I'm Eating What?! Dried Betel Nut

This one didn't work out so well. The boss went on a shopping spree a couple of weeks back at Little Market Indian Grocery & Spices (3062 N. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale). He picked up last week's gem as well as a couple of bags of betel nut. I went with the Rajgira last week, as it looked at least edible, and saved this one for later.

Resident food writer John Linn sent me a cautionary email warning that eating betel nut might not be a great idea, seeing it's got carcinogenic qualities and is a known stimulant. After reading this email, I picked the bag off my desk to take a closer look and found a sticky note on the underside warning "Probably not edible." Sounds like a challenge to me.

Further inspecting the bag gives me no clues as to what I'm about to consume. Most of the writing on the foil backing of the package has been rubbed off, the nutritional information is loaded with zeroes, and the sticker on the back states only that it was "The Best Scented." I suddenly get the feeling I'm about to eat potpourri.

I grab a pair of scissors and hack away at the top of the package.

Before the top is even completely off, an unbearably strong odor begins

filling the office. With reactions ranging from "Smells like nail

polish remover" to "It's like huffing a permanent marker," I begin

devising an escape route. Maybe I'll claim to be allergic to nuts or

get a sudden case of lockjaw. As these ideas germinate in my head, I

pick up a small chunk and roll it around in my fingers.

The betel nut is as hard as a chunk of wood and has similar markings.

One side is smooth and mahogany-colored, while the other side is tan

with mahogany marbling, like the rings of a tree. Lifting it up to my

nose only makes my stomach twist a little harder. I'm convinced this

has been soaked in a mixture of gasoline, nail polish remover, and

turpentine. There's no way I'm putting this anywhere near my mouth.

A few seconds later, I'm chewing the damned thing. I don't know where I

got the courage to do it, but here I am desperately trying to chew a

wood chip. The betel nut tastes much better than it smells. It has a

lime taste, with a hint of sugar and menthol. It's certainly not

something I'd choose to put into my body, but it's not the tongue-scorching, stomach-spilling taste I expected.

About a minute into chewing on the dried betel, I feel my tongue and

cheek start to tingle and go numb. Not wanting to risk any permanent

damage/a new addiction, I spit the chunk of betel into the trash can and

walk back to my desk. It takes a good 30 minutes before the feeling returns

to my mouth, and I must admit I looked over at the open bag more

than a few times, wondering what would happen if I poured myself a

mouthful and chewed for a few hours. But my better judgment took hold,

and the rest of the office insisted I throw the smelly bag away. 

Who should eat this? People who've lost their sense of smell but

somehow maintain their taste, people looking to add more carcinogens to

their diet, cricket players, and patients of amateur dentists looking

to numb their mouths.

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