Makas are the fibrous plant matter leftover in your strainer bag when you make a kava beverage in the traditional way. In Fiji, makas are called cosas, which is synonymous with 'fiber' or 'trash'. There are many reasons why it's important to filter makas from your beverage. First, many think that makas cause nausea and that they can accelerate the onset of dermopathy. Also, makas are lower in kavalactones, so including them in powder will dilute the potency. Manufacturers of instant kava are able to charge a premium because they take special, proprietary steps to remove makas. It's preferable to remove makas from undried roots, but I wondered if I could find an effective way using whole, dried roots.
Makas, the tough, fibrous matter in the kava plant that gives its strength:
In the kava plant, makas originate from the coarse, dead fibrous cells that provide strength to the plant. The illustrated cross section shows the relative location of the various cell types. The adjacent photo shows a cross section of one of our kava stump pieces. The central, dense bundle of root fibers is highlighted.
It has been reported that Islanders traditionally ground whole roots and then used water to separate makas, but how so? Heavily pounded kava produces particles that are all less than 100 microns, which makes maka separation extremely difficult without specialized equipment. I guessed that by partially grinding roots, I would leave denser roots more intact and so I might be able to efficiently separate makas from the other root material.
Makas can be removed if you start from whole roots, even if they're already dried:
First, I hammer-pounded about 4 oz of waka inside of a clean towel and put the small (hopefully pliable) pieces into a coffee grinder.
Next, I ground the root for 20-30 seconds, or just until achieving a smooth sounding and homogenous tone. I poured the contents of the grinder into a glass of water. After a few seconds, large pieces of plant fiber began to float to the top of the glass and a dense 'mud' began to collected on the bottom of the glass. After a minute or two, a full separation of the different types of matter in the kava was achieved.
I used a coarse strainer spoon to scoop out the floating bits of plant matter, and then proceeded to blend the water and sediment in a ratio of 1 Tbsp to 10 oz of water. After about 3 minutes the top of the blender was full of a dense kavalactone emulsion and no visible plant matter.
I was tempted to drink the brew without additional filtering, but ultimately strained the kava. The resulting taste was noticeably less gritty or chalky, but the overall strength also felt muted. That said, the feeling and taste were cleaner and more pleasant. Interestingly, the kava was far easier to strain than what I have been used to, a natural consequence of removing makas before mixing. What was left in the strainer bag had a different consistency, much closer to clay.
Conclusions: removing makas changes kava in several positive ways
Overall, maka free kava definitely tastes and feels different. The onset is more gradual and the kava sensation is more balanced. It appears to round out the edges of heavy kavas, so it may be a useful technique to make heavy kavas more suitable for daytime use.