THE CHEWING OF ARECA NUTS IN MALDIVES

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Heading to Maldives you might be surprised by a very uncommon culinary tradition in the eyes of westerners: the chewing and the eating of the Areca nut . Most of the visitors are amazed by how Maldivians are able to eat and chew this nut hard as wood.

Eating/chewing of Areca nut is a daily ritual for most of the Maldivians. It can be done during day time, before a meal to stimulate the appetite or after in a similar manner to the western use of tobacco and caffeine.

Areca nut is very popular in Asia but the way Maldivians consume it is a bit different from the others Asian countries.

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Areca nut, cloves, tobacco and Paan ( mixture of Areca nut, betel leaf and other spices )

WHAT IS ARECA NUT ?

Areca nut is the seed of the areca palm tree which grows in much of the tropical countries.

The areca nut is not really a nut, but rather a fruit considered as a berry. Areca nut is generally referred to as betel nut and is easily confused with betel leaves that are often used to wrap it.

When the skin of the fresh fruit is green, the nut inside is soft enough to be cut with a knife. In the fully grown fruit, the husk becomes orange and the fruit inside becomes wood-like consistency. At that stage, the nut can only be sliced using a special scissors-like cutter.

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Areca nut tree plantation

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Areca nut bunch hanging from the tree

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Ripe areca nut fruit

HOW TO EAT ARECA NUTS?

For chewing, a few slices of the nut are wrapped in a betel leaf along with “huni” (calcium hydroxide or slaked lime ) and may include clove, cardamom, harapanu/katha (powder extract of acacia trees) or other spices for extra flavoring.  Betel leaf has a fresh and bitter taste (varying degrees depending on the variety) and after chewing it is either spat out into the streets or swallowed.

For sucking, slices of areca nuts are wrapped in betel leaf and inserted between the cheek and gum to soak, eliciting salivation. Sometimes it is held in the mouth for hours; others sleep with it. The chewing or sucking provokes a profuse red colored salivation, staining and damaging teeth and gums when used excessively.

In the Maldives usually, people prefer to chew thin slices of the dry nut, which is sometimes roasted or coated in sugar. Kili, a mixture of areca nut, betel, cloves, cardamom and sugar is sold in small home-made paper pockets. Supari, small pieces of areca nuts coated in sugar are also sold in all shops of the country.  Ederly people who have lost their teeth keep chewing by pounding the mixture of areca nut and betel with a small mortar and grinder.

EFFECTS AND SIDE EFFECTS

Although the effects vary from person to person, the areca nut is generally chewed for its stimulant effect. Locals describe a warm body sensation with sharp awareness, euphoria and increased capacity for work. It is also generally reported to have effects such as well being, good humour, decreasing hunger, appeasing pain.

When consumed in small quantity, betel nuts can have health benefits such as prevention from tooth decay, digestive problems and healing of skin. It also helps remove strong food smells and prevent from bad breathes.

However, studies have revealed some serious health risks of areca nut. It is now classified as a carcinogen by WHO. Researches have shown link between betel nut use and cancer of the mouth and oesophagus for daily and long time users. Regular eating of areca nut can also cause gum irritation and tooth decay. Teeth may become permanently stained deep red or even black.

You will be offered Areca nuts in all the local restaurants at the end of your meal or while enjoying a coffee or a refreshing drinks.  Areca nut is a must taste experience for all travellers coming to Maldives.

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