Betelnut - production & trade

The betelnut palm is widely grown in South Asia, particularly India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for its stimulating properties. India is the most important betelnut palm growing country in the world. Here, the production of betelnuts has increased from 75,000 t in around 1955 to 330,000 t in 2003. Betelnut cultivation in India now covers some 290,000 ha of land.

Cultivation

Seeds of the palm are sown in fields. The palms grow and generally start to bear fruit at about the age of four to eight years. Flowering starts between November and February in India, or slightly earlier in Bangladesh. The flowers are mostly wind pollinated, and the fruits take about 8 months to fully ripen. Each bunch can yield anywhere between 50 and 400 fruits, and each palm can continue to produce fruits for 60 to 100 years.

Harvesting and processing

Photo of  a man in a betelnut vineyard.
Betel vine is cultivated on a wooden frame to give it support.

The seeds are harvested every year. Harvesters climb the palms that are in close and regularly spaced plantings. They cut the bunches, lower them down on a rope and move from one crown to the other. Another method is to harvest bunches with a knife mounted on a bamboo pole.

The stage of harvesting the seeds depends on the product wanted. Immature fruits supply 'kalipak', an important form of processed betelnut in India. These are picked when the fruits are 6-7 months old. For the mature nut product, fruits should be harvested fully ripe.

After harvesting, the fruits are dehusked, either while fresh or after drying, and the whole or sliced nuts are dried in the sun or with artificial heat. Ripe and almost ripe nuts are left whole or are sliced. They are sometimes boiled in water, which reduces the tanning content of the nuts, and then dried. The product is graded on the basis of the ripeness at harvesting and on the colour, shape and size of the nuts. The most popular form is the dried, ripe, whole nut.

More images of Betelnut