The Tongan Kava Quality Standard


The Tongan Kava Quality Standard (TKQS) was released towards the end of June 2020 and can be accessed at the bottom of the page. The following is some of the things I've learned from it and differences or similarities from the Fiji Kava Quality Manual that was released a few years back. The standard was developed to ensure kava as a traditional and commercial commodity, is prepared and manufactured in line with a set of rules and guidelines to achieve food safety. 

I'd firstly like to acknowledge all the hardwork and support by the funding partners and people involved in putting this together for the betterment of the Tongan Kava industry. As a disclaimer, I am a Fijian farmer/exporter with a commercial interest through importing Tongan Kava. I do not mean to discredit or takeaway from anyones hardwork, I am not an expert, but trying to educate myself as well as providing other farmers with my thoughts as well as findings that may be easier for them to understand than some of the technical documents. Do your own research and please add any comments below if there is anything you find to be incorrect and I can look to amend the blog post.

"Fundamental to the Tongan customary and traditional ceremonies, kava has played an important role in the coronations of the King, instalment of nobles, weddings funerals, and social gatherings. The consumption of kava in the customary and traditional ceremonies in Tonga enhances the four main virtues of the Tongan culture – respect, humility, commitment and relationships."

The standard is aligned to the Codex Regional Kava Quality Standard for kava as a food which I'd heard a bit about recently but hadn't looked into it in very much detail to understand it properly. However, while writing this blog I tried searching for info and there wasn't much online, it appears to be a proposed Codex Standard. What I did learn was:

  • The standard does not apply for medicinal purposes.
  • The US position does not support accelerated adoption of this draft CODEX standard.
  • The discussions around the proposed CODEX standard explicitly references cold water extraction.
  • Methods of analysis and sampling for a) noble varieties of kava uses Dr Vincent Lebot's 'high performance thin layer chromatography and/or UV absorbance of acetonic extracts', b) moisture content of dried kava will not exceed 12% to which it references the Fiji Kava Standard 2017 which states "In practice, at this moisture content the sample can easily be snapped by hand." and c) Flavokavins which uses Dr Vincent Lebot's methods as mentioned above.

The TKQS states that the parts of the kava plant allowed to be used under the standard are the roots also known in Fiji as waka, peeled rhizomes and basal stem/stump e.g. white lewena or peeled chips. Upper stems, leaves and peelings (bark) are excluded and should not be used in the preparation and manufacture of the kava beverage.

Kava plants should be harvested at maturity which they've mentioned as generally being 3 years.

The standard states that moisture content will not exceed 12.5%, but if it's less than 12.9% it's considered second grade kava. Note: The Fijian Standard states that moisture content of dried kava will not exceed 12%.

The kava and kava products must comply with any microbiological criteria established under the Principles for the Establishment and Application of Microbiological Criteria for Foods (CAC/ GL 21-1997), including any amendment to these principles.

Traceability & Labelling

"Traceability of all kava and kava products shall be established at all stages of the production, processing and distribution of kava and kava products. Kava business operators shall have in place systems and procedures which allow information to be available to the Competent Authority on demand."

We have been looking into and will move from excel spreadsheets to the Traseable App for our farming purposes.

"The village or place of cultivation, the island of origin, the product type - peeled basal stems/ stumps or chips, or peeled roots - must be appear on the labels and the bags. The date the kava is processed and packaged must be stated and clearly identified on the labels and bags containing kava and kava products." 

Also... "the kava products should have a clear marking to indicate that they are not intended for medicinal purposes, and are prepared for human consumption as food beverage."


There appears to be a typo on the 3.7 section of kavalactones in saying "Standards under the Annexure A of the Codex 295R-2009 (Codex) apply. Noble varieties are those in which the ratio of Kavain: Methysticin reaches a minimum of 250%." I think they meant to say the Kavain ratio to Dihydromethysticin (DHM) because prior to that statement it states "Noble varieties covered under this standard contain a chemo-type in which the first three components are 2, 4 and 6 (in any order).

Any variety not having this chemo-type is considered undesirable and excluded from this standard." Methysticin is the 6th major kavalactone to which it's not going to be at a ratio where Kavain is 2.5 times Methysticin. Dr Vincent Lebot's book 'Kava: The Pacific Elixir: The Definitive Guide to Its Ethnobotany, History, and Chemistry' states on page 78 that "Kava cultivars from Fiji have a higher percentage of Methysticin (6) from those in Vanuatu" and as the chemotypes between Tongan and Fijian Kava are closer together than when compared to Vanuatu Kava it makes it even more unusual that his ratio has been used to define noble-kava. It goes on in the book which is marketed on Amazon as 'The most comprehensive book ever written on kava' to say that "the less socially valued black cultivars (loa) of Fiji produce chemotypes based on Kavalactones 643". The chemotype sequence is outside the definition of noble-kava in the TKQS and therefore a 643 chemotype in any order would be non-noble/undesirable kava which presents a problem for those in the Fijian and Tongan Kava Industry.


A big vinaka vaka levu to Paula and his colleague Semy at PHAMA for their work and dedication in lifting the standards of kava in the Pacific, as well as helping us better understand the standards + CODEX.

Prior to the Zoom session, I had the following questions I'd wanted to get a better understanding on and were discussed in the above video: 

  1. How will the standard of peeled chips be monitored and enforced?
  2. Discussion around statement that noble varieties under the standard contain the chemotype with the first three components of kavalactones 2 (DHK), 4 (Kavain) and 6 (Methysticin) which is an issue for Fijian and Tongan kava where the kavalactone 3 (Yangonin) is sometimes present in the first three components of our kava or in similar proportions to 6 (Methysticin) or 3 (DHK). Note: there was discussion and confusion on the zoom video discussing 5 (DHM) which was miss-informed and needs clarification. 
  3. Having a brief look over Dr Vincet Lebot's testing methods "High-Throughput Analysis of Flavokawains in Kava (Piper methysticum Forst. f.) Roots, Chips and Powders and Correlations with Their Acetonic Extracts Absorbance" (18 May 2020) it says "A positive relationship was confirmed between the absorbance of the acetonic extract and the total FKs (R2 = 0.5211) (n = 1053). Multivariate analyses revealed that in roots, chips and powders, the three FKs are significantly correlated with high absorbance values. The absorbance of the acetonic extract gives a fair assessment of the FK content in kava products." - I am not a scientist but I read this as saying that his methods are only 52% correlated with the FKs or saying that it's correct half of the time? I'd like to get a better understanding on how this standard impacts us as farmers exporting kava as a commodity. It takes what I see as a qualitative approach when I would have thought that quantitative requirements /limits would be better suited. There are current HPLC or HPTLC testing methods that are already in place. 
  4. The cost of the testing equipment and where it's tested? Does Tongan Kava need to be sent to Vanuatu for testing in compliance with Annex A of the Codex. If testing equipment is in the range of US$100k-$150k, how is this feasible for Pacific Island farmers or exporters wanting to comply with this standard of methods of analysis? 
  5. It appears that research done in Santo on Vanuatu varieties of kava with a research plantation is being applied to kava grown in Tonga in accordance with this standard, but I would have thought that different soil type, irrigation and weather conditions plus other external factors could contribute to different chemotype configurations or generational mutations of the specific varieties which can be both morphology (colour, internode length etc) as well as kavalactone proportions and pigments. In regards to the research plantation that the Codex is based on, "all plants were grown in a common field to minimise variation due to environmental factors. The plant spacings were 2 m between plants on the line and 2.5 m between the lines." So is it fair to attribute research based on Vanuatu kava plants to plants growing in Tonga?
  6. Are there any clinical trials to support the testing methods or standards?
  7. How does the Tongan Government expect to 'significantly boost export earnings' from kava when they reclassify their currently 'noble' Tongan Kava to show Tonga now has 'non/noble/undesirable' kava which will in turn reduce exports?
  8. What testing laboratory results are the TKQS results relying on, in the definition of noble-kava?

Matangi Tonga Online

Tonga expects to boost foreign earnings with quality kava exports

Saturday, June 27, 2020 - 14:34

"Tonga can boost its foreign earnings significantly if we are able to export quality Tongan kava, the Prime Minister, Hon. Pohiva Tu‘i‘onetoa announced at the launching of the Tonga Kava Quality Standard on 25 June at the Ancient Tonga Centre, Fangaloto, Nuku'alofa. The two main suppliers of Tongan kava, Vava’u and ‘Eua Island, have already heavily invested in planting."

Resources: (High-Throughput Analysis of Flavokawains in Kava (Pipermethysticum Forst. f.) Roots, Chips and Powders and Correlations with Their Acetonic Extracts Absorbance) - Dr Vincent Lebot


Below are seven Quantitative Analysis of Total Kavalactones and Total Flavokavains in Kava Root or Extract by High Performance Liquid Chromatography-UV (HPLC) tested at Flora Research Laboratories, LLC in June 2020 by Dr. James Neal-Kababick who's credentials are at the bottom of the page. Note that sensitive information has been removed. Anyone wanting to verify the testing information can contact me and I'll put you in touch with the appropriate person.

From the test results not a single Tongan Kava fits the TKQS definition of "Noble varieties are those in which the ratio of kavain: methysticin reaches a minimum of 250%." Secondly, 3/7 of the Tongan Kava is non-noble based on the TKQS statement that "Noble varieties covered under this standard contain a chemo-type in which the first three components are 2, 4 and 6 (in any order). Any variety not having this chemo-type is considered undesirable and excluded from this standard."

Dr. James Neal-Kababick
Flora Research Laboratories, LLC
DEA Registered & Inspected Laboratory
Fellow AOAC International
United States Pharmacopeia NBDS Expert Committee
USP BDS & Herbal Medicines/NBDS General Chapters Expert Subcommittee
USP Joint Standards Setting Subcommittee for Reference Standards (JS3)
United States Pharmacopeia Dietary Protein Expert Committee

1 comment

  • It looks like the acetone absorbance at 440nm has a 52% correlation with flavokavain levels. But how are flavokavain levels correlated to noble and tudei kava? I don’t see how this could be adequate. I’m not a scientist but that seems like a sixth grade math problem.

    Jim Hansen

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