When I was in India for the first time, I was introduced to a pungent sweet treat sold on the street, that is often consumed after a good dinner, called “Paan.” What caught my attention was the smoky, yet peppery flavour that was coming from the dark green leaf used to wrap the rest of the remaining ingredients. This green leaf is called betel leaf.
The betel plant is an evergreen perennial with glossy heart-shaped leaves. The betel is a vine of the family Piperaceae that includes pepper and kava. Betel leaf is mostly consumed across Asia as well as elsewhere in the world by citizens of Asian heritage in salads.
The betel leaf is mainly used in Indian culture in traditional ayurvedic medicine, as a decorative plant for gardens or “betel bag’ production. However, its primary use is as a wrapper for areca nut or tobacco to add extra flavour. Betel leaves are also used as decoration during the plating of dishes. What I had no idea is that in China, it has been used for more than 300 years but mainly for medicinal use.
Chewing betel leaf dates back to 75AD - 300AD which has evolved over time into the above-mentioned paan snack.
So what is “paan”?
Paan, meaning “leaf” in Sanskrit, is a combination of betel leaf and areca nut which is chewed after dinner to refresh the breath, although, historically it was used for its stimulant and psychoactive effects - hmm… interesting right? The habit of chewing betel leaves has spread across South East Asia. In India, there are a thousand different variations determined by ingredients used in paan including rosewater or rose preserved with saffron, coconut, and other fragrant spices.
I fell in love with betel leaf for its smoky, woody flavour with a long peppery lingering finish. You can make your own “paan” and serve it alongside a cocktail as a garnish and or simply infuse paan into brown spirits such as whiskey, rum and or cognac. Here’s an easy take on the classic Collins Cocktail (Whisky and Soda) recipe below.
45 ml *Betel Leaf infused Whisky 15 ml Good Quality Honey 10 ml Fresh Lemon juice Top up with Soda
Combine whisky, honey, and lemon juice together in mixing glass and stir until honey is properly** mixed with the rest of the ingredients.
Add soda and gently stir.
Pour into a highball glass over ice and garnish with a nicely cut betel leaf.
*Betel Leaf Infused Whisky
1 bottle of Blended Whisky (Monkey Shoulder, Chivas Regal will work well) 2 pcs of Dark Green Betel Leaf
Combine both ingredients in a jam jar and let it infuse for 24 hours at room temperature.
Once infused, strain the leaves, bottle the whisky, label and enjoy while mixing cocktails.
Honey has a thick consistency and mixing it over ice will not help to mix it properly with the rest of the ingredients as it will get cold and thicken even more. It’s better to either dilute the honey with water in the ration (1;1) or stir the honey with other ingredients first and then add in the other ingredients.