Exploring methods of concentrating Kava

So, to make a kava wine, I’ve decided that best way to help reduce the foul (acquired) taste of kava, is to produce a kava concentrate – however, making a concentrated kavalactone paste or liquid is not a simple procedure. It’s the kavalactones in kava that produces the desirable effects – kavalactones need to emulsify to be effective when consumed. To emulsify all (and every) kavalactones, alcohol, adding fats, agitation, heat, and pressure can be employed to make a stronger kava brew. However, there are benefits and problems with each method. The following aims to briefly cover the pros and cons of each, vital for me to make a kava concentrate – suitable for use in a kava wine.

Alcohol extraction

Combining ground kava root with water in the traditional way releases kavalactones, but not all kavalactones are water-soluble, some are fat-soluble, but all are soluble in alcohol.

Making a kava concentrate using alcohol produces the maximum kavalactones ground kava can muster, resulting in a stronger brew to be used in (non-alcoholic) kava cocktails and the such. However, there are dangers to using alcohol extraction with kava, studies have shown the mix of alcohol and kava mixed can promote liver toxicity, greater than that of kava abuse. So, perhaps this is not the right method, I’m unsure if all the alcohol evaporates, plus, it just “feels” a bit dodgy…

Anyway, to make a kava concentrate using an alcohol extraction, follow these steps:

  1. Combine High strength food-grade alcohol (96%) with a Noble Kava in canning jars and seal.
  2. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 5 weeks, agitate daily to promote the emulsification of kavalactones.
  3. Strain through a micron filter in to a wide, shallow pan (with a large surface area) to remove everything except the alcohol and pure kavalactones, discard the pulp.
  4. Leave to kava alcohol in the open (cover with a cloth) to evaporate leaving behind 100% kavalactones as a paste.

The result is a kavalactone paste which will dissolve in water or a fruitful drink.

Fat extraction

Some kavalactones emulsify with the use of fats, consumed kava becomes “activated” when it hits stomach fats, kavalactones are released and thus the pleasant effects begin. Of course, using your digestive system to extract kavalactones can take a while, and this post is dedicated to the refinement and instant kava effects. So, using fats found in foodstuffs to emulsify kavalactones before consumption cuts out the “middle-man” so to say, and overall makes a stronger kava brew.

The process is quite easy, take a ratio of 1:1 fat and ground kava, and mix with your desired quantity of water you wish to drink. Agitate in a micron filter bag over a bowel, in the same way, you might with just water – leave to soak for a 10 – 15 minutes, squeeze out the remaining kava through the micron filter, and you’re good to go.

Typically, the higher fat content the more kavalactones are extracted – of course, depending on dietary requirements some fats cannot be used, so here’s a list of foodstuff fats that may or may not suit. Note, the amount of fat is also reflected in total calorie, for serving sizes of about 100g.

  • Butterfat/ Butter (cow) – aprox: 81.11g, 717cal.
  • Full Fat (cow) Cream – aprox: 37.3g, 352cal.
  • Avocado – aprox: 26.66g, 289cal.
  • Coconut Cream – aprox: 19g, 190cal.
  • Pure Coconut Oil – aprox: 14g, 120cal.
  • Coconut Milk – aprox: 12g, 120cal.
  • Full/ Whole Fat Pasteurized (cow) Milk – aprox: 8g, 150cal

Surprisingly, Coconut Cream is up there with a good amount of fat content compared to dairy. For my use, I want to avoid dairy where I can. Avocado seems a perfect alternative, however, the oil content from processing avocado fat would unlikely mix with a juice or drink. With this in mind plus the cost of avocados being so high (seasonal), Coconut Cream is the next best option.

Pressure extraction

The use of pressure to extract kavalactones cannot be used alone – kavalactones need to emulsify in a liquid containing compounds that promote activation. However, it’s said, that the sediment that comes from straining and filtering kava (not to be confused with the root fibers) contains all of the kavalactones, and it’s this sediment that can be turned into kava paste or rather highly concentrated kava.

The use of pressure removes any water, either mixed or hidden within the kava brew. There are many ways to produce kava paste with the use of pressure, but I’m going to touch on two, one high-end and one low-end.

CO2 extraction

Supercritical CO2 extraction includes several complex steps adjusting temperature and pressure during the extraction process. Dry Kava material is loaded into a large canister or chamber, when CO2 gas is compressed and cooled (to about -65°C), separately in another. During the fluid phase, the CO2 is reheated to a “supercritical” state, where neither gas nor liquid properties are dominant. Then, the pressurized phase kicks in and the CO2 is “injected” into the kava chamber, where point it “flows” over the plant material to “collect” the active compounds. The CO2 is then sent to another chamber where the kava and CO2 are fractionated, resulting in a pure, viscous liquid or kava paste. Cool eh!

Filter pressure extraction

And now for the very low tech version in comparison. Coffee filtering may be a cost-effective, low tech way of concentrating kava. let me explain: A traditional coffee press involves steeping coffee in a jug before the grounds are pushed to the bottom using a stainless steel filter plunger. The coffee is removed and waste grounds are discarded. But, for kava, we need the “waste” because that’s where the kavalactones are. An AeroPress Coffee Maker, on the other hand, takes a traditional press and inverts the motion to push liquid through a paper microfilter and into a cup, leaving a dry compressed waste – or in my case kava paste, that can be scrapped from the filter, dried further and then used as a concentrate.