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 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.