By Christopher Matthews
Ginseng, with its herbaceous flavor profile and some new, drink-friendly forms — not to mention its purported healthful attributes — could be the next hot bar ingredient.
At a launch event last week for Korean Ginseng Corp (KGC), three top New York City mixologists — Sother Teague of Amor y Amargo, Lucinda Sterling of Middle Branch and Pamela Wiznitzer of The Dead Rabbit (opening in January 2013) — concocted some killer ginseng-laced libations at the Empire Room in Manhattan.
While ginseng is generally considered a healthful dietary supplement here, in Korea, Panax ginseng is indigenous, and a 2,000 year-old cultural health and culinary touchstone. Grown for six years, which ensures a maximum of the desired ginsenoside compounds, Korean red ginseng root is officially recognized (and regulated) by the South Korean FDA as supportive of the immune system, memory functions, fatigue resistance, blood circulation, even anti-oxidant effects. Not surprisingly, the global leader in red ginseng products is a Korean firm, KGC.
With the large US market in its cross-hairs, KGC has introduced a new line-up of convenient red ginseng products, each with hefty 1,000 mg doses of red ginseng. These include the G-Shot Herbal health and wellness shot drink (combined with six Asian herbs), and a number of easy-to-use powdered teas, from straight red ginseng, to combinations with black and green tea. I’ve recently downed a few of the G-shots, to no ill effect, but I’m still waiting on that big memory boost…
The G-shot and powdered teas can be consumed on their own, but they can also serve as compelling ingredients in food and cocktails. This was clearly showcased at the KGC soirée (organized by Hanna Lee Communications), not only by the three bar chefs, but also by star chef Kerry Heffernan (formerly of 11 Madison), who prepared dishes pairing the earthy, complex flavors of ginseng with sweeter elements, like dates, sherry and cream in contemporary dishes. The bar, however, stole the show.
Using the new ginseng products in cocktails came quite naturally to Sother Teague, whose Amor y Amargo bar specializes in drinks made with bitter spirits and liquors, “many of which derive from medieval elixirs made from roots, barks and herbs — it’s all part of the same continuum,” he said. His excellent “Wise Monk”, a herbaceous, satisfying Negroni-like potation, uses equal parts Campari, Cocchi Torino Sweet Vermouth and Louis Royer “Force 53″ VSOP Cognac (instead of the Negroni’s traditional gin), along with a full dose of G-Shot Herbal, which imparts a sweet earthiness to the drink.
Lucinda Sterling’s “Ginseng Glow”, an aperitivo cocktail par excellence, consists of KGC’s Pure Ginseng Tea Powder, Santa Teresa “1796” rum, Aperol, fresh lime juice, honey syrup and Prosecco. A riff on the classic “Airmail” cocktail, it’s both refreshing and complex.
The most visually attractive drink of the night — and also highly drinkable — was Wiznitzer’s “Ginseng Royal Elixir”, featuring G-shot Herbal, Campari, Atsby Armadillo Cake Vermouth, Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, honey syrup and lemon juice, topped with tonic water. “I found that the herbal notes of the Korean red ginseng naturally complemented the vermouths I used in my cocktails, and it was also a great fit with bitter liqueurs, like Campari,” she said.
Grown-up cocktails with a healthy (red) ginseng twist — what’s not to like?