25 Apr 2017

Workshop highlights kava's economic potential

8:52 am on 25 April 2017

A Tongan kava supplier and distributor in New Zealand says kava's potential was still hugely underdeveloped and more can be done to package the crop creatively for a wide range of consumers and markets.

Kava circle

Photo: RNZ/ Sara Vui-Talitu

Kava Haus Limited director, Koloa Hau, said the root crop is a gift to the Pacific region because that is where the crop grows best.

He said the crop has economic potential beyond traditional ceremonies and kava bars.

Mr Hau said Pacific people laughed at him when he first developed micronized kava, where the crop's coarse fibres are removed to leave a smooth texture and taste.

"I see the people outside of the community and one of the things we kind of need to talk about is to see the potential of kava outside of the kava bowl. Huge potential. But because we don't see the potential, there are other people outside of the Pacific who are developing innovative products and we are absolutely missing out."

Mr Hau said he knew of overseas companies trying to develop innovative products made from kava, but it would be much better for Pacific people to develop their own ones first.

He said some of the new products proving popular included new sweets and drinks.

Kava Haus Limited director, Koloa Hau

Koloa Hau. Photo: RNZ/ Sara Vui-Talitu

"We also have micronised flavoured kava that comes in berry, vanilla, cappuccino and cocoa. We also have cocoa dark chocolate and we also have a vegan kava chocolate. We even have a kava kava root tea, 100 percent kava that comes in a teabag, unbleached."

Kava's reputation took a hit from research which led to a ban on kava products in Europe in 2002 that was subsequently overturned.

However, Pacific academics said that in a bid to remove poisonous elements of the crop, kava had been stripped of all its beneficial and raw qualities while being made into a largely synthetic chemical product.

Now kava producing countries are focusing more on exporting high quality strains of kava.

Dr Okusitino Mahina

Dr Okusitino Mahina Photo: RNZ/ Sara Vui-Talitu

Tongan academic and scholar, Dr Okusitino Mahina said many indigenous communities have consumed kava for centuries, with no untoward effects.

He says more in-depth research is needed.

"The whole kava issue has been compounded in multiple ways and we need to distinguish between different layers and how they come together to constitute different pros and cons in connection with kava."

Post-doctoral researcher, Apo Aporosa, said more youth were interested in kava now.

Kava circle

Photo: RNZ/ Sara Vui-Talitu

"Fiji for instance, where I am from, when I am speaking to a lot of people from home is that a lot of young people there who were formally sitting around and not doing a lot, but now they can see economic advantage in the price of kava considering it is like FJ$100 a kilo, whereas a couple of years ago it was a fraction of that."

Koloa Hau urged support for Pacific markets and growers to manufacture new kava products to the world.

He also hoped that an institute focusing on kava research could be established.

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