Betel leaves are medium to large in size and oblong to heart-shaped, averaging 7-15 centimeters in length and 5-11 centimeters in width. The dark green leaves are flat, broad, and pliable and have a smooth, but slightly leathery texture. There is also a central vein the runs the length of the leaf with many smaller veins branching throughout. Each Betel leaf tapers to a point on the non-stem end and grows on climbing vines. Betel leaves are chewy and have a sharp, tangy, and peppery taste.
Betel leaves are available year-round.
Betel leaves, botanically classified as Piper betel, grow on an evergreen perennial and belong to the Piperaceae family along with pepper and kava. Also known as Paan leaves, Pan in Bengali, Paan Ka Patta in Hindi, Tambula in Sanskrit, and Tanbul in Persian, Betel leaves are known for their ability to serve as a digestive aid and breath freshener when chewed and have been used in Asia and Southeast Asia for centuries. There are thirty-two varieties of the popular leaf, cultivated throughout India and Bangladesh, creating a huge industry for the plant and Betel leaves are often used as a flavoring for candies, desserts, and sodas.
Betel leaves are a good source of calcium and antioxidants and also contain vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, thiamine, niacin, and carotene.
Betel leaves are used primarily for their medicinal properties and as wrappings for other ingredients. They are most commonly used as a wrapper for the areca nut or tobacco and when chewed they impart a peppery flavor. The leaf is also chewed along with other barks and leaves such as sweetened coconut, lime, cardamom, anise seeds, licorice, and fruit preserves. Betel leaves can also be found as a street snack with chocolate syrup poured over them or used as an edible garnish for other dishes. Betel leaves pair well with dried shrimp, coconut, mint, garlic, ginger, chiles, carrots, peanuts, chocolate, and lime. Betel leaves will keep up to three days when unwashed and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.