Hawai'i State News

State says ‘awa, also known as kava, is ‘generally recognized as safe’

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The Hawai‘i Department of Health says ‘awa, also known as kava, is safe.

‘Awa, also known as kava, plant. (Photo from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Pacific Food Guide)

The Health Department, in collaboration with the University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, issued a memorandum this week detailing the generally recognized as safe determination for ‘awa. The memo was developed to recognize the substantial history of consumption of a traditional ‘awa beverage by Native Hawaiians.

Based on numerous scientific journals and publications provided to the Health Department and College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the state concluded that the use of the noble variety of ‘awa root, mixed with water or coconut water, is safe and consistent with the substance and intent of federal regulations.

‘Awa root of the noble variety as a food additive for use in a beverage prepared in this specific, traditional and customary manner shall not be deemed a violation of state law, provided that all other relevant federal and state food safety laws are satisfied.


Any other preparation of ‘awa, or the use of any other variety of ‘awa, will be considered an adulterated food and/or unapproved food additive by the state and a violation of state law unless it qualifies for federal exceptions.

The state’s determination was in response to a 2020 memo published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA concluded that ‘awa is not safe for human consumption, but did not clarify that the studies it referenced describe the use of organic ‘awa extraction and did not review the health effects from consumption of the traditional ‘awa beverage.

Extraction of kavalactones, the active ingredient in ‘awa, ordinarily involves steeping the root in a liquid. Organic extraction — i.e., using acetone, ethanol or similar solvents — results in 2 to 10 times the total amount of kavalactones extracted using water.


Per the FDA, the highly concentrated amount of kavalactones extracted via non-traditional methods could pose a significant health hazard because of liver toxicity.

Visit the Health Department’s Food and Drug Branch website to review the entire memo, including the 2020 FDA memo and additional dietary supplement, safety and advisory information.

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