Kava & Reverse Tolerance

One of the questions we get asked most frequently at Kava Time is:

“How long does it take for the kava to work?”

And another is:

“How much kava do I have to take to experience its relaxing effects?”

The answer to both of these questions is: “It depends…

But it’s not just dependent upon the nature of the kava; or even on its kavalactone content, its preparation, or your personal body chemistry.

It also depends on how long you’ve been taking kava. This is due to a phenomenon known as ‘reverse tolerance’.

What is reverse tolerance?

In the case of many substances with active ingredients – like alcohol, for instance – people tend to build up a tolerance; so the more they drink, the more they become immune to its effects over time.

With kava, the reverse is true. When you first start taking kava, it may take more time to feel the effects than for someone who has been taking it for years. It’s like you need to become ‘sensitised’ to kava before it starts working – a type of ‘break-in’ period.

It’s not known exactly why this is, but it is theorised that some people need a certain level of kavalactone build-up in the body to feel the full effects of kava.

If you start with a small amount, as most people understandably do, then the relaxing effects of kava may not register. In fact you may feel very little the first few times you take it.

If you are patient, and gradually take more over time, you will get more benefit out of your kava. You are likely to experience the effects sooner after taking it and, while you will be more familiar with the taste and the effects, this means you will need less to trigger the pleasurable relaxing effects.

Ultimately, you will only know how much kava you need to experience the desired effects after taking it for a while.

Typical guidelines

That said, some general guidelines would probably be useful?

Moderately potent kava will usually produce an effect within 20–30 minutes and should last for 2-3 hours.

That’s about it for generalisations though – you really need to find your own ‘level’ with kava. Reverse tolerance may take a couple of weeks to a month or more to overcome.

Persevere with it – and space out your kava servings until you are familiar with its effects. That way you can take a serving of kava and get the predictable, relaxing benefits at the time of day when it suits you best.

Comments (5):

Michael Charles Cook on

I just started taking Natrol brand Kava and also VH nutrition brand and right away I noticed a relaxing feeling but I’m also on Valerian root as well for Severe Anxiety and cut back on the 4 # 10 Valium’s the doctors got me on. I have a very high tolerance level due to Valium’s. I heard Valium’s can actually make anxiety worse and with government cracking down on benzos I want to know what is better brand to go with if i ever lose my doctor who gives me Valium’s and I like your selection I never tried Kava Kava in drink form before. My mom is in mental hospital and I am having severe anxiety which no yoga or breathing exercises help what is your advice?

Edward Lawrence on

There are other drugs that I think have this same ‘reverse tolerance’ effect. When a doctor prescribes certtian drugs, such as antidepressants, he will usually tell the patient that he will have to continue taking the tablets for at least a couple of weeks before the patient will feel the benfit.
I do believe that there needs to be a ‘build up’ of the drug in your system before the full effect can be felt.

Kava Time on

Normally we recommend against taking pills. You don’t know what quality of kava was used when making the pills and how the lactones have been extracted. Alcohol extracted kava is not safe for consumption. Judging by the dosage it seems the tabs are just powdered kava and not extracts which means they are probably safe but i doubt it being as effective as taking the real beverage.

Ed on

My nutritionist just put me on Kava root. A tab is 455mg. I take 2 tabs, 3 times per day. 6 tabs total. Ok?
Thanks Ed

Gabe Yuhasz on

I take 12 mg Suboxone daily and I am wondering if it affects the effectiveness of kava?

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Are Kava Pills Effective? Why Kava Root Powder is the Best Form of Kava

We are currently seeing several new forms of kava emerging due to the surge in its demand worldwide. Kava pills, one of the oldest and more readily available forms, have been at the forefront for the US market. Amazon, Ebay, pharmacies and health stores all over US keep kava supplements in form of pills. But, are these pills really effective? Why do many people prefer kava root powder instead of kava pills?

In order to answer these questions we need to understand what a recommended kava dosage is.

Recommended Kava Dosage  

According to Drugs.Com, the German Commission E recommends dosages of 60 to 120 mg kavalactone daily for no longer than 3 months without medical evaluation. Clinical studies have reported that kavalactone dosages between 60 to 240 mg/day are effective for anxiety relief. However, most kava dietary supplements available in pill form tell you to use about 300mg/ day. Isn’t that going overboard to recommendations? Well those pills are never 100% kavalactones. Usually it is a mono-extract of acetone from the dried roots of the plant and is standardized to 70% kavalactones which means you are being told to use about 210mg of kavalactones per day by the kava pill company. Regardless of what is being recommended by these dietary kava pill companies, have you ever actually heard people benefiting from these pills? Our guess is that it’s probably a hit and miss.

What do we recommend as a dosage? Well, it depends. A lot of factors go into consideration when trying to figure out an effective and efficient dose for an individual. Factors for individuals are basically their height, weight and gender while factors related to the kava product you have are the kavalactones percentage, chemotype and form of the kava. Individual factors determine how much kavalactones your body needs to feel the kava effects while factors related to the kava determines how much of the product you need to use and how long it’s effects will last. Pills are convenient and easy to use but kava root powder requires proper preparation. For the powder, you really need to get your hands dirty and knead and squeeze the kava to maximize extraction of its active ingredient (kavalactones). We recommend preparing kava using the traditional method of kneading in a straining cloth so that enough pressure can be applied for extraction. It’s a messy job but worthwhile if you want to maximize the effects of the kava powder dose.

Why is Kava Root Powder the Best Form of Kava?

We recommend sticking to the old fashioned traditional method of drinking kava using kava root powder and avoiding kava pills, tinctures, extracts, vapors etc. You get more bang for your buck by consuming kava in its traditional form, by extracting the kavalactones from kneading a strainer filled with kava root powder submerged in luke warm water and gulping it down cup after cup.

Let’s show you an example of why we suggest going for kava root powder instead of pills. This will require a bit of math and a kava powder to use as an example. Let’s use our famous Gourmet Kadavu Waka for this calculation. We know that the Kadavu is a traditional grind kava and has been tested to contain 11.3g of kavalactones per 100g of kava root powder. Putting things into perspective,

  • A tablespoon can hold average has 8 – 9 grams of kava powder in it
  • The Kadavu has 11.3% kavalactones in it
  • A good traditional extraction will net 8 – 9% of those lactones
  • This means that a tablespoon of our Kadavu kava root powder can net you a minimum of 640mg of kavalactones which is more than triple the kavalactones you get out of a standard kava pill dosage regardless of how much water is used.

What does this all mean?

Well firstly, it means that our Kadavu is quite strong! But that goes for most kava powders we stock. Secondly, the math supports our recommendation of consuming kava in traditional powder form using traditional preparation i.e. you get more bang for your buck. Kava Root Powder is the best form of kava which one can buy and is typically cheaper in comparison of kavalactones content to other forms of kava such as pills, extracts, tinctures etc. if you do the maths. That’s aside from being the safest form of kava if you are purchasing from the right kava vendor. Average users tend to use 2 tablespoons of kava in 300mL of luke warm water per session which is enough for 2 cups of kava.

Now wait just a minute!

  • 2 tablespoons equals to 16 – 18g kava powder
  • 8 – 9% lactone extraction equals a minimum of 1.28g of kavalactones.

But that’s over 10 times the recommended dosage by the German Commission E!?

We know. The several factors we identified for recommended dosage vary by individuals, where some may only need 1 tablespoon of powder to feel the effects and others may need up to 8 or 9 tablespoons. Kava effects are subtle. Once you understand the effects it has on you, it may take as little as half a tablespoon to get to that point where you need to be, even if you began your dosages with 8 or 9 tablespoons a few weeks earlier. It’s important to note that in most clinical trials, subjects are attuned to understanding the effects of the kava on their body and the trials occur in a very controlled environment. Real world results for kava may differ quite a bit. 

 Ok but if I had to start with 8 or 9 tablespoons of kava to get its effects, isn’t it dangerous? Isn’t that overdosing?

Kava Overdose

The key thing to remember about kava is that there is no known overdose. Kava is not a type of drug which can harm you or your body in any way if taken excessively. That doesn’t mean that you should go about drinking as much kava as you can. You still can get sick from too much kava, just like how you can get sick from consuming too much of anything. We are just providing limits to consider when answering the question about safe kava dosage. Unlike other natural herbal products (such as Guarana in Red Bull) though, there is yet to be a single recorded case of death from kava overdose which speaks volume about how safe kava is. The worst you can get from drinking too much of kava is falling off to sleep, one of the reasons why many insomniacs drink kava. Kava does seem to impair mobility at high doses. Therefore, we strictly advise against driving/operating heavy machinery under the influence of kava.

So are Kava Pills effective? Looking at the recommended dosage level for most pills, we think that pills are not effective. You may need to take in a significant amount of pills to feel the effects of the kava. Are Kava Pills efficient? Well if you are taking in so many pills to get the effects of kava, what’s the point in spending so much money on them? Go the traditional way like how we islanders in the South Pacific have done for over 3000 years ago. Buy kava powder and prepare it the traditional way and have a shell. Bula!

Effects of Kava Vs Effects of Alcohol

What are the relative effects of kava and alcohol on the human body?

In terms of usage they are both social drinks, but alcohol is a super-heavyweight around the world and kava just a flyweight. The short and long-term effects on the body are very different too.

EFFECTS OF ALCOHOLIC DRINKS

Alcohol is used socially because it can temporarily improve mood and produce sensations of euphoria; it can act as a social “lubricant” whereby people lose their inhibitions or shyness.

This can also create situations that are potentially aggressive, because people often become more bold when they have had a few drinks. We have all seen that on a Friday night out in the city!

Physical effects include a reduction in attention span and reaction times (which is why it’s illegal to drive with a high blood-alcohol reading) and, in more extreme cases, a loss of memory or comprehension.

There are some reports suggesting that alcohol such as red wine, when used in moderation can be beneficial for health.

But it can also cause problems with loss of balance and, in large quantities, can cause vomiting or complete loss of consciousness.

Frequent and long-term usage can lead to problems with liver damage, including hepatitis and cirrhosis. In fact alcohol-related disease accounts for high numbers of deaths globally.

The after-effects of alcohol consumption can be quite severe with the traditional “hangovers” caused by dehydration; headache, fever, vomiting and other stomach upsets are quite common after-effects of drinking excess alcohol.

Some potentially adverse social effects include the risk of addiction and associated relationship and family problems.

EFFECTS OF KAVA (TRADITIONALLY-PREPARED)

We will focus on the traditionally-prepared kava that Fijians and other Pacific islanders have been drinking for centuries rather than other modern versions on the shelves out there.

When drank in the traditional way, kava produces a mild calming and relaxing effect that helps bonding in social situations and family get-togethers. It may also provide mental clarity and patience, according to some drinkers.

The kavalactones present in kava root are a known short-term reliever of stress and this active ingredient gives the drink its well-known place as an “ice breaker”; kava ceremonies are a traditional greeting for guests and kava presentations from visitors are used as a traditional gift for hosts.

Physically, you will feel numbness of the lips and tongue after drinking. In larger amounts you may experience pupil dilation and bloodshot eyes, and possibly a loss of appetite; but it is unlikely you will ever drink enough kava to produce this effect.

The effects of kava will usually start after 20 minutes and last up to 2 hours but, unlike with alcohol, even prolonged usage produces no tendency to become aggressive and nor does it result in a hangover. There is also no addictive quality to kava.

You can judge for yourself whether drinking alcohol or drinking kava is more beneficial to your body. 

How commercial kava farming is done in Fiji – An insight to Fiji's largest kava plantation.

In this post we will talk about how kava is farmed in Fiji on a commercial scale. The information is based on the first-hand experience I had staying over at our Gourmet Savusavu Waka farmer’s kava plantation in Savusavu. They have the largest kava plantation in Fiji. I stayed over for three days at their main farm house (out of 7 farmhouses) where there is no electricity supply. Their water supply comes from a stream up on the hill side of the valley where his farm is based. There is also no communication (cell) network. Sadly I was not able to take as many photos as I could because my cell phone kept getting to low battery and I had to ration power supply from my power bank for the 3 days. But I did manage to get some great shots and videos to put on this post.

Let me tell you a bit about our farmer. He is a 24 year old who has taken most control of the plantation which his dad started. His dad had started the plantation alone is 1980’s with 4 acres of land which was given to him by his father. In the early 90’s he saw that the demand for kava was growing at a level to which he could not sustain, so he decided to take out a loan to hire workers and expand his plantation. After the loan got approved he went ahead to lease another 73 acres of land to plant kava on. At this rate he kept expanding the plantation because demand kept increasing and now he has a total of 243 acres of leased land, most of which has kava planted in them. We cannot release details of our farmer because of competitive reasons, but they are very well known in Savusavu. The family is so generous that they have been paying expenses for buildings for villages nearby and have also donated fields of kava to their church group. Our farmer has about 30 employees working for them on rotational bases that come from nearby villages. There are 3 main foremen who look after the farm aside from our farmer. They are paid double of what the normal workers are paid and also get the benefit of receiving free kasa cuttings (kava nodes) to go and plant back at their farms on days off. Some of the workers also get land allocations to plant/harvest their own kava on our farmers land. Occasionally, youth groups from various locations in Fiji come by to work in the farm in return of kasa cuttings. Below is picture of a kasa cutting, the cuttings used to grow kava.

Getting back to the farming now. A typical day at the plantation starts at 5am by which time everyone is awake and ready to go into the farm. Everyone gathers for a prayer session and they are off to the farm for the morning session. Below is a picture of the briefing given by our farmer wearing a light grey shirt to one set of workers. They have 2 vehicles used to transport 2 set of workers in and out of the plantation given its huge size. It takes about 1 hour to walk from 1 end of the farm to the other up till where kava has been planted. By vehicle it takes about 15 minutes so it saves time. The road going in and out is pretty rugged and worse when it rains. So the farmer uses land cruisers to get the job done.

The morning session usually involves cleaning the fields. Our farmer has his plantation sectioned out and each section as a name eg Siberia, Kazakhstan, PNG, USA etc. They use country names to refer to each section which needs to be worked on.  Below is a video of 1 section and another farm house.

Cleaning for each section takes place once every month until the kava plant is tall enough to win competing for sunlight with other shrubs. If the plant does not get sufficient sunlight it will have a hard time growing into a fully matured plant. Below is a picture of the cleaning which occurred at one section.

The morning cleaning session usually takes around an hour or two before all the workers come back to the farm house for their breakfast. Breakfast is usually buns/bread made at the farm house the previous night with butter, jam and tea. Below is a picture of the custom built oven at the farmhouse in which the baking is done. I found it to be a very interesting design.

By 9am everyone is ready to head back to the farm. This session usually rotates around harvesting and planting kava. You would think that to run such a large operation, you would need to harvest a lot of kava plants, but it only takes 10 lovo pits to break even for the entire week. A lovo pit is a bunch of kava plants grouped together. Out of the 10 lovo pits comes about 700 kasa cuttings which are replanted to make about 35 lovo pits. In each lovo pit about 16 to 18 kasa cuttings are planted out of which 8 to 10 survive till harvest. This is the reason why each lovo pit yields a lot of kava. On a typical day, about 15 to 20 lovo pits are harvested. Below is a video of the yield which comes from 1 lovo pit.

 

That harvest is from a 3 year old plant. Below is a picture of how massive this plant grows to in the farm. The two guys are about 1.7m in height and they are standing on thick tree log which is giving them about 50cm additional height from the ground where the kava plants base is. I would say the plant is about 3 meters in height and its just 3 years old. When I asked my farmer about the age of the plant he was quite upfront and said its just 3 years old and many farmers all over Fiji and maybe in some other countries may show plants as such and claim that the kava is 10-12 years old when really they are not.

By 1pm all the workers have wrapped up with the work to be done and bring back the harvest loaded on the land cruisers back to the farm house. Now its lunch time and during my 3 days stay there, the lunch was boiled cassava (tapioca), boiled bele (Slippery cabbage) in coconut milk and some form of meat usually canned mackerel. The farm house is occupied by 2 workers everyday on a rotational basis whose responsibility is to cook for everyone while the rest are working on the plantation.

After lunch, workers get to work in grading, peeling, chopping and cleaning the harvest ready for the dryer which is used for drying the kava. The big lateral roots are called number 1 waka, the smaller lateral roots are called number 2 waka, sometimes the basel stems are peeled to be called white lawena, sometimes they are not peeled and are referred to as black lawena. The part which is above the basel stem till the kasa cutting is referred to as cut piece. The leftover tiny root pieces which are scraped up are referred to as “Bomb”. All these parts are sold at different prices and in our farmers case to different customers. We buy only the number 1 waka which is the cream of the harvest and the most expensive! The cheapest part is the cut piece in which he mixes the white lawena peelings usually. Our Savusavu farmer reuses all the kasa cuttings to expand his farm but in other farms where land is limited, the farmers tend to sell the dried kasa cuttings too. This is referred to as “Black kasa”. If these kasa cuttings are peeled, they are referred to as “white kasa”. Even the peelings are sold off to some buyers and these are referred to as “Civicivi”.

 Our farmer uses firewood from trees which were fell to make way for kava planting. These trees are littered around the plantation to be dried for a few months before it is cut up and taken back to the farmhouse dryer to use as a fuel source. Fire drying is necessary for commercial scale farming in savusavu or it will delay harvest times and be a problem when it rains. It rains quite a lot in Savusavu which is one of the major reasons why our farmer uses a fire dryer. Some of you may have noticed the smoky smell which comes from our Gourmet Savusavu Waka. That is because of the fire drying. Below is a picture of kava harvest being processed for the fire dryer. The processing area gets quite dirty because of the soil being washed off the kava. However, there is still dirt left on the kava which we wash off at our processing facility in Nadi using pressure washers. Most exporters in Fiji don’t wash the kava and process it into powder as is. That’s why you often find some Fijian kavas tasting nasty. The taste is made worse from dirt, mildew and wet/rotting kavas.

Below is a picture of the dryer from far. You can notice smoke emanating from the dryer. Our farmer and I had a discussion about this and we have bought him some exhaust fans to use on a chimney he plans to build to remove smoke from the burning chamber. He still is working on getting that set up.

Below is a picture of the sketchy bridge which needs to be crossed to get to the farmhouse. Its broken ¾ of the way and is held together by cables. The stream which flows by the farm house is a source of renewable energy and on my visit I recommended them that the flow of the stream which is greater towards another end can be used to generate electricity to power up the farmhouse. We are still working on finding a solution to this as the stream floods under heavy rain.

Once the kava has been set in the dryer, it’s a waiting game. It takes about 10 hours for the kava to sufficiently dry before it’s taken out from the dryer and placed out in the sun to remove most of the smoky smell. A worker tends to the dryer from time to time throughout the night to see if it has enough firewood. The kava is prepped by 6pm ready for the fire dryer and placed in it overnight for drying. By 4am it is removed from the dryer and laid out to sun for the next morning for a few hours. After this the kava is put into the bulk all laid out. It is bagged the following morning when the kava has absorbed some moisture back. This is done to preserve the roots from breaking up during bagging. In Fiji, the roots are the premium product of the kava plant and are typically laid out on table tops in the market for display. Fully intact roots are more appealing to buyers and attract more value than broken up roots. Below is a picture of how kava roots are displayed in the market.

Dinner for the workers is always a heavy one. The farmhouse has a chicken coup which feeds the workers in terms of providing eggs and chicken meat. All meals for workers are provided by our farmer. The plantation location is very remote. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the farm from Savusavu Town. The plantation is truly remarkable. In the 15 minute drive towards the end of the farm from the beginning you will see kava planted on both sides of the road extending up to the hills with a depth of maybe 500 - 600m. It is indeed the largest kava plantation in Fiji and we are glad to be one of the very few selected customers of our Savusavu farmer.

I hope this has been an interesting read and you have gained more knowledge about how kava is commercially farmed in Fiji.  

Why don’t I feel effects of kava? What am I doing wrong? An article for the novice

As a person who is new to kava you may be wondering why kava isn’t working for you? How is it that your friends are giving all praises for kava while you don’t feel anything? It is not that kava doesn’t work or there maybe something wrong with you. In this article we will provide you an array of things to consider which will help you pin-point what might be stopping you from feeling the effects of kava.

We have arranged these factors into two categories. The first is the internal factors you must consider and the other is the external factors which may be at play.

Internal Factors

  • Experiencing reverse tolerance

You may have heard of this term a number of times from your kava drinking buddies when you told them about your situation. This reverse tolerance phenomenon does occur with kava and it could be something you may be facing which is why you don’t feel the effects of kava YET. It doesn’t happen with everyone but you maybe a special case like few others. The important thing to note here is that you need to continue with using kava to have your important “breakthrough”. For more information about reverse tolerance read our article Kava & Reverse Tolerance after this.

  •  Not drinking kava on an empty stomach

One cannot stress the importance of drinking kava on an empty stomach. You need to fast for at least 2 hours before drinking kava. The reason behind this is that kavalactones get more easily absorbed by the body on an empty stomach rather than one which is full with food. There is no scientific explanation for this but that’s a conclusion which can be drawn out from general observation. Even veterans don’t feel the full effects when drinking kava with a full stomach.

  • Not preparing the kava correctly

The main goal in kava preparation is to ensure that all the soft particles of the kava powder are loosened from the hard particles (makas) and kneaded through the strainer which you use. It takes time and plenty of effort to do this and there is no easy way to prepare unless if you purchase micronized or instant kava. You can use a blender to blend the powder in water to shorten the kneading process but be sure to blend in short bursts to avoid heating the kava. Heating the kava will make the liquid gelatinous and impossible to strain or drink.

  • Discarding the most important part of the kava drink

The sediment that settles to the bottom of the bowl during preparation is what contains up to 70% of the effects which you would experience from kava. It is very important to drink that sediment. The sediment is very quick to settle to the bottom of the bowl so ensure that you mix the liquid thoroughly before drinking the kava and not to throw away that sediment. You should also drink the kava half cup at a time (120mL) and space out each drink at least 8 to 10 minutes apart and no more than that. If you get nauseous from drinking so quickly or drinking the sediment then suck on a hard candy in between drinking the kava. This will help alleviate the nausea.

  • Eating right after drinking kava.

Usually you begin to experience the heady effects of kava after 20 to 30 minutes of your first drink. It begins very subtle then peaks and phases out within an hour at most. Do not eat anything for at least an hour after your last kava drink. The heavy/relaxation effect of kava usually stays even after eating but the heady effects will stop once you have a meal.

  • Not using enough kava

Everyone is different and for that reason some people may require up to 2 tablespoons of kava to feel its effects and some may require up to 12 tablespoons. Just as some people are more sensitive and some are less sensitive to things they put into their bodies, it is no different for herbal supplements. You should know that there is no overdosing risk in kava. The worse that can happen with drinking too much kava is nausea and losing body coordination, both of which are temporary. It’s nothing substantial to warrant a visit to the hospital. Feel free to experiment with dosage to see where you stand. It could be that your body requires 8 tablespoons of kava in the beginning and later on require less as your body gets attuned on what to expect from a kava session. Keep experimenting with the kava doses if you don’t feel anything.

 

External Factors

  • Purchasing low quality kava

Often time’s people who are new to kava are unable to determine which kava they should purchase from which vendor. It’s not always the case that the most expensive kavas are of higher quality and not often that the cheapest of kavas are the best bang for your buck. However, do not make the mistake of going for a cheaper priced kava during the initial stages of experimenting. Cheaper kavas are notoriously known for being a hit or miss in effects so it maybe that the kava itself just doesn’t work rather than it specifically not work for you. It’s better to buy from a well-reviewed vendor in the initial stage of trying kava. If you have bought kava from a vendor and it didn’t work, try from other vendors to see how their products compare. This is because even kava which you and your friend bought from the same vendor can have varying batches and this will be a problem in determining why you aren’t feeling any effects. Also remember that it’s not always the most popular vendors that have the best products. Often time’s people buy from the first vendor they find through Google and it could turn out to be a vendor who has been around for many years but is selling low quality kavas. Always go for well-reviewed kava vendors rather than the more popular ones. Always check online reviews of vendors before purchasing their products.

  • Taking other medications with kava

When trying out kava always keep in mind that there is a possibility that you might not be able to experience the effects of kava due to other medications. Kava needs to be taken on its own without any other medications interfering with your senses. It is very subtle compared to other herbal medications but quite powerful on its own. Ensure that you have a clean system when you try kava to be able to sense its effects more acutely.

 

These are just some of the factors we hope you might look into to help uncover why you are not feeling the effects of kava. If we may have missed something important please feel free to contribute in form of a comment.

 

Vinaka

Neil

Everything you need to know about Micronized Kava.

Micronized kava seems to be a very ambiguous topic when it comes to kava because there isn’t much information available online about it. A person who is looking to start his or her kava journey usually first attempts to get kava that is relatively easy to prepare with very little steps and is the least expensive. The notion of buying medium grind kava, a strainer, properly dosing, kneading and straining seems overly complicated to someone who's just looking to experiment with kava to see if it really works. Micronized kava and Instant kava are two of the most common grades of kava which comes to mind to offer to the novice with micronized being the least expensive and ideal choice. So what exactly is micronized kava? Even a veteran kava drinker will not be able to answer all the questions about micronized kava. Whats the difference between medium grind and micronized kava? Is micronized kava worth the price? Whats the impact of having the makas removed to produce micronized kava? Should i only get micronized kava from vendors who claim to remove the makas from kava prior to it being dried? Will consuming the makas cause any harm? How can I tell if a micronized kava i purchased contains makas? So many questions come to mind yet very little information is available about this topic. In this post, we attempt to answer as many of the important questions possible to provide you a central location to refer to if you are wondering what micronized kava is all about.

To begin answering this long list of questions we first need to understand what exactly is micronized kava and how did it originate. It is very difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of the coined term of micronized kava because there is no historical record available of how and when improvements have been made to kava processing techniques. We assume that the term originated in USA through a few pioneer kava vendors who sought to make the process of preparing kava easier for consumers but make it seem different to instant kava.

What is micronized kava?

To put it in simple terms, micronized kava is the equivalent of instant dried kava powder. It is kava powder which is so fine in particle size that you only need to mix it to your beverage of choice and its ready to drink. It does not require any process of kneading/ blending and straining like how it would for traditional/ medium grind kava powder.

What makes micronized kava different from traditional/ medium grind kava?

Analyzing the composition of the powders

To answer this we first need to understand what makes up medium grind kava. We know that medium grind kava contains 3 components which are visible to the naked eye apart from the active ingredient known as kavalactones.

  1. Makas (hard fibers usually lighter colored than the powder but in exceptionally light colored kava powders it can appear darker),
  2. Root flesh (soft plant material usually powdered)
  3. Root skin (dark/blackish particles which become more evident after preparation when looking at the strained leftovers).

    All three of these components contain kavalactones but the concentration differs in each component. It had been researched in the past that the skin of the kava plant contains the highest amount of kavalactones by weight. This would mean the skin of the roots have the highest kavalactones which is followed by the flesh and then the makas which contains the least (Based on our own findings).

    Micronized kava also contains 3 components similar to medium grind kava but the particle sizes are at micron levels (very small) which means it can be consumed directly without straining.

    Why is micronized kava more expensive than medium grind kava if it consists of the same components?

    Micronized kava can further be categorized depending on an additional step being taken before it is processed. Kava vendors normally retail one particular type of micronized kava dependent on their processing technique.

    There are 2 categories. Simple micronized kava and makas reduced micronized kava (often referred to as makas free micronized kava).

    1. Simple or often considered as the lowest grade of micronized kava is usually made by taking dried kava roots and processing it until it is so fine in size that it can be easily mixed into water and consumed. This grade is usually the cheapest in price and sometimes very close to the price of traditional/medium grind kava. This micronized grade produces a beverage like belowIf you zoom in onto the picture you will notice debris floating at the top of the beverage. Those are some of the makas component of the kava root. Makas is the hardest part of the kava plant and generally cannot be micronized under impact milling machinery. A commercial ball mill which works on the principles of friction is needed to reduce the particle size of the makas to an acceptable size for consuming. But the problem with using any friction principled mill is that it tends to heat and deteriorate the material being micronized which in the case is not ideal for kava as the active ingredients (kavalactones) start to reduce at the temperature of 60 degrees Celsius and higher.
    2. Makas reduced (makas free) micronized kava is considered as a higher grade of micronized kava and is usually more expensive to purchase. This is because before being processed to micronized kava, steps are taken to eliminate or reduce the amount of makas present in the kava. This results in a micronized kava which is slightly more potent than what its medium grind version would have been. It works on the principles of concentration by mass. For example,
      You have 100g of kava which has 11% kavalactones. This means 11 grams of kavalactones per 100g of kava. We know that makas has the least amount of kavalactones so let’s assume that there is 15g of makas in that same 100g of kava you have which contains 4% kavalactones. This amounts to 0.6 grams kavalactones per 15g makas. You removed the makas from the kava (100g – 15g) and replaced it with 15g of makas reduced kava which has 10.6% kavalactones. This amounts to 1.59grams kavalactones to 15g makas reduced kava. You now have a total of 100g of makas reduced kava with you. The kavalactone content of that 100g was reduced by 0.6 grams and replaced with 1.59 grams (11 - 0.4 +1.59) of kavalactones. This means you now are left with 12.19 grams of kavalactones per kg which means that the potency of kava has increased from 11% to 12.19% after reducing the makas in the kava. This is an increase of 10.81% in potency from medium grind kava or what would have been simple micronized kava to makas reduced micronized kava.
      There are currently only a handful of vendors who take this additional step before micronizing to refine their product and there are various techniques to remove the makas of the kava . The benefits of taking this additional step are:  
      • It improves the potency of the kava even if it’s only a slight improvement.
      • There’s less likelihood of the consumer to experience stomach discomfort with micronized kava
      • Less likelihood of experiencing nausea if stayed within dosage limits

      Before we begin with talking about how the makas is removed, let’s quickly do a fact check about makas.

      1. Kava makas contains less kavalactones.
      2. Makas is a very light weight substance. Its structure has tiny holes in it and is not as dense as the flesh of the kava which carries more lactones. It looks like really thin Linguine pasta. At best its weight relative to 100g of kava maybe just 10 - 15g but max 15%. Below is a picture of the cross section of kava roots. The star like shape is the makas in the kava which runs parallel with the root and increases or decreases in width according to the thickness of the individual root at the point of its length
      3. As earlier mentioned, It is possible to micronize makas but extremely difficult. The only equipment available to do so is based on the principles of friction which isn’t ideal for processing kava as too much heat is generated from it. You can use a kandap machine which will pin the makas against two metal plates and exert a lot of force, but that method is not efficient in micronizing all the makas.
      4. Makas gets tougher with the age of the kava plant. If you took dried thick root of a matured plant with same thickness as that of a young plant for comparison, you will require more force to snap the older kava plant root than you would for the younger kava plant root.

      How can the makas be removed?

      There are two methods through which the makas can be removed and it centres down to the stage at which the makas is being removed.  You can remove the makas from the kava when it is still green and you can remove the makas from the kava when it has been dried. Both of the methods have their distinct advantages and disadvantages which we will try to list down for better clarity.

      Removing makas when the kava roots is green (freshly harvested)

        This is the ideal stage to remove the most amount or possibly 100% of makas for a processor compared to when it has dried. At this stage, the roots are soft and malleable while the makas is tough but also malleable. A unique technique needs to be applied to remove the soft flesh of the kava root and discard the hard fibers (makas).

        Advantages

        • Highly efficient method of removing the makas (possibility of 100% of makas to be removed)
        • High yield of makas free kava if the makas is removed carefully with minimal wastage
        • Can be further processed to produce micronized powder which is very close to traditionally prepared kava.

         Disadvantages

        • Very labour intensive process. This increases processing costs.
        • Difficult to scale process to commercial level. There is no machinery available which can simplify or aid in the process of removing makas of different sized roots. It needs to be done manually. If a machine is used to smash the roots into pulp to remove the makas there is possibility of kava juice being lost in the process which decreases potency and increases wastage.
        • Not commercially viable as the procedure will be too expensive to recover costs against competitor micronized prices.

        To give an idea about how difficult a procedure this is, below is a picture of freshly harvested kava being cut into manageable pieces before being washed.  That is equivalent to 4kg of dried kava. Removing makas when the kava is green would require the processor to go through each root individually. It’s more practical to produce instant kava derived from green kava if this level of commitment is required rather than micronized kava since micronized kava is sold for a cheaper price than instant kava and will incur more expenses in producing.Removing Makas when the kava has dried

        This is not the ideal stage to be removing makas for the processor because the root becomes stiff and hard when dried making the process of separation harder. A unique technique needs to be applied which will basically separate the soft flesh (which easily turns into powder) and the makas (which is difficult to turn into fine powder) at this stage for removal to work.

         Advantages

        • Process can be mechanized. Commercial grade equipment are available assist with the process of separation
        • Less labour intensive. This means more economical in terms of cost.
        • Commercially viable procedure
        • Produces similar results (NOT SAME) to removing makas when the kava is green.

        Disadvantages

        • Impossible to remove 100% of the makas. This method is inefficient as during the separation process, some makas is bound to reach micron level and become impossible to separate.
        • Impossible to further refine the micronized kava in terms of particle size. It’s difficult to further reduce particle size after separation. Only friction based mills can further process but it isn’t ideal because of the heat generated in milling. Equipment is available but requires extreme levels of investment which isn’t practical unless scale of operations has a very high output.
        • Lower yield of makas reduced kava. A lot of wastage occurs because separation is done using particle size differences so there maybe high kavalactone particles stuck onto the makas which also gets separated from the fine powder.
        • Feels gritty in texture when the kava is made into a beverage. This is mostly due to the kava flesh particles being relatively larger in size and swelling up as it is rehydrated into any liquid.

         As you can tell by now, a lot of value addition is done in terms of processing the kava and further refining it to micronized level. This is the reason why you will find some micronized kava to be more expensive than buying traditional/medium grind kava or low grade micronized kavas. The meticulous procedure of producing a top of the shelf micronized kava is expensive and not as simple as it may seem.

        Who has the better quality micronized kava? A vendor who removes makas while it is green or when it has been dried?

        There are often claims made by vendors that removing makas when the kava is green may produce a better quality micronized kava because of the possibility of removing 100% of the makas. Too often you will hear people recommending this version of micronized kava over the other.

        To begin answering this question we first need to understand the mechanics behind preparation of medium grind kava. As the sole purpose of micronized kava being produced is to provide an instant version to dried kava powder (traditional/medium grind kava)

        Medium Grind Kava Preparation Mechanics.

        There are two common ways to prepare medium grind kava.

        1) Traditional Preparation - When you prepare kava using traditional method, you are kneading and straining the medium grind powder. The particles which are finer than your strainer micron rating emulsifies into the liquid easily while you knead and strain the large micron particles in an attempt to wash out the kavalactones and have it emulsified into the liquid as well. Since force is using during the kneading process you typically push through kava particles a few microns larger than the strainer you use because the kava particles gets soft and begin rehydrating when in contact with liquid.

        2) Using the Aluball - When using the Aluball, you are using the pressure generated in the water through shaking to sift out the medium grind kava. Only particles which are finer than the micron rating on the aluball get emulsified into the liquid used and to some extent you maybe extracting kavalactones from the bigger particles but not as efficiently as the traditional method because there is no significant pressure exerted on the kava particles. Remember that the only way to efficiently extract kavalactones from kava is by using an alcohol based solvent (which is declared to being harmful) or CO2 in an high pressure environment (which has not been declared as safe). Mere pressure exerted on kava using hand powered water pressure will not extract much of anything. 

        In both cases, it is important to note that you are attempting to extract the kavalactones by using pressure applied to the medium grind kava hoping to 'wash' it into the liquid you use. The efficiency of this is dependent on the right technique being used to extract the kavalactones by pressure but majority of the emulsion in the beverage you obtain from medium grind kava comes from very fine kava particles (makas, flesh and skin) which slide past the strainer.  This is why if you leave the kava for a long period, the particles settle to the bottom and has an appearance which can be best described as looking like "MUD". Most people don't have digestion problems with this "mud" in their kava because it’s very fine depending on how fine of a strainer was used and can be easily tolerated by your stomach. 

        This means that even when preparing and consuming traditional/ medium grind kava, you are in fact consuming all 3 components of the kava powder (makas, flesh and skin) which were finer than your strainer bag. Therefore, there is no significant difference to whether 100% of the makas was removed from the kava when it was green or 97% of makas had been removed when the kava was dried. The difference does not warrant any added advantage to either methods because ultimately you consume makas when preparing traditional/medium grind kava anyway. Neither of the two methods will give you stomach discomfort or nausea as supposed to the makas being left in simple/low grade micronized kava.

        How do I judge the quality of micronized kava?  

        This is where most people get it wrong. Quality is not based on the makas in micronized kava been removed 100% when the kava was green or 97% when the kava was dried. The difference is insignificant as both will yield similar results with increased potency and not cause stomach discomfort or nausea.

        Micronized kava has been produced in the past and to date to serve as an instant version to traditional/ medium grind kava. It is there to provide convenience to consumers who find the task of traditional preparation of kava daunting, tedious or time consuming. To judge the quality of micronized kava you need to assess it against what is has been designed for, that is, you need to see how close the beverage prepared from micronized kava comes to beverage prepared from prepared medium grind kava by traditional method. Below are the specific factors you need to look for:

        • Floating Makas - As a baseline to quality, the first thing you look for is floating makas in your beverage. As shown in the picture under “Why is micronized kava more expensive than medium grind kava if consists of the same components?” subheading, it will be quite easy to spot the makas in your beverage. That is essentially the lowest grade of micronized kava assuming its noble kava
        • The texture of the micronized kava beverage. You will very often find micronized powder looking very fine in dry form but once mixed into liquid it will look gritty and feel rough to your throat when drinking. You will experience more gag reflex to this type of micronized kava. The question you need to ask yourself is how close does the texture of the kava resemble to that of traditionally prepared kava? Of course it physically impossible to replicate the exact beverage you get from traditionally prepared kava in terms of texture. This is because achieving that level of micronization of particles will require you to use friction principled mills which will deteriorate the quality of the kava with heat. Essentially, the highest quality micronized kava will be the closest to texture of the kava you get from traditionally prepared medium grind kava. It would be bitter but won’t induce your gag reflex (feel like choking) unless if you have an overly sensitive reflex. To test this part you need to drink the micronized beverage like any other drink and not gulp it down.
        • The colour of the beverage through a clear glass. If you inspect the micronized kava beverage in a clear glass, you may see black particles floating inside the liquid which would be very obvious and if left for a while it will easily settle to the bottom. A good quality micronized kava will have these particles so small that it wouldn’t seem obvious to the naked eye unless if very closely inspected. These black particles are the skin of the kava roots.

        It is important to note that correct assessment of these factors is dependent on the ratio of micronized powder to liquid used in comparison. It is imperative that the same ratio of powder to liquid be used to test the above factors in micronized kavas in order for a proper comparison to be made. Do not go according to the serving size recommended by individual vendors. As a general rule, 5 grams of micronized powder should be tested in 240ml of water. If you do not have a gram scale then use a level filled measuring spoon for consistency.

        Is micronized kava worth buying?

        The answer to this question is yes but only if you are getting a top of the shelf micronized kava. Why?

        • A lot of time, effort, energy, love and care has been put in by vendors who produce micronized kava for their customers. This is more the case for vendors who produce top of the shelf micronized kava. You are buying a very refined and carefully produced product which is highly valuable
        • As explained earlier under the “Medium Grind Kava Preparation Mechanics” subheading, you are essentially consuming very fine root matter with both techniques of preparation more than you are extracting kavalactones. Water extraction of kavalactones is safe but quite inefficient. When comparing the amount of "MUD" you get in both forms of kava, you get more of the finer root powder for consumption with micronized kava by weight than what you get from traditional/medium grind kava. Your preparation technique may not be as efficient when attempting to extract maximum kavalactones, but your stomach will definitely be. Ultimately, the more kava plant matter you consume, the higher amount of kavalactones will be extracted by your stomach and absorbed into your body. This is the reason why many people find micronized kava to feel stronger than medium grind kava and why they feel micronized kava lasts longer than traditional/medium grind kava. NOTE: This does not mean that you should begin fully consuming medium grind kava. The large particles of makas will cause extreme stomach discomfort and possibly land you in a hospital.
        • It saves you time and energy. Something a lot of folks need after they start earning money. Like anything convenience comes with a price.
        • It is more affordable than instant kava. Instant kava has vastly improved texture than micronized kava and in some cases can seem more potent depending on the dehydration temperature used during processing.

         Thank you for taking out time to read through our post. We have tried to be as factual as possible and hope that this post has brought a lot of clarity on the topic of micronized kava for you. If you have any further questions feel free to comment below.

        10 Traditional Occasions where you get a shell of Fiji Kava

        Did you know that Fiji Kava has a long history and tradition behind it, going back thousands of years?

        While kava supplements may be the next ‘big thing’ in the relaxation beverages market, this is most definitely not news to the elders of Fiji who have been drinking kava for many, many years.

        Here we look at some traditional occasions where the kava bowl is brought out, the kava prepared and the coconut shell passed around.

        1. WELCOMING HONORED VISITORS

        Any visitor to Fiji is considered an honored guest and there may be a kava ceremony laid on to welcome you, provided by your hotel or whoever you are staying with. Of course the big ceremonies you get to read about or see on TV are for visiting dignitaries, royalty and other famous people. You may have seen pictures of Pope Jean-Paul, Queen Elizabeth and others drinking kava.

        2. TO BEGIN A SPECIAL EVENT

        Drinking kava is a great way to formally kick off a special event and declare it “underway.” For example, recently the 2016 Fiji Pro surfing event, which attracted the best surfers from around the world, began with a traditional kava ceremony with music, dancing and, of course, a few bowls of the good stuff!

        3. RECEIPT OF A GIFT

        Visitors who are aware of the significance of kava to Pacific islanders may arrive bearing gifts of kava root for the local chief out of a sign of respect; this will usually lead to kava being shared, while new arrivals and the locals enjoy each other’s company.

        4. COMPLETION OF PROJECTS

        Completed work projects, new business set ups, construction projects – kava will usually be drunk together as a sign that the project has been successfully completed and everyone can share in the satisfaction, after all the hard work.

        5. BIRTH, DEATHS, MARRIAGES AND OTHER LIFE EVENTS

        Any key events in one’s life like births and marriages will also see the kava bowl being prepared; it is even drunk at funerals.  Kava is also used to mark other ‘one time’ landmarks in a person’s life – like when they are named or initiated into the hula at adolescence, for instance. Sometimes the kava is drunk and at other times it will be poured on the ground to consecrate it.

        6. DIVINATION CEREMONIES

        Drinking kava was considered by the ancient chiefs as a way to connect with the spirits and it maintains this role in Fijian society even today. Elders will contact the spirit world for guidance with illnesses, about problems that arise in society or with particular families, and to try to foretell the future.

        7. POLITICAL DECISIONS

        Key decisions that affect a population – either nationally or locally – will be another time to prepare the root and pass the shell around.

        8. SETTLING CONFLICTS

        Kava is also the perfect drink when conflicts and disputes are being settled; because it relaxes people and relieves stress, the calming effect creates the right atmosphere for a peaceful and amicable solution.

        9. TO RECOGNISE SOCIAL STATUS

        Whenever respects must be paid to someone of standing in the community, kava is usually involved.

        10. YOU SAY “CHEERS”, WE SAY “BULA”!

        As a good rule of thumb for knowing when the kava will be brought out, whenever westerners would raise a toast, or say “cheers” and then drink a glass of wine or beer, Fijians would say “bula” and pass the kava around.