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Betel nuts are small, fleshy fruits that mature from green to a yellowish orange and sometimes red. Within the oval-shaped fruit is a hard seed or nut, which is the dried endosperm. This hard nut is what the Areca plant is cultivated for. Often chewed for its psychotropic effects, the Betel nut offers a spice-like flavor similar to nutmeg and cinnamon. Chewing the ‘nut’ over long periods of time can leave the mouth and lips stained red.
Betel nuts can be found growing year-round in tropical and sub-tropical climates.
Betel nuts are the seeds of the Areca catechu plant, a member of the palm family. Also known as Areca nuts, Betel nuts are chewed as a stimulant in India, the West Indies and Malaysia. The seeds of the Areca catechu plant contain arecoline, a stimulant that produces effects such as alertness, increased stamina and a feeling of euphoria. The Betel nut is used in the same fashion as caffeine or tobacco in Western countries.
Betel nuts are chewed either on their own or in ‘Paan’. To make Paan, Betel nuts are grated or cut into fourths and wrapped in Betel leaves along with mint jellies, sweet betel nut chutneys, lime paste, and fennel. Some smaller, possibly immature, Betel nuts are simply wrapped in a small folded leaf and chewed as is. Chewing Paan can act as a breath freshener as well as a stimulant. It has been used to stimulate the appetite and aid in digestion.
Archaeologists have found evidence of Betel nut use by humans going back 4000 years. The Betel nut is native to the West Indies and is cultivated in India and Taiwan. In the 1970s the demand of Betel nut rose and farmers found it easier to cultivate betel nuts than rice, and began converting rice patty fields into betel nut orchards. Today, Betel nut is the 2nd largest cultivated crop in Taiwan. The foraged nuts are sold by street vendors and in farmer's markets in India.
Recipes that include Betel Nut. One is easiest, three is harder.
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