Green Gold: Paan Leaves And Its Flavour Have Made Their Way Into Menus Of Today

The betel leaf or paan has an interesting history and is today more than a post-meal treat, as it makes its way into mainstream plates

Published On Mar 07, 2024 | Updated On Mar 11, 2024


Did you know that betel leaves are an aphrodisiac? Or that the ancient Ayurvedic texts recommend it for several health issues? Well, there is much more to this humble leaf that goes beyond its traditional context. 

Originating from the Sanskrit word, panra meaning leaf, betel has a history deeply rooted in Indian mythology and Ayurveda. Dating back to 5000 years, it is known to have medicinal properties. Holding a prominent place in Indian culture and traditions, auspicious occasions and religious rites are incomplete without paan

Paan Rasmalai by Manish Sharma, executive chef, Radisson Blue Udaipur

In some cultures, offering paan is a sign of hospitality and respect. From a health perspective, betel leaves are considered beneficial for the digestive system. In Ayurveda, paan is a powerful ingredient as it helps control various health issues, stimulates hunger, and is effective in treating respiratory issues. Ancient Ayurvedic texts such as Charaka, Sushruta Samhitas, and Kashyapa Bhojanakalpa document the tradition of chewing paan after meals, which gained popularity between 75 A.D. and 300 A.D. due to its digestive enzyme content. 

From a mouth freshener filled with gulkand, fennel seeds, and supari, it has become a culinary inspiration and experience over the course of time. The trend of incorporating paan into various dishes can be attributed to a few factors. 

“Firstly, there's a growing interest in exploring and experimenting with traditional ingredients in modern culinary creations. Paan offers a unique flavour profile with its blend of betel leaf, areca nut, and spices, making it an intriguing addition to dishes. Secondly, there's a trend towards fusion cuisine, where chefs blend elements from different culinary traditions to create innovative and exciting dishes. Paan's distinctive taste lends itself well to this approach, as it can complement both savoury and sweet offerings,” says Daman Raj Singh Dhindsa, senior sous chef and Indian cuisine expert, The Oberoi, Bengaluru. 

Paan Patta Chaat by Manish Sharma, executive chef, Radisson Blu Udaipur

Paan can be used in a variety of ways in food. It can be blended into chutneys, sauces, or dressings to add a hint of flavour. Paan leaves can also be used as a wrap for savoury fillings, like grape leaves in Mediterranean cuisine. In desserts, paan can be infused into ice creams, cakes, or chocolates for a unique experience. Additionally, it can be used to flavour drinks, such as cocktails or mocktails. 

Paan is a versatile ingredient and can be used in a variety of ways to create both savoury and sweet dishes. Manish Sharma, executive chef, Radisson Blu, Udaipur, explains, “Betel leaves are fragrant and have a slight bitterness. Their distinct flavour adds a unique depth to any dish. When used raw, it has a bitter taste with a hint of sweetness and a refreshing aftertaste. But when cooked, the bitterness mellows down, and it imparts a rather earthy and herbaceous flavour to the food. Paan is used to flavour desserts like coconut ladoos, sandesh, cakes, and ice creams. It is used in savoury preparations for dishes like pakoda, rice, and curries, and even to wrap pieces of meat, which are then steamed or grilled.” 

Paan Mocktail by Hilton Embassy Golflinks, Bengaluru

Paan's resurgence in culinary experimentation can be attributed to its myriad therapeutic and medicinal properties. Its pleasant, refreshing, and sweet flavour profile makes it a sought-after ingredient in modern culinary creations, particularly in desserts. Gaurav Paul, executive chef, Hilton Embassy Golf Links, says, “Paan lends itself to various culinary applications, both in traditional Indian dishes and in fusion with Western cuisine. From incorporating it into ice creams, kulfis, payasams, and Crème Brûlée, to personal favourites like white chocolate-coated paan with beetroot halwa and gulkand rabdi, or innovative concoctions such as pan thandai-infused tequila shots, the possibilities are endless.” 

The usage of betel leaves is also tied to its health benefits. “This resurgence can be attributed to the recognition of betel leaves' nutritional richness. Laden with vitamins B, C, and calcium, betel leaves offer notable health benefits. Historically, betel leaf extracts were integral to food preparation, adding both flavour and acting as a preservative. This rediscovery of its culinary potential has led to its incorporation in various dishes, amplifying both taste and nutritional value,” says Tenzin, executive chef, JW Marriott Chandigarh. 

Nutritionally, betel leaves themselves are low in calories. They do, however, contain small amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, and iron. “The trend of using paan in dishes can be attributed to a growing interest in fusion cuisine and the desire to experiment with new flavours. Paan adds a unique, refreshing taste to dishes and desserts, making it a popular ingredient among chefs and food enthusiasts. Additionally, the health benefits associated with betel leaves, such as their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, may also contribute to its popularity in modern cuisine,” says Amandeep Singh, executive sous chef, The Westin Mumbai Garden City. 

Paan Kulfi Mithai by Hilton Embassy Golflinks Bengaluru

When using paan leaves for culinary purposes, careful selection is paramount to ensure the dish's success. Opting for sweet, young leaves, commonly known as ‘meetha patta’, is essential to avoid bitterness and achieve the desired flavour profile. 

Creative ways to use paan 

  • Infusing paan flavour into ice cream adds a unique twist to this classic dessert. Betel leaf extract or finely chopped betel leaves can be blended into the ice cream base.
  • Mixing paan flavours with yogurt, milk, and sugar creates a refreshing and flavourful lassi.
  • Combining the flavours of paan with chocolate creates indulgent paan truffles. Betel leaf extract or finely chopped betel leaves can be mixed into the chocolate ganache before shaping into truffles.
  • Whipping cream infused with paan flavours and folding it into a creamy mousse base makes for a decadent dessert.
  • Paan syrup can be drizzled over pancakes, waffles, or ice cream for a burst of flavour.
  • Mixing betel leaf extract with fruit juices, soda, or sparkling water creates refreshing mocktails.
  • Freezing paan -flavoured liquid into popsicle moulds makes for a fun and cooling treat, especially during hot weather.
  • Adding paan flavour to a classic cheesecake recipe gives it a unique twist. Betel leaf extract or finely chopped betel leaves can be incorporated into the cheesecake batter or used to create a tasty topping.
  • Paan leaves can be ground with mint, coriander, green chilies, tamarind, and other ingredients to create a tangy chutney that can be served with snacks or used as a condiment.
  • The leaves can be used as a coating for paneer cubes along with a marinade made from yogurt, spices, and herbs. The coated paneer is then grilled or baked to make paan paneer tikka.
  • Paan leaves can be used to wrap and steam aromatic rice along with meat or vegetables to make a unique paan biryani, where the betel leaves impart their essence to the dish.


  • Choose fresh, tender paan leaves without any tears or blemishes for the best flavour.
  • Wash the leaves thoroughly under running water to remove any dirt or impurities before use.
  • If using paan leaves for chewing, consider pairing them with traditional ingredients like areca nut, slaked lime, and spices for an authentic experience.
  • Experiment with different fillings and ingredients to create unique paan variations according to your taste preferences.
  • Store paan leaves in a cool, dry place to maintain their freshness and flavour for longer periods.
  • Refrain from using paan leaves that have been treated with harmful chemicals or pesticides. Opt for organic or naturally grown paan leaves whenever possible.

Photo: Featured brands; Bindu Gopal Rao