What is Kava?
8 Key facts you should know.
Here, we are going to explain a couple of things – what Kava is and just as importantly, what kava isn’t!
1. WHAT IT IS
Grown from a plant (Piper Methysticum) in the Pacific Islands and in particular, Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji, kava is totally, 100% organic. This is because no fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides are needed or used in growing it. Moreover, just as importantly, it’s only the roots that are used for the production of kava that’s suitable for drinking.
2. WHY IS THE KAVA ROOT USED
One of the key issues is the use of noble kava varieties versus the non-noble ones. It’s a fact that inferior non-noble kava (known as TuDei Kava) can be imported. Tudei kava is not safe to drink. So, it’s called “TuDei” (Two-Day) kava because whilst the initial effects are pleasant, they invariably cause the user to be sick for a day or two after drinking it. Therefore, be aware of any “cheap” kava offerings because chances are is that it is TuDei.
Kava root is the part used for drinks and powder. Also, in some cultures, they use the whole root. However, in other cultures like Fiji, different parts of the root have different purposes.
For instance, the Waka is the lateral root (see the picture here). As such, it extends from the Lewena and sits underground. Waka roots have a much higher kavalactone content. As a result, Waka Kava is more potent, and has a bitter taste.
Notwithstanding the great features of the Vanuatu Kava and Fiji Kava range, you should also check out one of the most popular premium kavas we have from Tonga. Tongan Kava at its finest!
When you buy Tongan kava, you want the best – yes? Well then, this is the one – Moana Premium Kava from the Tongan island of Vauva’u. Wonderfully creamy and smooth, it will certainly delight the senses with its high-level heady potency.
Noble kavas are typically used for ceremonial purposes because they’re easier on your stomach than other types of kavas. They’re grown organically in Tonga,Vanuatu and Fiji by small-lot farmers who follow traditional methods to ensure their product meets high standards for quality control.
The Lewena is the main Kava root. Whilst it is also underground, it’s only one root, from which the Waka roots sprout. Additionally, Lewena Kava has a lower kavalactone content. Consequently, it has a milder taste and less potency.
The effects from Kava are due to kavalactones which are lactone compounds responsible for creating the psychotropic effects of Kava drinks. Subsequently, people usually measure the potency of Kava based on its kavalactone content.
5. WHAT ARE THE POSITIVES OF DRINKING KAVA?
In Australia and indeed, throughout the Western world, we are so used to the negative effects of alcohol that its hard to believe that something that acts in a similar way can not produce the same negative effects.
If you are researching the drinking of kava as a social tonic, then here is some great news. There is no hangover with kava: none. In fact, you wake up the next day feeling fresh and ready. Its relaxing sedative effects also mean that unlike alcohol, which can turn people aggressive and violent, kava doesn’t make people aggressive. By contrast, most folk here in Australia have witnessed alcohol-fuelled aggression.
This is why, traditionally, it’s often used in the Pacific as a way to bring disputing parties together to iron out any disagreements as this can be done with both parties relaxed.
My experience of living in Vanuatu and being a frequent visitor to nakamals (meeting place) is that kava makes for a peaceful social tonic. In over a decade of living there, I never saw a fight in a nakamal nor even heard of one.
Finally, kava is non-addictive.
6. THE NEGATIVES OF DRINKING KAVA
Having already discussed the downsides of drinking TuDei Kava (see fact no. 2.), let’s just leave it as Rule #1 – NEVER drink Tudei!
You shouldn’t drink alcohol with kava as the combination of the two can result in an increase in your blood pressure. That said, drinking kava and/or alcohol should of course always be done with moderation. Many kava drinkers, myself included, often finish off a kava session with one beer.
This brings us to the topic of reverse tolerance. What this means is that it might take a few sessions for you to start to get the full effects from it. Don’t allow this to throw you, as once your system hits this reverse tolerance mark, then it’s all good from thereon.
By the way, it’s fair to say that it tastes pretty awful (unless you’re fond of the taste of muddy water, that is). Still, that’s not a big issue as kava shouldn’t be sipped but rather – drunk quickly. Portions are generally only 50-100ml so it’s not hard to do.
3. WHERE DOES KAVA COME FROM?
Now that you understand more about “what is kava”, we can look at its origins. Specifically, it comes from the Pacific Islands. And in particular, the following countries:
- Solomon Islands and
The main exporters of kava are Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu in that order. Here are some impressive statistics: in Vanuatu, an estimated 30,000 households are involved in its cultivation with a further 3,000 earning an income from the kava trade and retail (“nakamal”) operations. A further 26% of households in Fiji grow kava (as per the 2020 Fiji Census).
Furthermore, in 2020, Fijian kava exports were worth over A$43.6 million and in 2019, Vanuatu’s kava exports were worth A$48.4 million, with these figures set to grow in coming years.
4. WHAT IS KAVA USED FOR?
An ever-increasing number of people are using kava in Australia. People use Kava for various reasons such as a recreational drink . However, it is also used as part of deep cultural ceremonies and traditions. Alternatively, others use Kava for wellness and to help with a variety of conditions (more on that later).
FOR CEREMONIAL REASONS
In Fiji, Kava is a ceremonial drink where the Kava ceremony in Fiji is a memorable thing to witness. A ceremony leader gives Kava to participants sitting in a circle. Then each participant takes turns to empty a bowl of Kava. Also, you should know that it is a mark of disrespect if you refuse a drink.
Although the Kava ceremony in Fiji is the best-known example, other Pacific Nation countries have their own ceremonies and traditions too.
AS A SOCIAL TONIC
As we do, throughout the world, people enjoy Kava as a social drink. Also, the effects that Kava instils are something people enjoy. As such, it often replaces alcohol as a safer social tonic without the negative side effects of a hangover.
People drink Kava at bars (in Vanuatu these are known as “nakamals”). There, friends will gather to enjoy Kava together. Moreover, dinking kava is a very social thing that helps relaxation and often creates a pleasant sense of euphoria.
Let’s start with a video which explains the best way to get the most out of your Kava Powder. The presenter (who is an experienced kava drinker, kava products development whiz, a long-time kava exporter and importer and all-round good guy!) is Cameron MacLeod from our supplier – Australia Kava Shop.
Each to his or her own of course BUT – whilst I do drink kava powder-prepared kava, I have a particular fondness for Instant Kava. In fact, you should read the blog article – Do You Know About Instant Kava? It gets into the nitty-gritty of what instant kava is all about with some features and benefits that you are probably unaware of.
Like many of you, I tend to work long and/or ‘stupid’ hours. So, when I’m ready for my shells of kava, I usually want it NOW! And that’s one of the beauties of instant kava – it takes about 10 seconds to prepare and VOILA! .. there it is, ready to drink.
To summarise the benefits of Instant Kava, they are:
- It’s quick and easy to make – simply put into a shaker or glass then stir and drink!
- You only need a half teaspoon per serve
- Great for traveling – take it with you anywhere!
- Made from pure green kava juice – not just micronised powder!
My wife. Even though we spent those many years in Vanuatu and attended many social occasions being celebrated by indigenous Ni-Vanuatu folk, these days my wife just won’t drink it in it’s ‘raw’ state (such as what you would find in a nakamal or mixed at home by yours truly).
Not a problem. If you have a similar aversion to the taste, you can tone it down by adding dairy products such as milk, chocolate milk or even coconut water/milk or almond milk, etc. But let’s say you’re having a social get-together with friends or you just want to drink something different anyway, check out these excellent recipes for Kava Cocktails and Smoothies (alcohol-free). My personal favourite? The Mango Kava Cocktail – YUM!