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betel nut


Synonyms: areca nut, betel nut

botanical name: Areca catechu L. (betel palm)


Origin, areas of cultivation


The betel palm, cultivated today in the tropics throughout Southeast Asia, probably originated in the western Pacific region. It belongs to the group of stimulating plants due to the effect of consuming its seeds.


Appearance, taste, characteristics


The leaves and the seeds of the approximately 15-m tall palm are consumed. The latter are contained in a drupe the size of a chicken egg, with a yellow-to-orange skin and a fibrous pulp. The skin of the seed, i.e. the nut, is thin and ligneous. The seed itself approximates the shape of a walnut and contains a red pigment that stains the teeth, tongue and lips when it is chewed. Following frequent consumption, the teeth become black. Because of the many tannins it contains, the betel nut tastes bitter and is astringent (contracting the gums).


Ingredients and effects


The nut is very rich in fat. This is relatively unimportant for its consumption, as the betel nut is actually chewed for its stimulating effect. This is owed to an alkaloid, arecaidine, which activates the sympathicus, the region of the brain that makes us energetic and agile. After some time, however, the antagonist of the sympathicus, the parasympathicus, is activated, and this leads again to calmness and relaxation. In addition, feelings of hunger and thirst are subdued. Arecaidine is formed during chewing from the arecoline contained in the nut, also an alkaloid, which is toxic in large amounts. This leads to a slight dependency, similar to that on tobacco. The development of cancer in the area of the mouth is also the result of this substance in betel-nut chewers.

The betel nut contains many other tannins. It promotes digestion, firms the gums, and has an antibacterial effect. Further undocumented effects are attributed to it in folk medicine.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation


The betel nut is usually made into so-called betel quids: one to three leaves are spread with some paste made of slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) and filled with several slices of a fresh or soft-boiled betel nut and a piece of gambier. To mask the bitter taste, and according to preference and pocketbook, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel or tobacco is added. Finally, the packet is rolled together, and the rolls are chewed and sucked dry.





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