Betel Nut

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

betel nut a popular stimulant in the Indian subcontinent and SE Asia, is the fruit of the areca palm, Areca catechu, which grows wild in Sumatra and the Philippines and is cultivated in other regions. The nut, which may also be called areca nut, contains a stimulating alkaloid (arecoline) and tannins which give it a pleasantly astringent taste.

The usual way of consuming betel nut is in the form of ‘pan’. The nuts are gathered either green or ripe, according to taste. Green nuts are shelled, boiled to mellow the flavour, and sun dried. Ripe nuts are simply dried. The nuts are then crushed with lime and catechu, a scarlet and astringent extract made by boiling chips of wood from the areca palm. The mixture is wrapped in a betel leaf, which comes from a different tree, Piper betle, to make small packages. Elaborate equipment may be used for the various stages of preparation, and the provision of betel nut for guests used to be an important element in hospitality. All this is now on the decline.