Enjoyment in blood-red- Betel chewing

Enjoyment in the blood-red mixture – Betel chewing

The dark green leaf, which one sees often by the side of the Sri Lanka roads and markets, is known as betel leaves (Piper betel). You may also have seen it and might be wondering what it was.

The leaf is one of the main ingredients of betel mixture that comprised of areca nut (Areca catechu), lime and several other spices with tobacco. Small pieces of areca nut and paste of lime with tobacco are rolled into betel leave than put into the mouth. The chemicals of betel, areca nut and other ingredients are released during the chewing and react with the saliva.

The chemical reaction between the betel leaf, areca nut, lime and saliva make a substance that keeps the chewers addicted to the mixture. The mixture is well known as Bulath in the Sinhalese language and Bida in Tamil. The valuable leaf is known as Vettel in Tamil and renamed to betel by the Portuguese colonial rulers. Since then it is known as betel in all leading languages. In the early stages of betel chewing, it had been a social ritual and took place in every important event such as wedding, funeral, parties and other social gatherings.

The lime mixture or Chulam is normally made of corals or limestones. The areca nut is a tree of the palm family and has a thing tall trunk. Different species of areca nut can be discovered throughout the world. But only the nuts of several species are used in the mixture.

The nuts are slightly bigger than the cardamom and have a similar form and hardness. The colour of the nut is dark yellow when it is fully ripe. The rest of the beetle mixture is largely depending on personal taste. Sometimes different spices such as cardamom are added and the mixture sweetened with sugar. Adding tobacco is also very popular among the betel chewers.

The mixture of betel believed to have a potent effect with a mixture of certain elements of medicinal plants such as marijuana. The mixture had been widely used in Southern India and they were specially produced for maharajas in India.

During the early centuries, betel chewing had been a popular activity among the rich as well as poor Ceylonese. During the Dutch period, the Dutch East Indian Company took over the betel business and had the monopoly over it. The Dutch East Indian Company earned a considerable amount of their profit through the export of betel leaves and areca nut.

Today the betel chewing is a habit only among the older, poor population of Sri Lanka. Most people who chew betel can be seen in the mountains, where most people have Tamil ethnicity.  One distinct sing of the betel chewer is the dark red teeth and lips. Regular betel chewing turns the hazardous effects such as cancers.

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