What is the Mythical Origin of Kava?

What is the Mythical Origin of Kava?Before there was Piper methysticum (domesticated kava kava), there was Piper wichmannii – the beautifully original form of the Kava kava plant – wild and perfectly untouched by human contact or cultivation.  We can imagine a tropical world totally innocent of discovery, a world void of commercial extraction and consumption, a world where humans hadn’t yet arrived – or evolved – and the work of spiritual beings was at play.  We can envision spiritual entities that created a fantastical set of islands, populated by creatures and botanical beauty not even imaginable to our human minds – islands where Piper wichmannii was divinely placed to sit and await the fate of her discovery, when the mortals of human kind would be graced with the gift of Kava kava and the origin of kava to be born.

My guru insight tells me that Piper wichmannii very likely evolved alongside many other wild plants whose exact origins are unknown, and it is likely a member of a very long line of botanical ancestry that is quite difficult to trace.  Exact knowledge as to where the alluring Kava kava first originated pretty well escapes historical records.  In order to reconstruct a coherent historical account as to the exact mythological origin (probably usage origin as well) of kava, we are dependent upon antiquated and mythical accounts of Piper methysticum’s wild sister – Piper wichmannii.

Fortunately, Tongan and Vanuatu mythology is rife with tales of Kava’s spiritual and ancestral origins.  There are two conceptually different strains of mythology with regard to the origin of kava kava: the external and local.  The external tales tell of how Piper wichmannii was graced upon the South Pacific peoples by a godly and heroic entity that brought it from a spiritual or far off earthly realm, with varying tales of just who this heroic spirit was or just what exactly happened; whereas the local tales tell the story of the ancestral usage or the cultivation of kava kava [2, p. 14-15].

Mythological accounts of Kava (or the external and local mythological stories) are meant to provide an understanding of the physical origin of Kava kava and its use  – the mythological answer to the question of where Kava came from.  These external tales are brimming with heroism and spiritual beings that are held in the highest esteem for gracing mortal creatures with the gift of the Kava plant.  Many of these folk tales revolve around conceptual structures of life and death, where kava is often idealized as the bringer of life [2, p. 14-15].

One such Tongan legend is of the origin of kingship and is thought to symbolically refer to the origin of Kava itself; it can be categorized as an external account.  It tells of a spiritual entity having intercourse with a female mortal being who then gives birth to a half-god son named Aho eito.  The son, eager to meet with his divine father, climbs an incredibly tall ironwood tree and is met by his father who mistakes him for a spiritual being that is even greater than himself.  The father brings the son to meet his half-brothers who become incessantly jealous of his beauty and received admiration.  The divine siblings then rip Aho eito to pieces and proceed to consume him.  The father suspects what the other sons had done to Aho eito and has them vomit into a bowl.  The vomit is then submersed in water and Aho eito slowly emerges as a whole and living being once again.  The father then sends Aho eito to earth to be the first Tu i Tonga, or king of Tonga [1, p. 287-288].

The vomiting into the bowl by the brothers of Aho eito is thought to symbolically represent the chewing of Kava that is then communally spit into a bowl and mixed with water [1, p. 288].  The resultant Kava drink is then traditionally consumed during ceremonies, often during the installment of chiefs and other cultural heads [3, p. 109-110].  The traditional uses of Kava kava do seem to outline a theme that is similar to the death and rebirth of Aho eito who is eaten and then spit up, mixed with water and reborn as a king on earth, just as the kava plant is traditionally used.

Another such external tale tells of the deity Tagaloa Ui who happens upon the house of the mortal chief Pava while wandering through a field of Kava.  At Pava’s home the first mortal ceremony involving Kava is held.   Pava’s son is rambunctiously running about and making noise and Tagaloa Ui asks Pava to quiet his son.  Pava does not obey and the boy’s behavior continues until Tagaloa Ui cuts the boy into two pieces using a coconut frond that has been formed into a knife.  The deity then instructs Pava to eat his boy and Pava declines.  The deity then uses kava from his mountain home to create a drink that is poured over the pieces of Pava’s boy, while he says “Soifua (life)”, and the boy is then brought back to life.  Again, we can see the theme of divine and mortal interplay interwoven with death, life and high social positions [2, p. 13].

Accounts of the local origins of Kava tell fantastic tales of how the plant was first discovered, grown and used by the South Pacific island peoples.  These local tales are often sexualized and there is frequently a prominent female presence; this presence can manifest in the tales in several forms, such as symbolically as a female sexual organ or as female creatures (human or otherwise).

One such local tale is interwoven with the mythology of the external origin of Kava as having come from a divine hero – which highlights the interconnectedness and consistency of Kava mythology.  This story begins with the hero Mwatiktiki on Tanna – an island in Vanuatu.  Mwatiktiki arrives on Tanna with a Kava plant, which he hides between rocks near the shore.  Two female ancestors of the Tanna people go to the shore with yams and begin to peel the yams there.  One of the women is surprised, as she is squatting in the grass, by the presence of the Kava plant on and within her nether regions – the plant is meant to be a phallic representation. The Kava root had sprouted and risen up, penetrating the women – bringing her much enjoyment. The women pull the wild plant out from between the rocks where Mwatiktiki had hid it and bring it back to their garden in Isouragi – their home – where they presumably began to cultivate it and spread its pleasurable benefits [2, p. 13].

Another local tale tells of the burial of a sister by her brother after the brother had tried to protect her from a suitor she had refused to be with.  The suitor shoots an arrow intended for the brother, misses and kills the sister.  The boy buries his sister and within a week an unusual plant that he hasn’t ever seen before sprouts from the grave of his sister.  At first he leaves the plant alone for quite some time.  One day when he is mourning the death of his sister at the site of her burial he notices a rat nibbling on the plant.  The rat shortly dies.  After observing what happened to the rat the boy, unable to bear the death of his sister any longer, decides to kill himself by eating the plant.  Something unexpected happens.  Rather than dying the boy is rejuvenated, filled with life and happiness.  He forgets his misery and comes back to consume the plant and rejoice and goes on to share the plant with many others [2, p. 12] Once again, we can see how the theme of an external spiritual origin of the kava plant and an adaptation of the central themes of life and death, are woven throughout this tale.

Although we do not presently dwell in these mythical worlds, and may never have dwelt in these worlds – they nonetheless paint a historical account of Kava similar to how religious books might construct a historical account of various religious developments; namely, through symbolic story telling.  These folk accounts can be pieced together to construct an understanding of how aspects of kava culture and tradition began.  Whether these tales give an accurate account of how Piper wichmannii first came to be on this earthy rock of ours, is something that goes beyond my guru wisdom.  But one thing can be said for certain: Piper wichmannii was discovered a long, long time ago in a far-off South Pacific island, amongst creatures and botanical entities too wonderful to comprehend. A mythical legacy thus began and is sure to be carried on for many upon many generations of islanders to come…

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. James, K.E. “The Female Presence in Heavenly Places: Myth and Sovereignty in Tonga”. Wiley and Oceania Publications: June 1991. Oceania, Vol. 61, 4 pp.287-308.

2. Singh, Yadhu N. “Kava: from ethnology to pharmacology”. Taylor and Francis LTD: 2004.

3. Singh, Yadhu N. “Kava: An Old Drug in a New World”. University of Minnesota Press: winter of 2009. Cultural Critique, No. 71 pp. 107-128.

 

 

What Kind of Kava Should I Buy?

Thinking of buying kava? Not too sure where to begin with kava varieties or asking yourself what kind of kava to buy? Well, you have come to the right place! I share what kind of kava is best for what scenario, but: The very free Beginners Guide to Kava offers a more detailed analysis and is just a click away. That article outlines the various reasons people come to Kava, whether it’s to relax or chill out, as a way to fight anxiety and/or stress, as a sleep aid, or even as a legal high or an aphrodisiac.

So, you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Arghh, there’s so much kava to choose from; I’m so confused!” Or “What kind of kava is best for me?”  By the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of kava is right for you, but really, read the Beginner’s Guide to Kava to be an instant expert.

If you want to keep things traditional, the best plan might be to go with the most traditional form of kava kava, which is Powdered Kava Root:

Powdered Kava Root:

Although authentic and quality kava root is hard to find online and is a bit hard to come by in Western and European countries (although this is quickly changing), it is bountiful throughout Oceanic island nations.  The root is traditionally chewed up and spit out into a communal bowl, in order to speed up the fermentation process.  It is then mixed with water or other solubles to create a drink with sedative and anesthetic benefits.  But who wants to do that, just to relax?  Not me!

Having trouble deciding between fresh kava root and dried kava root?  If you wanted to break the kava down into a powder to mix into a shake or turn into a kava drink, then dried kava root is the better option, plus you keep all of the wonderful benefits by retaining its purest form!  If, on the other hand, you really wanted to get in touch with kava culture you could chew up fresh kava root and mix it with water or coconut water and make a traditional kava beverage!

Are you a busy person, looking to get the benefits of kava, but don’t have the time for traditional preparation? Here are some quick options:

Instant Kava:

Instant kava supplements work kind of like instant coffee.  They’re derived from the original plant matter – in this instance kava root – but are manufactured in such a way that they do not require any preparation.  You can toss instant kava powder into a shake on your way out the door, or mix it with water and toss it into a to-go cup – and better yet, instant kava doesn’t require any steeping or straining! Also, it’s important to remember when using instant kava or other kava options that are mixed with water, that kavalactones are destroyed in temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

You also want to make sure that you get a kava instant mix that has kava root extract.  The kava extraction process is how we gain access to the beneficial kavalactones.  Instant kava that is just root (not traditionally prepared) will leave you missing out on all of the wonderful things kava has to offer!

Kava Capsules:

Just like with instant kava – you want to make sure to get a capsule that is made with extracted kava, in order to retain all of those pleasurable kavalactone qualities!  That being said, it’s best to get a supplement that indicates the amount of kavalactones it contains – some sources suggest that 70 milligrams is the minimum amount required to experience the sought-after effects.

However, kava capsules – like with any supplement that deviates away from the purest form – don’t have all of the same benefits as pure kava kava.  Kavalactones are absorbed through mucous membranes, so the capsules miss all of that salivation action going on in your mouth on their way down into your stomach. But, if you’re in a rush or wish to be discreet and need quick relief from a stressful moment, the capsule option may be just right for you.

Can’t stand the taste of kava? 

Many people struggle with the taste of kava, but power through it so that they can enjoy all of the beautiful things kava has to offer.  Personally, as a kava guru – the flavour of kava is homey and right in line with everything my taste buds crave – but, for those that are a bit new to kava culture the taste may take some time to get used to.  So, here are some tasty alternatives to pure kava kava:

Instant Kava Drinks:

Instant kava supplements are often flavoured and are a good method of consuming kava for those who find the taste of pure kava kava less than appealing.  Also, because of the instant form, this kava supplement can be added to shakes or other tasty drinks to mask the overall flavour of kava. Instant Kava is the quick, easy, pain and mess free method of getting an idea of what the Kava experience might be like.

Kava Capsules:

Since kava capsules are swallowed and not chewed or dissolved in your mouth, they are essentially tasteless! So, if kava’s flavour is something that you just cannot bear, masked or otherwise – perhaps this is the best option for you.  You could always start with the capsules and move on to the gum and then to the instant mix and maybe even one day to the root itself – building up a tolerance for the flavour over time.

Kava capsules are a solid option for those who are relatively new to kava or only want to use it occasionally here and there to help ease a moment or day that is particularly stressful.   Since the kava capsules tend to not be as strong as some other forms of kava, they are a good option for those who want to try it out for the first time, but are feeling a bit shy or uncertain.  As you become accustomed to the effects of kava you can increase your dosage as recommended by a physician or other health practitioner or move on to other forms of ingestion.

Want a flexible kava option? Kava Paste:

 Kava Paste:

There is also a nifty option for kava consumption, blandly referred to as a kava paste or kavalactone paste.  It’s a yellowish to orange substance with the consistency of cupcake batter.   Products that are FDA-compliant contain about 55% Kavalactone in them. There are full-spectrum options that contain all of the goodness that pure kava kava contains – all of its kavalactones as well as the various alkaloids – or isolated kavalactone paste, that is infused primarily with just kavalactones.  If you are looking for a flexible method of kava ingestion, the paste is a good place to start.  You can easily regulate the amount you consume, use it as your primary kava source or add it to a tea before bed to get an extra dose of kava as you ease your way into a peaceful slumber.

This is also a great place for veterans who like to take things up a notch when enjoying Kava. Kava Paste is often added to plain water extractions of powdered Kava to take things up a notch. Please remember that 55% Kavalactone content in a paste is quite hefty, and not for the faint of heart.

A Kava veteran and want to kick it into the highest gear? – Kava Tincture:

Kava Tincture:

If you want to experience the maximum Kava has to offer and are interested in the strongest Kava you can buy, then there is no other choice than Kava Tinctures with a 12% Kavalactone content in them. Yes, 12% is not as big a number as 55%, but the liquid extract absorbs quickly in the mouth, especially when placed under the tongue. Kona Kava Farm has a brand new Kava Tincture MAX 12%, which is stunningly potent. Within seconds, the numbing effect that one can feel from Kava is there almost immediately. The effects as well are nothing that beginners should be thinking about until they learn what the Kava experience is all about. As the saying goes; “With great Kava, the ground will come up to meet you…”

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

 

 

 

 

Can I Combine Alcohol And Kava?

Can I Combine Alcohol and Kava?There isn’t an affirmative “yes” or “no” answer to this question.   Will it kill you to combine alcohol and kava kava? No – unless of course you ingest more than you should of either kava or alcohol.  However, there is a body of scientifically backed information that would suggest that you should never combine alcohol and kava.  Furthermore, many people prefer kava kava to alcohol, and it is used quite widely as a complete alternative to drinking alcohol.

Now for some lengthier Kava Guru wisdom on the topic of combining alcohol and kava kava (Piper Methysticum):

Many people enjoy drinking alcohol and kava at the same time because of the heightened effect of each and the quicker onset of their sought-after effects. Of course quantity is of key importance here – it would never be recommended that one drink either kava kava or alcohol in high quantities, either alone or in combination with each other.  It would be no different than the recommendation not to combine anything else that is mind-altering or medicinal with each other, or specifically with alcohol.

Additionally, some traditional ceremonial procedures involving kava kava actually include the ingestion of alcoholic beverages before or after the process.   There has also been a recent development of  “kava bars” in the Western world and some of these kava bars serve alcohol along with kava kava drinks.  For example, some people enjoy sipping on kava kava beverages while taking a shot of alcohol at various points in between [4].  Furthermore, ethanol is used in the process of commercial kava kava extraction at percentages upwards of 60% and Western herbal medicine traditionally uses 25% ethanol to 75% water as the solvent base for tinctures [6, p.674].  However, just because many people choose to combine alcohol and kava kava does not mean that it is the wisest thing to do.

True to my Guru nature, I would like to bring to your attention all relevant bits of knowledge I am privy to, and would like to tell you a bit about the evidence that suggests the combination of alcohol with kava kava could increase the risk of liver damage or toxicity.

Many of the cases that have surfaced regarding kava kava and liver damage have been proven to be unsubstantiated, strictly because it was proven that alcohol could have played a role.  The kava kava used in these studies was commercially extracted and, as noted above, commercial extracts often carry ethanol in their solvent bases.   Whereas studies conducted with the use of pure kava kava (with no alcohol) have not surfaced any evidence of liver toxicity. Although there is some indication to suggest that the addition of glutathione (an organic chemical that helps with the metabolization of kavalactones) may have a levelling effect that prevents hepatotoxicity [6, p. 676]. This could then suggest that the alcohol may have been the variable responsible for liver damage, or that the combination of kava kava and alcohol was responsible.

This brings us to a discussion of what actually happens to the liver when kava kava and alcohol are used in combination.  The liver makes use of the enzyme CYP 2E1 for the metabolizing of alcohol.   There have been studies that suggest CYP 2E1 is also used in the metabolizing of kavalactones (kava kava compounds) [3, p.476].   If both substances are metabolized by the same enzyme or altogether have a similar enzymatic pathway – then it is quite possible that when used in combination, the metabolic pathways become stressed and hepatotoxicity (toxic liver damage) may be more likely to occur.

Furthermore, kavalactones do temporarily alter the functioning of various liver enzymes, including gamma-glutamyl transferase and alkaline phosphatase [7].  Some of the affected enzymes may be used during the metabolic processes of breaking down ethanol (alcohol) [3, p. 475-477].  As a result, it is possible that enzymes used in the metabolization of alcohol are temporarily affected while the liver processes kava kava.  If this is the case, then it is likely that when kava kava is in the system, the liver may not be able to properly metabolize alcohol and could then experience hepatotoxicity if the substances are combined.

In an entirely different vein of discussion with regard to the combination of alcohol and kava kava – kava kava is actually widely used as a preferred alternative to drinking alcohol and has been recommended by physicians to patients with alcoholic substance abuse problems [6]. Given the many similar side effects that kava kava and alcohol share – relaxation, mood elevation, release of inhibition, anesthesia, muscle relaxation, and more – many people enjoy kava kava as a valuable alternative to drinking alcohol [1].   Kava kava is not a central nervous system depressant, and in this way varies from alcohol.  Furthermore, kava kava is not physically addictive, like alcohol [2] – which would explain its use in the therapeutic treatment of alcoholism [6].

Kava Guru thinks it breaks down to this: no, it won’t kill you to combine alcohol with kava kava, nor will your system be greatly damaged with small doses of the combined substances.  However, given the studies discussed above – it is perhaps best to avoid the combination as much as possible.  Additionally, kava kava provides all of the pleasant effects of alcohol consumption with the added benefit of nonaddiction. So really, it’s no wonder that kava kava is growing in popularity as a complete alternative to alcohol!

Mahalo,

Kava Guru

REFERENCES

1. Cassileth, Barrie, PHD.  “Oncology”. United Business Media LLC, San Francisco: April 15, 2011. Vol. 25-4 p. 384-385.

2. Craig, Winston J.  “Kava kava: Antidote for Anxiety”. Vibrant Life, Hagerstown: January, 2002. Vol. 18-1 p. 42-43.

3. Li and I. Ramzan. “Role of Ethanol in Kava Hepatotoxicity”.  University of Sydney – Faculty of Pharmacy, Sydney: November 26, 2009.  Phytotherapy Research 24: p. 475-480.

4. Makaira. “Do Kava and Alcohol Combine?”  Makaira’s Kava Kava Blog: January 1, 2010. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/?p=231

5. Mcdonald, Jim. “Kava kava – Piper Methysticum”.  http://www.herbcraft.org/kava.html

6. Whitton, Lau, Salisbury, Whitehouse and Christine S. Evans. “Kava Lactones and the Kava-Kava Controversy”. Pergamon: June 5, 2003. Phytochemistry 64: p. 673-679.

7. Wikipedia. “Kava-Toxicity and Safety”. Last modified: February 21, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Toxicity_and_safety

 

Is Kava a Food or Dietary Supplement?

Is Kava a Food or Dietary Supplement?This is quite a complicated question depending on whom you speak with.  The Kava Guru has done his research, and has arrived at several conclusions regarding the current status of kava kava in the United States and throughout the world.

In as short an answer as I can provide:  kava kava is currently sold in the United States as a dietary supplement, and is not currently accepted as a food ingredient.  This isn’t to say that several very food-like products are coming out that are based on kava kava.  For example, over at the Kava Marketplace, there is Kava chocolate from Kava King.  Now, chocolate bars are typically thought of as a food, but the folks over at Kava King insist that their product is a dietary supplement and have the data and research to back it up.

The same is true of a Kava Gum that has recently (2013) appeared on the market.  I have spoken with the owner of that company, and he stated that he has a 29-page legal document that justifies the gum part of the kava gum as being nothing more than a delivery method for the kava.  I am not an expert, but I don’t see any reason why that kind of use cannot be justified, and would think that the FDA would have a difficult time taking issue with the kava gum product.

As far as kava chocolate and the Kava Candy that has also appeared, in my discussion with an FDA consultant, just because someone calls something a rose, doesn’t make it a rose.  So, just because someone is calling these kava products “dietary supplements” doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what they are.  It’s all a whole lot of gray area, but the Kava Guru is here to help you through the gray!

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 defines a dietary supplement as “a product (other than tobacco) that is intended to supplement the diet and that bears or contains one of the following ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical, an amino acid, a dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total daily intake, or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of these ingredients” [1]. In other words, dietary supplements are substances meant to be taken in addition to a balanced, healthy diet; they are not intended to make up a large portion of a meal or of someone’s daily caloric intake [1]. The Food and Drug Administration’s definition of a dietary supplement also notes that these are often taken in the form of pills, capsules, tablets, powders or liquids [4].

One helpful way to determine if kava is a dietary supplement or a food is to look at its intended use. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts contain macronutrients (healthy fats, carbohydrates, and proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) that contribute to overall health. In contrast, a dietary supplement is often taken to generate a very specific effect [1]. For instance, people take a kava kava supplement to relax, relieve anxiety, and treat insomnia. Kavalactones are a very specific class of compounds that give kava these physiological effects. In other words, many dietary supplements are targeted to address specific ailments or generate specific effects that contribute to wellness. In contrast, healthy foods keep you healthy by giving your body a broad range of the nutrients it needs to maintain wellness.

Is Kava Part of a Healthy Diet?

Let’s briefly look at what’s in kava besides kavalactones: by weight, fresh kava root is about 80% water, 43% starch, 3.2% sugars, 3.6% protein, and 3.2% minerals. Kavalactones make up about 15% of the root by weight [2]. Though kava is usually prepared as a beverage, if you were to eat kava root it would provide about 20% of your daily fiber needs [2]. Not bad!

However, contrast that with maca root, a relative of the turnip frequently called a superfood for its rich array of nutrients: maca root contains high levels of many health-essential macro- and micronutrients, including polysaccharides; complex carbohydrates; essential fatty acids; glucosinates; proteins; several minerals such as calcium and potassium; and trace elements including magnesium, selenium, iron, manganese, and zinc [3]. Maca contains a range of chemical constituents that our bodies require to maintain bodily health, making it by definition a “functional food” rather than a dietary supplement [1]. In contrast, even though kavalactones have demonstrable benefits for health, our bodies do not require them as they do micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, or macronutrients such as carbohydrates and proteins.

Is Kava a Food or Dietary Supplement?

Maca root (Lepidium meyenii) is a nutrient-rich Andean superfood from western South America.

Of course, just because the FDA does not consider kava a food doesn’t mean you can’t mix it with foods in any recipe you choose! The Kava Guru is passionate about finding new ways to cook with kava, and we add our favorites to our Kava Recipes page as often as we can. And as always, we welcome comments below about your favorite kava recipes and creative ways to enjoy this dietary supplement!

Sources

1. Halsted, Charles H. 2003. “Dietary Supplements and Functional Foods – 2 Sides of a Coin?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 77 (supplement): 1001-1007.

2. “Kava – Composition” Wikipedia. Accessed March 12th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava#Composition

3. “Lepidium meyenii – Constituents.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 12th, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidium_meyenii#Constituents

4. “What is a Dietary Supplement?” About FDA. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Last Modified December 30th, 2009.http://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/transparency/basics/ucm195635.htm

Can I Cook With Kava?

Can I Cook With Kava?With so many amazing recipes available online for Kava Kava, it’s tempting to cook with Kava!  Technically, kava is a dietary supplement and NOT a food ingredient.  So, as far as the FDA is concerned, one can’t go to a store and purchase any Kava products that are food items.  But that does not prevent the kava community from cooking to their heart’s content with kava! There are many foods and beverages that are enhanced by the earthy taste of kava. Also, foods with well-known relaxing properties such as dark chocolate often synergize extremely well with kava not just in terms of taste, but also effects.

You can look to our “Kava Recipes” page for any recipe we get and love enough to post.

Heat and Kavalactones- A Primer:

For a long time it was believed that applying heat destroyed the active kavalactones in kava—those compounds responsible for the root’s relaxing, analgesic and euphoric effects. The general wisdom still holds that kavalactones begin to denature (break down) at temperatures of 140 degrees Fahreheit and above [3], making cooking with kava a tricky proposition! In the South Pacific, kava is traditionally enjoyed as a cold tea, which reinforced the notion that kava could not be heated lest the kavalactones be destroyed.

However, it turns out that sometimes kava is heated: in Hawaii, a little-known way of enjoying kava is to briefly add hot stones to a bow of prepared kava; the brew is then whisked and consumed once it has cooled off [1]. A more in-depth exploration of kava’s heat resistance was undertaken in the blog at Kava.com in “Boiling and Baking With Kava” [3], with interesting results: the writer tried heating kava gently in water for 5, 15, and 60 minutes, and also tried immersing kava root in boiling water for the same lengths of time. They reported no diminishment in kava’s relaxing effects when the root was either gently heated or boiled for 5 minutes; after 15 minutes there was a noticeable dip in the strength of the kava, but it was not completely inactive; at 60 minutes, the kava had become inactive (and also unpalatably bitter).

The results suggest that there is a much more flexible range of temperatures at which kava remains active than was previously believed. This makes sense due to the diversity of kavalactones that have been identified in kava root (as many as 14 in total, with 6 found in high concentration in the root): researchers have speculated that some kavalactones are more heat resistant than others and maintain their integrity, and thus effects, at higher temperatures [6]. The duration of high heat exposure also seems to matter. The experimenter in “Boiling and Baking with Kava” noted that kava stayed active after 5 minutes of heating but was reduced in its effects after 15 minutes of heating.

Of course, the Kava Guru can’t create an article about cooking with kava without including some of our favorite  recipes! The three selections below all use kava in interesting, unexpected, and delicious ways that make the most of its earthy complex flavor and wonderfully mellowing effects.

Spiced Kava Chai:

Some kava manufacturers are already offering chai-flavored instant kava that is tasty and effective. But for authentic South Asian flavor, it’s hard to beat chai that’s freshly prepared [4]. Based on the classic spiced black tea of India, this recipe combines powdered kava root with ancient spices such as cardamom, nutmeg, and cinnamon, all of which have their own analgesic, relaxing and hypnotic effects.

Combine 1 tablespoon powdered kava with 1 cup water in a small pot. (Although we can’t endorse using more kava than this, some people double up the amount of kava in this recipe to counteract any decrease in effectiveness due to heating it.) Bring the kava and water mixture to a simmer and add cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, ground ginger and cinnamon to taste. Simmer 5 minutes, take the kava chai off the heat and filter the liquid through a strainer bag to remove the kava pulp and spice solids. Serve as is or add hot milk, nut milk or honey to taste.

Can I Cook With Kava?

Spicy kava chai is the perfect thing for warming up on chilly evenings – minus the jittery effects of caffeine!

Kava Chocolate:

The synergistic potential of kava and dark chocolate is just beginning to be recognized in alternative health circles [5], and the Kava Guru says it’s about time—because not only do the earthy and sweet tastes of kava and bittersweet chocolate complement each other, their relaxing and euphoric qualities do too! Though it may take a bit of experimentation to get right, it’s easy and economical to make kava chocolates at home with only a few ingredients for an all-natural, delicious treat. Best of all, the relaxing kava counterbalances the stimulating effects of chocolate, so these goodies won’t keep you awake at night.

Mix 1 tablespoon of kava in coconut oil, vegetable oil or another vegetable fat. This will start the extraction of kavalactones and is essential for any recipe that uses plain powdered kava root. The mixture should become an oily paste. Next, heat about ½-1lb of good-quality dark chocolate in a double boiler (or a small pot over a larger pot full of simmering water) until it just melts. Mix your extracted kava root in with the melted chocolate and stir over low heat until the mixture is completely blended. Pour your kava chocolate into chocolate molds or an ice cube tray and refrigerate until it has firmed up and is ready to eat.

Kava Ice Cream: A frozen variation of “cooking” with kava—chilling with kava might be more accurate—kava ice cream [2] combines the earthiness of kava with the sumptuous creaminess of ice cream for an amazing chilled treat. The milk, eggs and cream in the recipe also provide automatic emulsification of the kavalactones, making the finished product quite strong as well. The one caveat is that you will need an ice cream maker for this recipe, but luckily there are plenty of relatively inexpensive models available.

Ingredients: 2-4 tablespoons powdered kava root (depending on the desired strength of the finished dessert)

1 cup whole milk
2 cups half and half
¾ cup sugar
5 egg yolks, separated from the white

Preparation: Stir together the milk, cream, and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl, then pour in the milk mixture, stirring constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Let it cool to about room temperature before blending in the kava powder. Place the mixture in your ice cream maker and freeze according to the instructions for that model.

Mahalo,
Kava Guru

Sources
1. “Awa Root.” Kona Kava Farm. Accessed March 12th, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/articles/awa-root.html

2. “A Refreshing Perspective (and Refreshing Kava Ice Cream)”. Kona Kava Farm Blog. Accessed March 7th, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/?p=312.

3. “Boiling and Baking with Kava.” Kava.com. Accessed March 7th, 2014. http://www.kava.com/?p=480

4. “Kava Recipes – Spiced Kava Chai.” Kick Back with Kava.com. Accessed March 7th, 2014. http://www.kickbackwithkava.com/index.php?route=articles/articles&articles_id=9.

5. “Organic Goodness: Chocolate and Kava”. Kona Kava Farm Blog. Accessed March 7th 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/blog/?p=58.

6. Singh, Yadhu N. (ed.) Kava: From Ethnology to Pharmacology. CRC Press, 2004.

Kava Recipe – Kava Colada

Kava Recipe - Kava ColadaOn a warm evening on the big island of Hawaii, kava grower Zachary Gibson proudly demonstrated his latest drink, a kava colada. “See, I take a whole ice tray of frozen pineapple-juice cubes, put them all in a blender with a full can of coconut milk, add one ounce of fluid kava extract and just a little honey and vanilla, blend it all up, and it makes six really delicious drinks.”

Zachary whizzed the concoction in a blender until the mixture was smooth and creamy. The fat in the coconut would help absorb the kavalactones in the kava extract. The pineapple, coconut milk, honey, and vanilla would all blunt the bitterness of the kava. Six of us hoisted the kava coladas and drank together. The drink was impressively delicious, and we all felt the effects of the kava immediately. Zachary was excited. “See? You make a drink like this with kava, and people will really like it.”

We enjoyed the kava coladas so much that we made another blender full about 30 minutes later and drank those too. Half an hour later, we had a third round. Meanwhile, we did what islanders in Oceania have done for thousands of years. We sat together as the warm, golden sun set into the vast Pacific Ocean, and we shared thoughtful conversation and good company.

 Excerpted from “Psyche Delicacies” by Chris Kilham.


If you have any great Kava recipes, please let us know.  If we like it we will post your idea and/or recipe and send off a free package of 4oz Powdered Kava Root from any one of the Kava suppliers we list or review here as a personal “Thank you!” to you.

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