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Kava Plant Varieties

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

Kava Varieties

In writing this piece it is our aim as an Indigenous Fijian to inform and answer FAQs around Kava. We will continue to add to this post and expand as we see necessary.

What is Kava

Kava is a herbal drink (read that as can be taken as a drink, supplement or extract) which is extracted from the roots and aerial roots (stump of the root) of the kava plant. It is scientifically known as piper methysticum.

Throughout the Pacific, kava is also known in native languages as: -

· ‘awa’ (Hawai’i),

· ‘ava’ (Samoa),

· ‘yaqona’ (Fiji),

· ‘lewena’ (specifically aerial roots in Fiji),

· ‘waka’ (specifically roots in Fiji),

· ‘sakau’ (Pohnpei),

· ‘seka’ (Kosrae),

· ‘malok / malogu’ (Vanuatu) and

· ‘wati’ (New Guinea).

· ‘faikava’, literally translated to “to do kava” in Tongan and the word kava in Tongan means ‘bitter’.

Fijians also refer to kava as ‘grog’ and I have to admit was surprised when I learned that ‘grog’ refers to alcohol in western societies. So, if you’re ever in Fiji and someone mentions ‘grog’ just know what you are in for.

How long has Kava been around?

Kava is the traditional drink of Pacific Islanders consumed over thousands of years. As a culture whose traditions and practices have been passed orally over thousands of generations through stories and dance, the lack of written documentation on this makes it difficult to establish just how long kava has been around.

It is interesting to note though that from Hawaii to Fiji and all Pacific Island countries in between, Kava is planted and continues to be consumed in our communities and forms an important part of traditional protocols.

What are the different Kava Varieties?

Kava varieties are broadly categorised into Noble and Tudei (pronounced 'two day'). It is important to note that both varieties have different chemical profiles which in turn impacts their potency and taste.

There are many varieties which then fall under these two major categories. In Vanuatu alone there are more than 80 different types with about 20 of these being of the noble strain and the rest tudei. 13 in Fiji all Noble varieties, 10 in Samoa, 7 in Tonga, 2 in Pohnpei and 13 in Hawaii.

Kava varieties can be separated according to their appearance and kavalactones including:

• general appearance (normal, erect, prostrate)

• stem colour (pale green, dark green, green with purple shading, purple, black)

• internode shape (short and thick, long and thick, long and thin)

• leaf colour (pale green, dark green, purple)

• leaf hairs (hairs on both surfaces, hairs on lower surface only, no hairs)

• total amount and types of kavalactone

Vanuatu exports only noble kava unless an importer specifically orders Tudei. From the 20 noble varieties, 12 only make the top priorities from the kava producing islands in Vanuatu.

The 12 top Noble Vanuatu Varieties include:-

1. Melomelo

2. Gorgo

3. Kelai (or Miaome)

4. Ge wiswisket

5. Borogoru

6. Silese

7. Melmel or Sesea

8. Borogu

9. Palarasul

10. Palasa

11. Pia

12. Ahouia

The 13 varieties found in Fiji (all noble) are: -

1. Yalu

2. Yonolulu

3. Qila Balavu

4. Damu

5. Qila Leka

6. Vula Kasa Leka

7. Vula Kasa Balavu

8. Dokobana Vula

9. Matakaro Leka

10. Matakaro Balavu

11. Dokobana Loa

12. Loa Kasa Leka

13. Loa Kasa Balavu

Generally, all noble varieties do not differ much in kavalactones but the 'strength' of the kava when you consume it depends on both the preparation method and the cultivator (type, country, soil, age of plant, etc).

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