Tag Betelnut

The Betel Nut

Introducing the betel nut.

The Chamorro name for this acorn sized palm nut is Pugua, known world wide as the betel nut. It’s widely popular on Saipan and is sold alongside all it’s “mix” in every grocery store at the check out counter. It ranges in price, but a dollar will buy you from 5-10 of the green pods. Two varieties are currently in season. Saipan Red, preferred for its softness and sweetness, daily delivered from local farms (“it’s our money tree”) to the grocery store, and Yap. Yap is mostly imported from the isle of Yap, though a few people on Saipan grow this woodier variety.

Bite the cap off of it, and split it open with your teeth to reveal a woody meat with a pale pink center. (If its too juicy, it’s not so good, call it paska.) Swipe a tiny amount of mineral lime out of its container with your pinky and transfer it to the center of the betel nut, close it up and you’re good to go. You can stop right now pop it in your mouth and chew it up. You’ll feel your face go flush and depending how much lime you have used you’ll probably get a head rush.

Or, like most people, you will opt for a more flavorful mix. You may like your betel nut wrapped in a special peppery leaf (delicious but turns your spit red!) or with a cardamom pod, tobacco, or some other spices before chomping away at it. (The finished bundle, betel nut and mix, is called the the mama’on.)

Dentists here hate that people use it. The mineral lime is harsh and can toughen the inside of your cheek and stain your teeth. It may be related to some mouth cancer. Probably worse is that kids as young as seven can start chewing. Stores won’t sell it to kids but it’s everywhere–heck it grows on trees!

If you ever get a chance to try it, do! It’s definitely not something I’ll make a habit of using, but I’m glad I tried it.