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10 Things You May Not Know About Betel Nut Culture

February 25th, 2010 by

Betel nuts come from the betel palm, which is prevalent in Asian countries and is used in the same way as tobacco is used in Western countries. The walnut-sized growths come in bundles of 250 to 500 pieces. It is a mild stimulant, and is primarily consumed by chewing., which various Asian cultures creating their own practices and belief systems around this habit-forming nut.

Here are 10 facts you may not know about Betel Nut culture:

betel leaf

*Betel nuts are shaved into slivers for easier chewing, often combined with spices and tobacco by producers to give a more appealing flavor. These are usually wrapped in betel leaves (which comes from the unrelated plant evergreen Piper Betle) before being distributed to shops.


*Betel nuts are considered superior gifts in China‘s Hainan region. Whenever distinguished guests visit a home, the host will offer them the nuts instead of tea. Betel nuts are also a mainstay during Spring Festivals and wedding ceremonies, and continue to be symbols of friendship and blessings.

*Traditional Chinese Medicine recommend betel nuts to ward off dysentery, intestinal worms and other digestive maladies.

*The island of Penang means “Island of the Betel Nut”, due to the betel palms found growing everywhere in the interior.

*Betel nuts are called doma in Bhutan, and is an indispensable part of Bhutanese society. As the betel palm does not grow in that mountainous region, doma consumption previously belonged exclusively to the aristocracy, but modern times see the habit spread to all walks of life.

*Indigenous Taiwanese women chew betel nuts more than their male counterparts, as it imparts an attractive reddish stain on their lips.

Betel nut

*Betel nuts are the second-largest cash crop in Taiwan, after rice. The popular way of ingesting betel nuts is by smothering it in lime paste (calcium oxide mixed with water) before wrapping it in betel leaves and chewing this betel quid. Pharmacological effects from chewing this mixture include increased heartbeat rate, raised skin temperature, suppressed appetite and euphoria, making the habit particularly desirable during winters.

*In Taiwan, there are so-called “Betel Nut Beauties”, young women in skimpy attire who use sexual appeal to push their product. These alluring roadside vendors stand beside neon-lit kiosks and target truck drivers with overtly sexual sales pitches. Controversies surround these women in matters of inappropriate attire and female exploitation.

*The Taiwanese government is campaigning to reduce betel consumption, due to unsanitary practices (chewers often spit wads of red juice on city streets), health issues (betel chewing has been linked to a host of illnesses) and agricultural concerns (planting betel palms destabilizes the soil, leading to erosion).

*To prevent the culture from dying out, the government is encouraging alternative uses for the product. Betel nut-based pigments are being used in traditional textiles, and bags and clothes are already sporting betel nuts and othe betel palm by-products.

One Response to “10 Things You May Not Know About Betel Nut Culture”

  1. Environmentally Unfriendly « Says:

    […] betelnut is not even exclusive to India. Its the 2nd largest cash-crop in Taiwan! After Rice! (http://blog.asiahotels.com/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-betel-nut-culture/) I’ve once watched a piece on the Travel and Living channel, and they eat the same way we do. […]

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