A village can be described in many ways. Acres of greens, vast clear blue sky, the sweet-grass-scented air, birds hooting from afar, the babbling of the brooks, chickens scraping the earth for a snack, the coconut leaves rustling in a rhythm of their own, cows whiplashing themselves to shoo the horseflies and the villagers working hard for the year’s harvest. But a village is never one, without stained-teeth-smiles. These abstract red paintings on the dental canvas can be painted only when the spiciest of the betel leaves and the whitest slaked lime are combined with the scarlet coloured arecanuts. Each ingredient when rolled together and chewed tell the stories of the olden days and the recent gossip in air, with a hint of cackles and dismay, alike.
Not just in interms of cuisine, but the Ele adike has a cultural significance of its own. Right from its rightful place on the brass plate ( Hariwana) during marriages to being stuffed inside the deseased’s mouth, the betle leaf climber is found in everyone’s garden. The arrival of guests has some unspoken rules. And one of them is to get the freshest betle leaves plucked and neatly placed on the brass plate, alongside pieces of the gifted arecanut from the coastal relatives and an old yet faithful dibba, full of slaked lime. This is placed on the table for the guests to devour and gossip, after a hefty meal.
It might sound like a simple cuisine with three ingredients, but the method of preparation and the technique of eating it, can put the queen herself to shame. To begin with, a betle leaf climber is left untouched for 3 years. It is said that the betle leaf says, ” Look after me for three years, and I shall look after you, all throughout your life”. Therefore, the betle leaves are plucked only after three years of planting. This might be because of its establishing period or because it might be effected if its plucked before that time, neverthless, there is no research or any reason of stating why.
Rules of eating Ele adike
These rules again differ based on the situation. Here are some interesting rules to eat or prepare the same.
- A bettle leaf is wiped before eaten. This is to make sure that there arent insects or worms on it. Again, the method of wiping is pretty sexist. It is said, that the men always wipe their betle leaves on the arms, while the women whipe their’s on the thighs. Elders say that this is a technique to identify the gender in functions. The need of which I am unaware of. But it still is a hilarious concept, nevertheless.
- The betle leaf is folded with the lighter or backside facing out, and the leaf stalk is usually nipped. The slaked lime is always applied on the backside of the leaf.
- The betle leaf is either stuffed with the arecanut or is plainly folded with the slaked lime and eaten after the arecanut is put inside the mouth.
- The number of leaves to be kept on the plate is always odd and is usually 5.
- A whole arecanut can be kept singly, but the pieces of arecanut are to be kept in multiples of 5.
- The betle leaves are always to be handed out with the right hand. It is handed out in the left hand, only during funerals.
- A betle leaf is never kept upside down on the hariwana, apart from the time of funerals.
- An arecanut is always split along longitudinal axis and never on the horizontal axis.
- If you are left with extra slaked lime on your fingers, you are not to apply it on another’s palm but to apply it only on their betle leaves.
- The children are not allowed to eat Ele adike, because it may cause speach problems, by thickening the tongue and making it rough.
That’s about it regarding the rules. But it does not end there. If you are consumer, then this information will suffice for you. But manufactures have to take necessary steps to make sure that this does not kill you. Now, killing is a strong word. But it might leave you on cloud nine with nauseating results later. This is because uncurated arecanut, can be a drug.
- The arecanuts after being harvested are dried for 48 days. The best quality arecanut is when on shaking, gives a rustling sound of the seed tumbling inside the dried husk.
- It is then peeled and the seeds are broken into 4 equal parts.
- The seeds are then boiled, which is the key step in eliminating the alkaloids. Additives like the bark of Ficus tsjahela, Santalum album or Syzygium species is used. This eliminates the excess puckery taste of the arecanut and gives it a beautiful scarlet colour.
- This boiled arecanut, is again dried for a couple of days and then marketed.
Even after this process, if not habitual, the consumption of Ele adike will leave a dizzy feeling, locally known as adike sokku/ ಅಡಿಕೆ ಸೊಕ್ಕು. To overcome this, eating salt, sugar powder, cold water or chewing on dried coconut is helpful. People who have a habit of eating Ele adike can be easily spotted due to their resemblence to a vampire, who had just sucked blood from a mere mortal. The ele adike leaves a dark red stain all over the mouth and stains the teeth for eternity. It is a lifetime commitment with pros on cons. But mainly has a lot of benifits.
Benifits of chewing ele adike or paan
- Usually, you find only the old people chewing on ele adike. But, it is also given to women, during the postpartum period for its excellent source of calcium and cooling property.
- The betle leaves are rich in vitamins like vitamin C, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and carotene.
- The consumption of betle leaves helps in controlling diabities, cholestrol and also prevents carcinogens that lead to mouth cancer.
- Overall, Ele adike improves digestion and is consumed after having food for the very same.
- Chewing on arecanut sweetens the breath, removes bad taste and strenghthens the gums.
- It has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic, antiulcer, hypolipidemic, antidiabetic and neuroprotective properties.
Alternatives for ele adike
Now, it might sound absurd to imagine Ele adike, without ele or adike, but back in those days, it was hard to get your daily ration, alright? And people had to suffice in whatever they had. And that lead to the ‘ Ele adike lite’. Kodagu is a region where arecanut cannot be grown for its clmatic conditions. So, the alternative for the arecanut was the barks of Ficus tsjahela. The bark is scrapped out and dried, then wrapped in betle leaves ard eaten.
Another ingredient that was rare to find back in the days, was slaked lime. Originally, slaked lime is obtained from limestone or shellfishes, like oysters. The alternative of slaked lime was made from the shells of a snail, Indrella ampula. This is a large, palm-sized, red snail with a black shell, endemic to the Western Ghats. The shells of this snail is boiled, which turns from black to white. The obtained mixture is used as an alternative for slaked lime. Now, I am glad that there are limestone for a change. A little amount of global warming is better than killing hundreds of snails for a small container of slaked lime, right?
The beauty behind stained teeth
Albeit having all the above listed benifits, the chewing of Ele adike is becoming something that is not passed on from generation to generation, these days. Though having such a huge cultural significance, the stained teeth are frowned upon by the modren world. If this goes on, Ele adike will also end up in the ‘Once upon a time’ section. Having white, pearly teeth does not really mean that you have a good oral hygiene. Just as the saying of ‘ beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, do you think that Ele adike can be normalized? Do you think that there will be a day, when the Indians will brace their culture and smile with stained teeth, out of pride?