Taki MaiTaki Mai

By Zane Yoshida

What Factors Affect Kava Quality?

There has been a lot of discussion recently about kava quality. With the lifting of the European ban Pacific nations are more committed than ever to maintaining a high standard of kava for export.

There is considerable vested interest in this too – for the economies of the Pacific nations and the livelihoods of the kava farmers in those nations.

So why the need for kava standards- and what actually affects the quality?

Kava variations

Kava has always varied in quality and farmers have always identified different strains, based on its physical appearance, the brew produced from its roots, and the physical and psychological effects produced by its consumption.

The biggest factor in quality is in the strength and predictability of the kavalactones present in kava, rather than in the physical appearance, which may only differ slightly.

In Vanuatu alone there are an estimated 80 varieties of kava, and Fiji has many other varieties. These are the two largest producing nations in the Pacific.

Kava varieties can be broken down into three basic types:

  • Noble kava
  • ‘Two-days’ kava
  • Wild kavas

In its most basic definition, noble kava is high standard, cultivated kava that can be exported in root or supplement form. It is free from toxins and impurities.

‘Two-days’ kava is a particularly potent strain that is actually prohibited for international export, but which often makes its way onto the market. This can damage the reputation of kava as it may cause nausea and other unpleasant side effects. It is so-called because the effects can last for up to 48 hours.

Wild kava is another inferior type grown in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

What factors affect kava quality?

The overall quality of kava you enjoy in your beverages, shots, capsules, or powder form depends on several factors:

  • The variety
  • The age of the plant (usually should be harvested after 3-5 years of growth)
  • The part of the plant used (roots, stumps, or basal stems)
  • The way it is cultivated (organic or not? Soil fertility and sunshine hours?)
  • The geographic origin

This will all affect the appearance, consistency and, most importantly, the kavalactone content of the kava.

The ‘chemotype’ of the kava describes its chemical make-up and will help you understand more about the kavalactones present in the variety that you take.

As you sit back and relax with a Taki Mai kava shot, you are probably not thinking too much about what’s in that little 3oz shot. You are likely just enjoying the relaxing feeling wash over you.

But its consistent calming effect is because you are enjoying elite kava of the highest quality – and now you know a little more about the factors that make it so.

By Zane Yoshida

Kava in 2016: Higher Demand, Higher Quality

Kava looks set for a happy 2016, if recent trends continue.

With more kava bars opening in the US, European markets opening up, kava becoming available in more health stores and supermarkets worldwide, and more awareness of its relaxation and health benefits, the profile of kava is on the rise.

We can look forward to increasing demand and increasing quality in the year ahead.

Higher demand for kava in 2016?

The Fijian Secretary for Agriculture visited the US towards the end of last year and, on his return, challenged farmers around the country to work hard to meet the increasing demand for kava.

Clearly recognising a big opportunity from what he saw, he said:

“We should be thankful because this are opportunities for our farmers here in Fiji on how we can meet this particular demand in the US markets so the bottom line is farmers to get organized and produce the product that is required in whichever markets”

Fiji News recently reported that we should “expect a boom in kava exports” noting that “kava exports are expected to increase significantly with the European Market opening up from 2016.”

The Ministry of Agriculture is now preparing the first draft of a Kava Bill that will guide the sale of kava in Fiji, incorporating suggestions for how Fiji will be best placed to meet the increased demand.

Meanwhile, the Fiji Sun recently reported on plans for a proposed, new $25 million project on the island of Vanua Levu. The two-storey factory will employ the entire ground floor for kava and spice processing.

Higher quality of kava in 2016?

Of course, while Taki Mai uses exclusively Fijian kava, famed for its high quality, kava is grown and used all around the Pacific area. Vanuatu is one of the biggest producers and there has been plenty of positive comment about the expected growth in kava exports there too.

In the past, however, there have been concerns about the quality of kava produced there – including potent strains known as ‘wild kava’ and ‘two day’ kava because the effects last up to 48 hours (which is produced even though it is banned). Only around 10 out of 80 strains grown there have been declared suitable for export.

Calls are growing for more responsibility among farmers there to comply with regulations and plant only ‘noble’ varieties of kava that are processed correctly before export.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation in Vanuatu has been trying to raise awareness of these issues with recent training initiatives:

“Kava is an important commodity both locally and to the external market. It is important that the farmers know more about their own kava because now we have a kava act, and the kava act actually pushes the nobles and that is where the quality standards must be reflected in the kind of product that goes to the market.”

In tandem with this, the European Union-Africa Caribbean Pacific (EU/ACP) project was initiated last year by the Vanuatu Embassy in Brussels to produce a definition of regional quality standards for kava.

This is good news in light of the past problems kava has had with regional bans, and will help to uphold the reputation of kava internationally.

Ambassador Roy Mickey Joy commented:

“Evidence shows that some products marketed as kava cannot be considered as such in light of the traditional experience. Accordingly, the decision to accelerate the ongoing definition of quality standards by kava-producing countries could not have come at a better time.”

A regional boost in 2016?

The export of quality kava is essential not only to the Vanuatu government, but to farmers around the whole Pacific region.

Fiji and Vanuatu are the two largest producing countries, with approximately 25,000 ha cultivated, producing an estimated 10,000 tonnes of kava – with around 1,100 tonnes exported every year.

A damaged kava reputation harms the economies of all producing countries and badly affects rural communities, no matter where the kava originates. The focus on guarding the quality is well-founded.

In Fiji, South Pacific Elixirs are doing our bit for quality.

At our kava nurseries in Ovalau, we cultivate only ‘elite’ kava cultivars that produce the finest quality root ready for export. These are guaranteed disease-free strains that produce consistent and predictable varieties of kava, ideal for making our shots, powders, and capsules for the export market.

By Zane Yoshida

Producing Nations Set To Up Quality of Kava

In the coming months and years we expect to see a gradual rise in the quality of kava coming out of the South Pacific kava producing nations.

That’s not just because we, at South Pacific Elixirs, have been pioneering our elite kava nurseries in Ovalau, Fiji, to grow the highest possible grade of disease-free kava. It’s also because this message is being broadcast loud and clear to all the major producers in the region.

One bad kava story…

With the world becoming more interested in kava, and the message finally getting out that kava is not only safe, but promotes good health and lowers stress, it’s a timely reminder to keep the quality of kava up for exports.

Since the German ban was overturned in February 2014, there has been a rise in demand, as new markets have become interested in importing the root in supplement form. The EU has even agreed to conduct a new kava study.

As demand is set to boom, there is a rush to produce more. At the same time, one bad story can ruin the industry. It was a very few cases of liver damage reported in Europe (from inferior quality of kava) that previously led to the kava ban on Europe and lots of adverse publicity.

The calls for an increase in quality are to avoid the type of ‘image’ problems that kava has suffered from recently.

Maintaining quality of kava for export

Radio New Zealand International reported at the end of April:

“Kava-producing countries have been put on notice that nothing less than top quality exports are crucial in ensuring the industry thrives.

Scientists are now analysing kava from across the Pacific to formulate a gold standard and find easier ways of weeding out kava varieties of a lesser quality described as “non-noble”.

The chair of the International Kava Executive Council, Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, says there will always be importers looking for cheaper varieties and governments need to get tough.

‘There are certain traders in the industry that are still finding their way to get hold of this and export them. That is a no-no, industry in the Pacific has met several times and they have agreed that this kava which is non-noble must never be used in the trade.’”

Keeping kava ‘noble’

‘Noble’ kava is another name for the ‘elite kava’ that Taki Mai supplements are made from. It is the highest grade available, and countries like Vanuatu have already passed legislation (the ‘Kava Act’) to outlaw exports of inferior or ‘non-noble’ kava.

Failure to prevent export of these ‘non-noble’ varieties of kava is perhaps what led to some of the problems in the past.

It is important for customers of Taki Mai to know that we take kava cultivation seriously – as shown by the previously-referenced article on our kava nurseries in Ovalau, Fiji.

Not only is the quality of kava the best available, we have received good manufacturing practice (GMP) accreditation; and we produce medicinal grade kava that is certified in Australia as a therapeutic good. So you can feel perfectly safe taking our kava shots, powder, or capsules.

By Zane Yoshida

EU Announces New Kava Study

Following the lifting of the German ban on kava in February last year, the European Union recently announced that it would carry out a new kava study.

This should comes as welcome news to kava fans everywhere, who have seen the reputation of their beloved root dragged through the mud in the past decade or so; until recently a ban in Germany, and restrictions placed in Europe, the US, and Australia, have hampered exports of our prized crop.

What is the proposed kava study for?

Radio New Zealand reported that the Vanuatu Ambassador, Roy Mickey Joy, announced that the European Union has agreed to carry out a study into kava with the aid of a legal firm, and that it will “consider a submission to the Technical Barriers to Trade programme”.

A two-day conference is planned in Brussels involving all the key stakeholders in the Pacific who are leaders in kava, and its outcome will be shared with the firm conducting the kava investigation.

The 7-month investigation will look at the “legal, scientific and trade aspects of kava” and lead to a ministerial conference in order to discuss a roadmap that would address the issue of the kava ban.

Depending on the results of this study, more export markets may be opened up globally for kava, so it is an important event for the economies of the South Pacific island nations.

The importance of raising the quality of kava

An important initiative for the future of kava in the South Pacific is raising its quality.

The Samoan government was recently urged to help support a plan for controlling the quality of exported kava by a German scientist and European kava expert. He was visiting kava-producing countries in the region as part of a study, encouraging them to focus on producing “noble” kava, which is of a very high quality.

Zane Yoshida and South Pacific Elixirs, makers of Taki Mai kava supplements, have been involved in several kava quality initiatives recently:

Let’s hope that the EU study finds what we all know already – that kava is not only safe, but has many relaxation and anti-anxiety benefits too.

Perhaps the name of kava will be cleared once and for all. Its health benefits have already been proven in many studies and the isolated cases of adverse effects of kava are dwarfed millions of times over by those of alcohol: a commonly-accepted substance on sale almost everywhere around the world.

What Factors Affect Kava Quality?
Kava in 2016: Higher Demand, Higher Quality
Producing Nations Set To Up Quality of Kava
EU Announces New Kava Study