Betel leaves are consumed in almost all part of India. Although betel leaves, areca nut and other ingredients in a different part of India, which are used to make types of pans. A Pan literally unites different parts of India, the Betel leaf might come from Kolkatta, areca nut could come from Kerala, sand Kasu from Madhya Pradesh, Chunna (lime or calcium carbonate) from elsewhere, etc.
In history, it is mentioned as consumed during various periods. It must be good for health, otherwise why people would have consumed it regularly. If only betel leaf is consumed also it is good for health. It has the taste of a combination of Chilly+Sweet+Bitter (or vogaru in Telugu).
When I was very young, whenever some of our relatives’ especially old women come home, they would ask me to go to a shop and get some betel leaves. After getting the betel leaves, I used to sit with them to have a pan for myself. The women had a Chekkudu Sanchi (a small cloth bag with small pockets to store the Betel nuts and the nut breaker, Sunnam (Calcium Carbonate), Kasu (Katta), Cloves, Elachi, etc. They also were happy to make a pan for me too.
Eating Pan regularly would tarnish one’s teeth. The people in olden days were not much concerned about the colour of their teeth. Nowadays with so many dentists people are concerned about the tarnishing of their teeth, that could be one of the reasons why people are less consuming Pan.
During the marriage, the Groom is given a Nut Breaker to hold in the hand. The Betel leaves and Areca nuts (black colour) are offered in the traditional marriages performed in parts of Andhra Pradesh. At almost all the parties the Pans are offered to the guests.
Young ladies nowadays prefer Meetha Pan. It is like a Bomb of sugar. It has so many very sweet ingredients.
I always prefer, Kolkatta Me Saada Pan. Kolkatta leaf, which is dark green in colour, smeared with Kasu and Sunnam (lime), with areca nut pieces, Soamp, and cardamom pieces. Always I consume two Saada Pans one after another. In Hyderabad, on the main road, one finds many pan shops, but some are more preferred than the others. If we are on a four wheeler, the parking of the vehicle matters the most. Secondly, the person who makes Pan is an art. They are often seen consuming a pan always. I think their interest in Pan and as a habit made them become good Panwala. One I like the Pan, I regularly go to the same person. Often they see my vehicle and start making my pan even without asking. Similarly, we find many such regular customers coming. There is also a relationship that develops between both Panwala and the customer. In Hyderabad, many Panwalas are Muslims. Especially with every Irani Chai hotel, one Pan Shop exists by default. After consuming the Irani Chai, people consume a Pan. Sometimes some people have a pan and also smoke a cigarette. My father while going to office regularly consumed a pan.
In almost all the Pujas performed to various Gods, Betel leaves are a must. There is a puja performed with Lord Anjaneya Swamy with one lakh Betel leaves. They stick all the leaves on the Chandram of the Anjaneya Swamy statue by reciting mantras. It is said that Lord Krishna consumed many small pans with one of his wives Satyavathi after dinner.
Even the movie industry could not ignore the pan. There are so many famous Hindi and Telugu film songs on Pan. The Banaras pan is considered as famous in India. I always like to taste pans while travelling in different parts of India. In Bangladesh also vide varieties of Pans are consumed. I have tasted many varieties of Pans in Bangladesh during my visit.
It is, famous with the traditional musician to consume Pans at the time of performance of music.
It is good for digestion, as its chewing releases saliva juice in plenty. On the whole it reduces the acidity. Especially people consume when they have a sumptuous meal. The Pan Shop or Pan-Dabba are common at many street corners. Each Pan-Dabba has its own clientele.
The consumption of Pan benefitted especially old women. Women especially suffer from Osteoporosis. The Betel leaf is rich in calcium and also some extra calcium carbonate (Sunnam) added to the pan, the deficiency of calcium is reduced. These women suffer less from the osteoporosis and strengthen their bones. That could be the main reason in olden days women consumed more pan as compared to men. Even now especially the womens functions called “Perantam” or Satyanarayana Vratham the women who attend at the end of the event are offered two betel leaves with areca nut pieces and a Banana.
Youth have taken to intoxicants in the form of Gutka and Pan Masala, etc. Which is not a pan but highly harmful for one’s health and people might also get mouth/throat cancer for continuous consumption. These Gutka eating people spit continuously, therefore many people don’t like them as they spit very often and everywhere. Its smell is also very repelling. The pan eating people are sometimes not allowed to enter into the cinema theatres as they spit.
I have introduced the Pan eating to my Kids too. My wife and two sons eat especially the sweetpan. Whenever children have sour throat due to cough and cold, we insist the kids eat a pan.