Origin of Betel Nut:
Betel nut originated in the Philippines or Malaysia, but it owes its Latin name, "Areca cachu," to the Indian coast. The areca palm fruit isn't prized as much as the nut, but I would feel remiss listing the fruits of India without mentioning the betel nut.
Cultural Significance of Betel Nut:
Betel nut is considered to be a holy plant in India, particularly in the Brahmin religion.
The nuts are offered to guests as a sign of hospitality, and the leaves are given with turmeric and kumkum powder as a gift (often to newlyweds). This is because betel nuts are a sign of luck. The leaves are also offered to the gods during pujas.
Marriages in Bengal are finalized when the husband and wife swapping a brass container topped with betel nut leaves. In Rajasthan ceremonies, the relatives of the bridegroom only eat once a betel leaf is served to all guests.
In Nepal amongst the Newa population, the man gives betel nuts to the woman as a marriage proposal. During the wedding, she marries the betel nut before the husband. This will, in the future, enable her to leave the husband by returning the betel nut to him if she's unhappy. Actually, she only has to leave them under his pillow before taking off.
Though betel nut is more common than chewing gum today, chewing it used to be done by royal families circa 2000 BC.
Even Indian gods have a preference when it comes to the number of leaves: Vishnu prefers 32.
Availability of Betel in India:
Betel nut is readily available throughout the country. It grows year - round particularly in the south along the coastal areas of Karnataka through Kerala, but is harvest from August - November.
Where to find Betel Nut in India:
Betel nuts are sold in stalls throughout India. Though you can get the nuts in bags quite easily, they're more commonly bought in the form of paan. This digestive aid and stimulant is sold in the humblest stalls of India and served in 5-star hotels after expensive meals. The best way to find betel nut is to simply ask: Someone will point you in the right direction.
Checking for Ripeness in Betel Nut:
Unripe areca palm fruits are greenish yellow. When ripe, the fruit turns an orange hue. Again, ripened fruits are seldom harvested.
Taste of Betel Nut:
In its purest form, initial taste of betel nut is mildly spicy, akin to cinnamon and nutmeg. Some describe a woody peppery flavor. Given that the nut's preparation requires drying, it's tough to chew just the nut by itself. As the saliva softens the nut, its aftertaste becomes bitter, astringent and unpleasant. Nobody will profess to liking the taste of betel nut; only its effects.
Nutritional Value of Betel Nut:
I found this information on calorie-data.com, and I'm unsure of its validity. I've nonetheless added it since nobody eats betel nuts with calorie counting in mind. I also sent an email to the owner and asked for backup sources.
Per 100g, the nutritional value of betel nut is...
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