Friday, September 08, 2006

Pinang (Betel Nuts)

I've encountered a strange social phenomenon in this part of the country. Pinang, or betel nuts, are very popular in Nantou and are available just about everywhere around here. These small nuts grow on a tree that looks similar to a palm tree.

The culture behind pinang is rather strange. Older men usually buy and chew the nuts, and they are sold in little stands on the side of the road. The stands have large glass windows for walls, are decorated with bright neon lights, and are attended by young, scantily clad women.

The effect of chewing on these nuts is a mild stimulant, similar to the effect of nicotine. It causes your mouth to go numb and produces a "dry" effect in the back of your throat. For me, it just made me gag and want to spit. It tastes a lot like peppermint, and you spit out the husk after you chew it thouroughly.

Chewing on pinang is known to cause mouth, throat, and stomach cancer. There is a warning on the box from the department of health describing such damaging effects. I guess this pretty much equates to cigarette smoking in the States, including the social stigma.


Andy said...

This is one of the things we were talking when I was over there last August for that Anti-tobacco conference. Apparently a lot of kids especially rural kids get hooked on these things because they are so cheap and accesible.

Joanna said...

We called the ladies that sell these betelnuts "betelnut beauties." The less you wear, the more you sell!