If you ever go to Papua New Guinea, the first thing you will notice is the brilliant red-stained teeth and lips of the local men and women. Betel nut, or what the locals call buai [boo-eye] is the cause. Green betel nut is a nut that grows in the tropical climates of Southeast Asia and is popular in the South Pacific Islands. It can be found on every street corner in Papua New Guinea and is chewed as part of social occasions or as a part of everyday life. Betel nut has a mild stimulant effect and in addition to reasons of tradition local people chew it for stress reduction, heightened awareness, and suppression of hunger.
Many foreign visitors try betel nut as a way to experience a part of the local Papua New Guinea culture. In addition, if a visitor arrives at a local person’s house for dinner, the visitor will most likely be given betel nut as a welcome offering. If you would like to learn how to chew betel nut, follow these steps.
Gather the ingredients needed to chew betel nut. You will need the green betel nut (buai), a jar or bag of lime powder (kambang) and a bean-like green called mustard (daka). These can be bought on any street corner for about one Kina (30 cents).
Break the betel nut open by cracking the shell with your teeth. Take the meaty center out of the shell and start chewing it. Do not swallow the fibrous residue of the nut as it is said to cause stomach aches.
Chew the betel nut for 2-5 minutes or until it forms a wad in your mouth.
Slightly moisten the mustard seed with your mouth and dip it into the jar/bag of lime powder.
Move the betel nut wad to the side of your mouth and then bite off the piece of mustard seed that has the lime powder on it. Make sure to not put the lime directly on your mouth or gums as they will feel a burning sensation. Instead try to bite the mustard seed directly into the betel nut wad. As you chew the mixture together, they will form a chemical reaction that will make your teeth and lips red and provide a mild high.
Know that as you chew, spit out the fibrous residue of the nut as needed. Most people just spit on the street so there is often red splattering of betel nut all along the street and sidewalks.
Keep chewing until there is no more betel nut left. You may have a mild euphoric feeling because of betel nuts’ mild stimulant effects.
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- The red juice can leave stains on clothing which can be difficult to remove. Thanks! Helpful 14 Not Helpful 4
- Be careful when spitting betel nut juice (or being spat on) when chewing in public places. Local PNG betel nut chewers tend to be careless when spitting betel nut juice. Thanks! Helpful 21 Not Helpful 10
- Do not chew Betel Nut if you are not aware of the risks. Betel Nut is a drug and can become very addictive. Thanks! Helpful 24 Not Helpful 13
- Do not visit public betel nut markets alone if you are a tourist or an expatriate. Go with a local guide because public markets, especially in Port Moresby, have quite a lot of rascal activity. Thanks! Helpful 15 Not Helpful 7
- Betel nut will make your teeth and lips very red, sometimes permanently if chewed a lot. When chewed over long periods of time it can also lead to gum and teeth disease. Thanks! Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
- The Betel Nut is a proven carcinogen. While relatively uncommon in other countries, oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the most common malignant cancer in Papua New Guinea, with an average 47% mortality within 5 years of diagnosis. One study shows chewing Betel Nut increases the risk of oral cancer 28-fold. Betel Nut also comes in convenient tea bag-like pouches, but the carcinogenic effect of these has not been tested. Use Caution. Thanks! Helpful 1 Not Helpful 1
- The Papua New Guinea Department of Health does not encourage chewing of betel nut as it is said to be a common cause of oral cancers. Thanks! Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Betel nut is often compared to tobacco. It can be very addictive and habit forming. In many places in PNG you will find “no betel nut” signs that are similar to “no smoking signs.”
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