bitter taste ginseng is known for. “I had a few people suggest I make a cranberry and ginseng wine, but my thought was that if it’s a ginseng festival, then ginseng needs to be the main flavor,” Larson says.

Larson says he made about 70 gallons of ginseng wine and will have it for sale during the festival.


Ginseng soda created by Twigs Beverage, for the ginseng festival Sept. 15-17 in and around Wausau

About 30 local and regional businesses are working ginseng into a special product, including Twig’s Beverage in Shawano (bottlers of Sundrop), which created a ginseng soda. Since last summer, Red Eye Brewing owner and brewmaster Kevin Eichelberger has been experimenting with creating a ginseng beer, even throwing a few kegs of his creation on tap for customers to sample.

After a few test runs, Eichelberger says he has a beer dialed in for the festival. Red Eye created a ginseng extract and shot that liquid into kegs before adding its base beer, Vienna Lager. Eichelberger didn’t want to add ginseng to an IPA because that would make an already bitter beer even more bitter.

Multiple vendors will serve ginseng-infused products at the 400 Block during the festival, including Almond Tree, American Kettle Corn, Asian Street Foods, Bubble Waffles & More, Country Fresh Meats, Curds of Wisconsin, HoChunk Foods, Hsu’s Ginseng Ice Cream, Milwaukee Burger Co. and Newch’s Bahn Mi.

Other businesses will have ginseng products at their stores, including 2510 Restaurant, Basil, Mint Cafe, Navieve Fromagerie, Paisley Mug, Phou Bali Deli, Polito’s, Sconni’s, Sweet Lola’s, Sweets on 3rd, The Local, Thrive and Wausau Wellness Center.

Besides Red Eye and Lil’ Ole Winemaker, other beverage makers that created products for the festival are: Bull Falls Brewery, Condor Coffee, Great Dane Brewery and Wausau Noon Optimist Club. For more see the International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival Facebook page.

Read more about the International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival in City Pages on Thursday, September 14!