The Evolution Of Paan, India’s Favourite Mouth Freshener
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Ubiquitous in India, paan is enjoyed after meals, especially as a post dinner snack, and is used as an excuse to socialise. Paan has great cultural significance within the country, but its main ingredient—the betel leaf—is of Southeast Asian origin, according to late food historian KT Achaya. However, chewing betel leaves has a context rooted in Hindu mythology. The Ramayana says that Lord Rama chewed betel leaves to control hunger. It is also believed that the goddess Sita offered a garland made of betel leaves to Lord Hanuman. Thus, the tradition of Hanuman devotees offering paan to him was born.

Paan originated from the Sanskrit word ‘parna’, which translates to ‘leaf’. Paan leaves are considered auspicious in India. They are offered as a gift signifying good fortune in Mysore. In Assam, paan leaves are eaten immediately after meals, to show respect to  guests. Medicine has found that this is good for the digestive system. In North India, the auspicious kalash is adorned with paan leaves during festivals like Durga Puja and Diwali. It is also believed that adding these leaves to water purifies it.

Chewing paan is popular not just in India, but across Southeast Asia. Skulls from 3000 BC in the Philippines show red teeth, the stains on which are believed to have been caused by chewing betel leaves (the red colour comes from slaked lime).