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 South East 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.
- Do not chew Betel Nut if you are a minor. Betel Nut is a drug and can become habit forming.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers betel nut to be a human carcinogen (i.e. oral cancer is common in places where betel nut is chewed)
- 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.
- 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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