Kava - What's the concern?

Since kava has seen resurgence recently, as there is with any emerging market, hype and related rumors get circulated, mixed with fact, and go swirling about the universe. Couple this with kava’s recent changes in legal status in some jurisdictions, and there can be a lot of concern about the product, which can result in apprehension and fear used to one's advantage and disadvantage in the kava market. Concerns like sourcing and health issues can worry many consumers, and price and supply can concern would-be entrepreneurs. 

On this page we’ve taken some of the most common kava hype that we have heard swirling about, and try to clear it up for you so that you can make the most informed decisions possible.

Hype: Because kava is a new industry, kava supply is unreliable and limited.  

Fact: Kava was exported in much greater quantities just ten years ago, when it was widely used as a supplement in pill form. The current resurgence in drinking kava does not come anywhere near the amount once used in pills, and it will be years and years of growth before any supplies issues may have to be dealt with. Fact is there are plenty of Vanuatu island communities eager to sell their kava now because the number of purchasers has declined in recent years, only to go up again recently.

Now true, there may be some individuals who get their kava from brokers, who shop community to community that may have supply issues. If people do a broker-based business, their supply type, quality and price may not be reliable – but chances are there will always be some drinking kava somewhere that someone will sell you, because there is a lot of it around; however, when it comes to established, legitimate sellers the “kava shortage” rumor is far from the case.

We, and any established kava sellers and exporters, have established long-term relationships with local producers that have hectares upon hectares of kava, waiting for word to pull it out of the ground. We cannot imagine a date anywhere in the near future where we will not be able to provide you with what is known to be the world’s best drinking kava consistently, reliably, and at the best possible price.

Hype: The chief’s are protective of the kava, and only certain individuals have their blessings to export their kava.

Fact: There may always be individuals in any community that have problems with some people that they will not sell to, but we have to face the fact that kava is Vanuatu’s largest and only major cash crop. It did not get that way by people refusing to participate in the sale of it.

Vanuatu, and many individual communities therein, are dependent completely upon sale of their kava for their livelihoods, and holding their product back from sale would be tantamount to shutting off the income source, and thus the livelihood of the village. All of the people we source our kava from are happy to sell it to us, and they are happy that you are considering buying it too!

Hype: You can’t trust people to get kava that is not contaminated or inferior quality, Vanuatu is a backward place.

 While the US did plenty of nuclear testing in the south pacific, we are quite certain you won’t glow after drinking Vanuatu kava… but on a serious note… the US never nuked Vanuatu, and the major concern here is exporting of non noble variety species and bizarre claims of pesticide and heavy-metal fertilizer use for growing kava, and the resulting contamination. Vanuatu actually has strict laws governing kava production – because it is their biggest export – and therefore quality is assured when you purchase through us. All of our growers abide by the laws of the country, laws that mandate exporting of noble variety kava only! . The current popularity of TuDei kava out of PNG due to its strength is a dangerous precedent, one that was part of the issue that caused the EU ban back at the turn of the century. To maintain the Vanuatu kava brand the Vanuatu government banned the export of this dangerous sub species of kava. 

In regards to whether the kava we source, indeed kava from anywhere in Vanuatu is “certified organic”, this is not the case, however we can assure all customers that our product would be deemed as “organic”. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the certification process required to gain organic status would mean that whichever body is certifying the kava would need to travel to an untold amount of small plots throughout the Vanuatu archipelago. Vanuatu Kava Store and indeed all exporters of kava products from Vanuatu know that there is no fertilizer used for domestic growing in the outer islands of Vanuatu, it simply is not required, nor available due to the lush growing conditions. Additionally, the cost of getting the fertilizer to such distant places would outweigh any benefits it would have to offer compared to centuries-old proven, natural growing methods.  We recommend that if you have any queries in relation to the use of fertilizers and the like, you contact the The Vanuatu Department of Agriculture and they will be happy to advise you in this matter. 

To further enhance Vanuatu’s reputation for supplying organic (yet not certified as such) kava, national agencies like the USFDA and Department of Agriculture often test kava for contaminants upon entry, so the likelihood of kava getting through to you if it doesn’t meet Vanuatu’s organic growing standards is even less likely than kava not being organic in the first place.

Hype: The “major, reputable” suppliers are the ones that fleece the native growers, that is how they get good kava so cheap.

That statement could not be further from the truth. Again, Vanuatu has laws that actually stipulate the minimum amount a person can pay a grower for a kilo of kava – similar to minimum wage laws. This is the reason why our kava is not “certified” as a fair trade product, because our kava is already guaranteed fair-trade by virtue of the fact that we purchased it legally according to Vanuatu’s kava sale laws. Being a major seller, there are many eyes on us making sure we abide by the rules of the nation, and set the gold standard for what the kava business should be in Vanuatu. Fair to the growers, profitable to us, and the best value and quality possible for you, the customer.

Again, is it possible for a broker working on behalf of a business based elsewhere to find a farmer or community willing to sell for under-value in hard times? Probably, in fact more than likely. Particularly because, as mentioned earlier, there is more kava to sell now than there was in the heyday of supplying pill manufacturers, when it was more in demand. This is much more likely to happen with smaller distributors, who work their business a shipment at a time. We never get caught up in “shopping toward the bottom.” If it was even suspected we were circumventing the laws to make an extra buck off the people that make our own livelihoods possible, we would risk our reputation, our relationships with our growers and our business as a result. Rest assured, when you buy from VKS, your kava is not formally “fair-trade certified” (Yet!) but the native growers were given a fair price, as guaranteed by the government, and fair enough to have them keep coming back to us to sell their kava. So go ahead, they WANT you to drink it!

Hype: I can get the best price kava because I get containers at a time.

 See the above piece on the legal minimum amount that exporters must pay to Vanuatu kava growers! Good prices and good quality come not from front loading – the practice of buying a bunch of product to get it cheap, and selling it off piecemeal after it has sat and gone stale. Good prices come from relationships with producers that know you reliably purchase large amounts from them over time, and can keep kava fresh in the ground until it is needed. Sure, front loading will get you cheap kava if you do it under the radar, which as mentioned can happen in Vanuatu, but it may get you old, stale kava as well, because it may take a while to get rid of it all before the next giant shipment is needed.

It makes more sense to purchase a product from someone who has a good price because they are in the business of sourcing kava themselves, and not simply because they can buy huge shipments of it from somebody “they know” in Vanuatu that they have source it for them.

Hype: Kava is bad for you liver.

This is a LONG and complicated story, given the scare of 2002-2003, but the short answer is no. Not when used in the form that it has been used in by the natives for thousands of years. If so, everyone in Vanuatu would have a hepatocellular carcinoma, and that is far from the case. Recent studies by the  University of Queensland have shown that kava prepared in the traditional method as described by the university of Queensland as “a water-soluble extract from the peeled rootstock of a medicinal cultivar of the plant”, may pose less or no potential live problems.

We previously mentioned a variety of kava called Tudei kava- some English-speakers say it is so called because the effects of drinking it last "two days" which we do not recommend drinking. It is a wild species of kava, not a fully-domesticated cultivar, and its safety to drink is still in question. Some other names used for it include "New Guinea Giant" kava or "Isa," but regardless of what it is called, if it is not clear you have a noble drinking variety of kava, and to top it off, it has a more evergreen-type smell than any other variety of drinking kava, we would not recommend drinking it. Another premise that we advise out customers to apply to Tudei kava is – do the Vanuatu locals drink it? No, they don’t, they only drink noble variety kava.

Hype: Kava is addictive.

No, it is not physically addictive. But keep in mind, anything can be psychologically addictive... including surfing the internet. How long have you been on this thing anyway? I think you may want to order some kava, turn it off, and fix yourself a shell soon!