This & That: The Tale Of The Betel Nut and Betel Leaf
Haaaikkkhh Thuuu! Chewing paan is frowned upon. Sprayed and splashed across the walls and sidewalks of many streets across the many cities in India is paan. A deep red splatter that is painted on walls by many paan takers as the walk by is the signature residue of paan and there is a lot more where that came from. Across many cultures and varied strata of society, that’s what paan is. That’s on one hand. On the other is the age-old but true and glorious story of paan: the refreshing mouth-freshener and paan: every ancient King’s preferred vice. Again, for the right reasons, people religiously chew paan for it boats of some benefits as well. Where there is something good, there is something unpleasant too. With most addictions and routine customs, Paan comes with a catch. Paan is essentially an areca nut enveloped in a betel leaf that is laced with slaked lime and tobacco. When tobacco is added to this mix, paan becomes taboo. Chewing paan and tobacco causes cancer and other disorders, the ancient custom of chewing paan is hazardous. The more interesting and liked part about paan are the betel leaf and the betel nut, which in many tongues and cultures is popularly known as areca nut.
Areca is not a genuine nut. It’s got a purpose but that said, the areca nut is best described as a fruit and precisely falls under the category of berry. It is the fruit of the areca palm and it mushrooms all year round, in and around tropical regions specific to the Pacific such as South and Southeast Asia and parts of East Africa. Betel or areca nut go by different names and in most Indian cultures, the key word is supari. Supari, betel leaf, and a smooth spread of chunnam (slaked lime) all wrapped together with a thin thread for binding, make paan the most sought-after post meal refreshment.
The primitive betel nut is merely a seed of the Areca catechu, a type of palm tree. Sliced up or ground, the trend of consuming areca nut wrapped in the leaves of the Piper betle vine traces all the way back to 2, 000 years ago. Chewing supari and paan is a ritualistic habit that’s been passed down through several generations and about 10-20% of the world’s population takes its paan very seriously. While they benefits of chewing betel nut are minimal and limited, they still confirm that the much-talked-about nut possess cancer-fighting properties. If taken under supervision and moderate doses, studies suggest that the betel nut can help cardiovascular and digestive problems. Sensible usage of areca can heal wounds for it has anti-inflammatory properties.
The betel leaf is made of two things, pepper and Kava. These two ingredients are probably what make betel leaf the best and most appropriate base for paan. In India and Sri Lanka, betel leaves are used to greet elders with respect at wedding ceremonies. Symbolic of reverence and courtesy, betel leaves inaugurate special and auspicious beginnings. Apart from using a betel leaf to wrap up a quick paan, betel leaves are also used in raw cooking like some Indie salads thanks to its peppery effects on your palate.
A Little About Paan’s Shiny Past
India can be identified with chewing paan since the Vedic period. Ancient Ayurvedic scholars studied the properties of the betel leaf and nut for a substantial enough time in history to arrive at the conclusion that chewing paan is a virtue and the much-enjoyed habit holds a special and significant place in the ever-growing field of Ayurveda. Although the betel crop, which includes the betel leaf as well as the areca nut, is not indigenous to India, the use of paan can be historically dated back to the period of the Gupta reign. During the initial years of the Gupta period is when paan rose to fame.
As the demand for it increased, the continual consumption and trade of paan became a solid part of our Indian culture. From social and religious rituals to medicinal and healing practices, chewing paan became customary. Betel leaves and supari together are often offered to the Gods in prayer and humility. In some contexts, the exchange of paan between people implies hearty hospitality and warm wishes; and in some cultures, the exchange or offering of paan is considered as a token of pride, honor, love, unity, and marriage. It is a sacred and ritualistic food item without which several kinds of Indian weddings and ceremonies are incomplete.
Culturally, paan and Bollywood cinema also have a lot in common. Banarasi paan, which is a class apart from the standard, was made famous by Amitabh Bachchan on the silver screen. There is an entire song and dance about and for generations to come, and paan was soon to be seen as the mascot of coolness, pleasure, wealth, and fancy. One free fact about Banarasi paan is that it has nothing to do with Banaras but that’s has never stopped anyone from crunching and biting into a nice juicy maghai. Maghai as it’s usually referred to by regular paan eaters, is made of betel leaves that are grown in Bihar. Another variety of the same leaf grown in Odisha, is regionally called jagannathi.
Legend has it that the Empress of the long-lived Mughal Dynasty was a passionate and dedicated fan of paan. Unlike other women of that time who used make-up and other natural cosmetic ingredients on their skin directly, Queen Noorjehan beautified herself differently. She preferred to consume her cosmetic products as ingredients she mixed in her paan. Paan for the Mughal begum had a twist and beautiful one at that. Mughal rulers and kings chewed paan and resorted to a fix of five paans a day just to cleanse their palates, build and exchange gestures of friendship, and treated paan like a breath of fresh air.
Paan also makes a special appearance in the Bhaghwad Gita. Mythology has it that Lord Krishna enjoyed chewing paan and he did chew pan, a lot. From reddening the lips of a Mughal empress to being Lord Krishna’s favourite pass-time, chewing paan has done its rounds all over the pages of the history and it continues to be favourite mouth-watering treat for many in the country.
The medicinal value of Paan has a stunning mention in the texts of ancient Indian medicinal. Scholars who practice chewing paan swear by paan to cleanse their mouths,
Paanistry: The Paan Industries
From having been the King’s sophisticated choice of mouth-freshener to becoming celebrity favourites, paan as an accessory and food item has come a long way even with changing time. Betel leaves need a type of environment to grow in. This environment constitutes fertile soil, an adequate spread of shade, and steady irrigation. If this is the case, India’s got it all. So, farmers started extensively cultivating the crop and slowly, what was once solely a ritualistic item, became popular and business began. Today, in every dot and nook of big cities and small, you find a paanwadi ready and excited to roll you up the best paan for your taste and mood. This local paanwalla have it all figured out because the growth of the paan industry is only moving up the economic ladder of the country.
On this note, let’s not forget that paan is now a certified FMCG product. In many ways paan is like an antique that never grows old. Today, you can find paan in any local tea shop, grocery store, and even full-blown supermarkets. This ancient bad-breath and palate-cleansing remedy has to its arsenal: a promising shelf life, extravagant branding, attractive packaging, and an endless variety of flavours to suit your taste buds. In times like these, paan is taxable and readily available to everyone at any point in time be it day or night.
A fairly large share of the economy in rural India owes its escalating growth potential to the farmers who work very hard to cultivate and harvest betel produce. This sector of agricultural practice fetches the Indian economy profitable revenues from exports to Europe, Africa, and other parts of South and Southeast Asia.
In an urbanized, industrialized, and monetary-oriented society like ours today, where a fresh paan is replaced by a processed and ready-to-eat one, Paan has clearly moved and transformed with the changing times of the offline and online world. Thanks to something new and cool called the no-spit paan, chewing paan just got classy, tidy, tasty, and decent. The practice is no longer frowned up and we have our business experts and producers to thank for this astonishing revolution of paan.
Paan: The Good, The Bad, And The Alternatives
If betel leaves and paan hold a certain level of respect and importance in ancient Indian history, ancient Indian medicinig, and ancient Indian holy texts, there’s got to be something good, special, and unique about its properties.
Add tobacco to your paan and you’ve ruined it already. If you’re looking for the good paan and all the good it can do for you, chew betel leaves with natural ingredients that do not contain harmful ingredients. The betel leaf or paan ka patta brags of qualities and properties that can be beneficial to you. Betel leaves can heal you and there is proof of this in various Ayurvedic texts and prescriptions.
Here are a few reasons why you should chew paan:
- Rescues Your Digestive System: Betel leaves are just what you need when you’re stomach’s upset. Chewing betel leaves activates your salivary gland in a vigorous and efficient manner so as to get your saliva going. As your saliva us the first the foremost element of digestion, chewing paan helps you generate an extra reserve of saliva that can help break your food down a lot faster and smoother. Your saliva contains vital enzymes that aid and improve the digestion of your food from the time you took your first bite. Packed with gastro-protective properties, the betel leaf extract treats stomach ulcers with ease and also relieves constipation.
- Keeps Your Oral Cavity Carcinogenesis-Free: Chewing paan without tobacco or supari is a natural home remedy to stay cancer-free. Every now and then, your oral cavity must be cared for and chewing paan does the trick. It maintains ascorbic acid levels in your saliva, which works as an efficient antioxidant. Betel leaves are known to possess a bunch of antibacterial compounds that fight against bad-breath causing bacteria. Known to prevent your oral cavity from carcinogenesis, betel leaves are not just good for your oral health but also for your immunity strength.
- Wipes Away Warts And Boils: Betel leaves have always been a favourite household name when it comes to relieving a painful heat boil or itchy wart. Given its antibacterial and antioxidant nature, chewing betel leaves is an eternal Ayurveda cure for warts and boils. It works on boils in the mouth as well other parts of your body. It successfully and neatly ruptures and drains the boil to give instant relief.
- Heals Wounds Like Magic Would: Injuries, wounds, burns, and cuts are part of one’s daily life. In such frequently occurring situations, you can’t possibly use chemicals and other toxic pharmaceutical ointments. In such cases, chewing betel leaves or apply a betel leaf paste on the wound proves to be an effective and simple cure.
- Treats You With Pleasure: For the longest time now, betel leaves are consumed with passion and love for they are known to have aphrodisiac properties. Many people around the world chew betel leaves before they have sex for it makes the whole act of sexual intercourse a whole lot more enjoyable. For this reason, pan masala became in-thing. Newlyweds swear by it and take it for fun and in good spirit.
- Bids Farewell To Coughs And The Common Cold: If you are one of those who is perpetual frazzles with a stuffy nose and rough cough, betel leaves are what you need in your life. The betel leaf extract stirred up in some honey does wonders to improve colds and the occasion sore throat.
- Keeps Diabetes In Check: With its ability to control and stabilise blood sugar levels, betel leaves lend their anti-diabetic properties to keep you on your toes with diabetes.
- Spares You The Headache Trouble: Gifted with analgesic properties, a gentle application of betel leaf extract on the affected area can help relieve headaches in no time.
Weighing the pros and cons before taking any decision is probably the first best decision you’ve already made. While we’ve discussed the positive aspects of chewing paan, let’s take a look at the dark side of chewing paan.
Here are some of the dangers of using betel leaves with areca nut and tobacco:
- You’d Be Inviting Bad Breath: Chewing betel leaves with tobacco and areca nut is the perfect recipe for bad or foul breath. While chewing just the betel leaves acts like the best and most natural mouth freshener there is, but the potent mix of tobacco and areca nut does the opposite and for obvious reasons, leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
- You’d Have To Deal With Oral Destruction: The non-stop chewing of areca nut cause your mouth to water red. This reddening can permanently discolour your teeth and gums. This effect on your teeth and gums is irreversible, and you might regret this chewy habit for a long time to come.
- You’d Open The Gates For Oral Cancer: Just to make sure you are not baffled by the information provided to you here, let’s just reinstate the fact that chewing betel leaves alone is good for you but paan that’s made of supari and tobacco cause heavy damage that’s really not worth it. If chewing paan is a habit you can’t let go off, you might as well know that you are now more prone to getting cancer than you were when all you had was betel leaves to chew.
The fact that you have habits that you’d like to keep and enjoy is not the actual problem. The problem is the kind of habits we choose to keep. Research studies prove that the healthier your habits, the longer your life, and the fitter your mind and body. While we’ve analysed how good and bad chewing paan is, let register this: There are other substances, natural and effective that you could adopt when chewing paan is not an option. What chewing does for can be achieved from the consumption of other organic edibles that are beneficial to you in the long run.
With the use of dry fruits and natural herbs, dieticians and experts have invented creative and healthy alternatives to chewing paan and here they are:
Amrit’s the brand name of what the manufacturers call solid and semi-liquid version of ‘gutkha’. Available in sachets in and around cities and towns, small and big, Amrit is a concoction of dry amla, belifal, dates, cherry, aniseeds, cardamom, and herbal scents.
If leaves are what you’re craving, chew mint. Effective just like betel leaves, mint is not just refreshing but also good for your digestive system. Pick a pack of Mint Snuff All Mint and it this might satisfy your craving for paan or betel leaves.