Kava, also known as kava kava, is a Polynesian drink consumed throughout the Pacific islands, made from the ground roots of the kava plant. It’s purpose offers some of the most interesting insights into traditions, culture and the rituals among the cultures who consume it.
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What is Kava?
The drink consists of the root of the kava plant boiled and strained to produce a substance similar to alcohol.
The effects of kava have similarities with alcohol including a general buzz, enhanced sociability, lower inhibitions and a feeling of relaxation.
But the great benefit is that kava comes without the side effects of causing dizziness or nausea that you get from alcohol.
Kava can be quite addictive, but it has been found to have medicinal qualities like lowering anxiety, curing insomnia and treating depression.
How is Kava Consumed?
In general, people will drink a small quantity of about 1/2 of a cup of ground kava root, but drinking more than this can have effects of euphoria. It also makes your tongue go numb.
In parts of Fiji (where it is also known as ‘grog’ or ‘yaqona’), kava is drunk ceremonially and people will be served according to their status within the group.
Similarly, in Samoa kava is drunk at important meetings, such as between the chiefs of different tribes, and is served in half a coconut shell. Most likely enjoyed with the traditional Samoan sapasui.
In Tonga, kava is drunk recreationally on nights out and at bars. But the process is still ritualized – for example, the server should often be a young, unmarried woman, and it will be consumed in a circle with men sitting cross-legged.
In Vanuatu, the culture is less ritualistic around kava but the preparation can be different, with the traditional method involving chewing the plant roots and spitting them back out into a pot which will then be steeped.
This authentic kava recipe is easy to make once you have the ground kava. You use a strainer bag to steep the kava root into warm water, as you will see in the recipe below.
Some recommend using a cheesecloth but the holes in it are quite large which means some of the sediment will slip through, so a strainer bag is better if you can get hold of one.
- 1/2 cup Ground kava root
- 2 cups Water
- 1 Strainer bag
- 1 Large bowl
- Measure out your kava root according to taste, a typical serving would usually be a 1/2 cup per person.
- Place the kava root into the strainer and boil your water so you have 2 cups of boiling water per serving. Note that for the best results your water shouldn’t be fully boiled but should be hot. If your water does boil then you can leave it for 5 minutes until it reaches an acceptable temperature.
- Place your strainer of kava root in a bowl and pour in your hot water, this can sit for around 10 minutes whilst the mixture steeps.
- After 10 minutes or so, squeeze your strainer tightly and start kneading the remaining kava root inside to go into the bowl.
- Your mixture should now be a nice brown color, the kava sediments should be contained within the straining bag and shouldn’t have made it to the bowl but if some have then don’t worry too much.
- Pour your liquid into a container and refrigerate until it is cold.
- Pour into a glass and enjoy!
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 5mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g
Making Kava Kava in Fiji
Of course, the true experience would be to try it with locals on a Pacific island such as Fiji (as you can see in the video above). Getting hold of a kava plant can be difficult unless you are already in the region.