Betel pepper

Leaves from the betel pepper plant, Piper betle L. are used a 'wrapping' for betel quids. It is a climbing plant with shiny, green, heart-shaped leaves. It is only known in cultivation but is thought to have originated in Malaysia, Sumatra and possibly Java. Today it is cultivated in all betel chewing areas. The leaves are known as paan in India, and plant is known as tambuli in Hindi.

Cultivation of betel pepper

Cultivation of betel vine in a wooden frame, providing support and shade for the plants.
Image: Cultivation of betel vine in Orissa, India.

India has the largest area under betel pepper cultivation. It grows on about 400,000 hectares of land mainly in Orissa, Tamil Nadu.

Bangladesh is the second largest grower on about 13000 hectares. It tends to be grown by smallholders by training the plants up shade trees. Year round the leaves are picked by hand when they are young and tender.

They have a pungent taste, particularly cultivars grown in India. Because of this, Indian plants are preferred by farmers outside South Asia. The main chemical which provides a clove-like taste is called eugenol.

It is an old tradition in India to keep the right thumbnail long so that it can be used for removing the central vein from the leaf when preparing paan. Even today, in some areas, the main vein of the leaf is removed.