The Paan which is the betel leaf, carries a lot of importance in Indian traditional eating habits. As per Ayurveda, betel leaf mixed with areca nuts is a great digestive post meal. Eating Paan is considered good and has been the ritual since ancient days in India. It was known as “Tambul” during the Vedic period. However, use of chewable tobacco inside the Paan has resulted it hazardous to health.
But still, Paan is eaten in various forms and enjoyed by young and old. It assists digestion, acts as a mouth freshener and also intoxicates you if you add the tobacco to it. The betel leaf and the areca nut are also considered to be auspicious in religious and important functions. It is presented during weddings or religious ceremonies and are also offered to the Gods.
There is a huge number of variety of Paan, grown all over India, some of them are really soft and melt in your mouth, while the others are quite chewy. Edible limestone, some catechu, aniseeds and pieces of areca nuts are added to the betel leaf, which are then folded and eaten whole, chewed slowly and then gulped down. Many other ingredients are added to the Paan, to make it more relishing and freshening like cardamom, clove, camphor, sweetened rose petals and sometimes some strands of saffron are added too.
Preparing a Paan and folding it, with the exact quantity of ingredients, is considered to be an art. When eaten, Paan gives red colour to the lips, due to mixture of catechu with limestone, hence married ladies were often coaxed into eating Paan to get a natural colour on the lips without a lipstick!
A Paan is must as an offering to Gods in Hindu culture with specific fold to specific Gods or Goddesses. But it does not have much of religious connotation and is enjoyed by all irrespective of the religion, caste or creed. The betel leaf has many a healing properties as per Ayurveda, and hence to have the betel leaf creeper inside the house is considered to be good. Clinically it is considered to be source of Vitamin C and Calcium. This heart shaped leaf is eaten all over India. Varanasi Paan is famous and so is Paan from Kolkata. Paan is called Wida in Maharashtra, and the people of south India add coconut to the daily dose of Paan. The betel leaf is used to cure wounds and swellings by bug bites.
But today Paan is looked down upon due to the use of tobacco. But in the metro cities it has emerged with fancy dressings of chocolates or dips. The whole mixture is ground and dried and made into a candy, for easy consumption. Toffees with Paan flavour, Ice creams with the Paan flavour are some of the tasty renditions of this humble Paan, not to be missed. The best is the wine made out of these betel leaves which is guarded secret, in many households of Goa and in some pockets of Karnataka.