Areca nut, or pinang, more commonly known as betel nut, is the seed of the betel palm or Areca catechu, a species of palm tree which grows throughout the Pacific, Asia, and parts of east Africa. The most important active principles of betel nut are arecaine and arecoline, alkaloids which are comparable to nicotine in its stimulating, mildly intoxicating and appetite-suppressing effects on the mind. It also contains the alkaloids arecaidine, arecolidine, guracine (guacine), guvacoline and a number of others that have not yet been studied extensively.
Betel chewing is a part of many Asian cultures, and preparation techniques vary from region to region. The nut is either slivered or grated, often flavored with spices according to local tradition and usually wrapped in a betel leaf (note: betel leaf comes from the betel pepper plant, Piper betle, which is not botanically related to the betel palm, Areca catechu), along with some lime (calcium oxide or calcium hydroxide) to better extract the alkaloids. Some people also chew tobacco with betel nut. After about 20 minutes of chewing, the fibrous residue which remains of the nut is spat on the street, where it remains visible due to its characteristic bright red color. Trails of bright red sputum lining the sidewalks are a sure indication of the popularity of betel chewing in an area.
Regular betel chewing causes the teeth and gums to be stained red; however, it may also reduce cavities.
Betel chewing is addictive. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) regards betel nut to be a known human carcinogen.
Powdered betel nut is a constituent in tooth powders. Other medicinal uses include the removal of tapeworms and other intestinal parasites by swallowing a few teaspoons of powdered betel nut, or by taking tablets containing the extracted alkaloids.
In Taiwan, betel nut shops typically have large picture windows behind which a young attractive woman who is usually not wearing very much is wrapping betel nuts. (See betel nut beauty). In India, betel chewing is as popular as tobacco smoking once was in the United States.
In the United States, betel nut is not a controlled or specially taxed substance and may be found in some Asian grocery stores.
Penang Island is named after pinang.