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Description | Overview | History | Cultivation pattern | Cultural and social significance of Areca nut I Areca nut producing countries | Indian areca nut market | Major trading centers

Areca nut, also popular by the names betel nut and pinang, is the fruit of betel nut tree and is used worldwide for consumption and chewing purposes. The betel nut tree is called Areca catechu botanically and belongs to the palm tree species and family of Arecaceae. The tree is a tall, single stemmed palm reaching up to a height of around 30 meters that bears an orange colored, egg shaped nut having a hard single seed.

In Asian countries, it is a popular cultural activity to chew areca nuts for its stimulant properties and also it is used as an offering for many rituals and spiritual activities in the Hindu religion. The seeds have high percentage of alkaloids in them that prove beneficial for health if consumed to a limited extent. If used over longer span of time, it can hamper health and can even cause cancer.


Areca nut is one of the most important commercial crops in the Southeast Asia. The nut is cultivated in palm plantations and the tree as well as the nut has a never-ending list of uses like i.e. for chewing purposes, as vegetable, as medicine, as stimulant, timber, fuel wood, clothing, wrapping, lubricant, tannin etc. When the nut is chewed along with the betel leaf, it increases the stimulating effect, though excessive consumption enhances the risk of cancer. Areca is taken up from the Malayan language that means ‘cluster of nuts’.

The areca nut is produced in two varieties - white variety supari and red variety supari. The first variety is prepared by harvesting the fully ripe nuts and drying them in sun for around 2 months and the latter one is produced by harvesting the green areca nut, boiling them and then by peeling off the outer husk. Production wise, India tops the list of major betel nut producing countries followed by China and Myanmar. India also leads the major betel nut consuming countries’ list with almost all of the list comprising of the countries from Asian continent.


The exact location of the origination of the areca nut is not known till date but it is said that the betel palm originally grew in the Southeast Asian region, most probably in Malaysia or Philippines in the ancient times. These areas still have the widest variety of the plantation belonging to the ‘Areca’ genus. The common practice and culture of chewing seeds is said to be as old as the origin of the plantation itself and has its roots in Vietnam and Malaysia. From the Southeast Asian land, the crop traveled to the rest of Asia and started to get cultivated as a cash crop.

The Indian subcontinent also had its introduction with this stimulant fruit bearing palm tree when areca nut started to get popular. Though the time of the origination in India cannot be dated, it can be figured out from the fact that the Indian text and literature as old as around 2000 years contain information about betel nut and the chewing practice. Also, the advantages of consuming nuts and their reputation as a traditional medicine are mentioned in the ancient Ayurveda books dating back to the same period. India adopted the nut so well that consumption of betel nut with a betel leaf and lime gained its place in the daily routine activities of the people. Marco Polo also mentioned about areca nut in the 13th century. With time many other forms of nut consumption like in quids have been found and the practice of chewing still prevails even though ill effects on health of excessive chewing have also been discovered.

Cultivation pattern

Areca nut palm is a tropical plantation that is a bit more sensitive as compared to other tropical crops. A very well drained, deep clay loam soil is required to plant the tree to fetch the maximum yield with laterite, red loam and alluvial soils being most appropriate. It cannot stand drought conditions and is not able to prosper in the areas with less rainfall. High rainfall and abundant irrigation play vital role in the development of the tree. The fruit of the palm varies in color from yellow to orange and red and is generally oval in shape. The plant also bear small creamy white flowers having strong fragrance. The pollination generally occurs with the help of wind as a medium.

The tree starts to produce fruits from four to eight years of age and it can produce them till 60 years but can also extend up to 100 years of age. the fruit takes around 8 months to ripen  and then the bunches of fruits are harvested manually. The harvesting process is done on a yearly basis and the seeds, dried or fresh, are dehusked.

Cultural and social significance of areca nut

Areca nut bestows a special global cultural and social relevance. It is a prominent cultural behaviour in many Asian and pacific countries. In India, areca nut comprises a significant cultural orientation. In many parts of India, the chewing and offering of areca nuts fulfills a vital religious and social function. It is a medium of showing love, gratitude, respect and polished lifestyle. Areca nuts are largely included in Indian weddings and ceremonies. Areca nut is an inseparable element of our religious practices, it is offered to the images of gods as part of religious rituals. In Assam, the tradition of serving Pan-tamul (Betel leaves and raw betel nuts) to guests after tea or dinner in a brass plate with the stand called Bota is very famous. In many areas, Areca nuts are also known as Paan and Gutka.

In Taiwan, one can find many shops of betel nuts having a large picture window behind which a colourfully attired  young woman wrapping betel nuts can be spotted. In Papua New Guinea and the Solomon islands fresh Areca nuts uniquely mixed with lime are consumed. The betel leaves and areca nuts are the important aspects of Vietnamese weddings. They are used to initiate a conversation between the groom and bride’s families regarding marriage. In Guam, offering areca nut is a preferred social activity to boost friendship.

Areca nut producing countries

Areca nut has been cultivated as a cash crop in the Asian continent for quite a long time now. Even today, the regions that produce maximum quantity of nut are the same areas where the areca nut came into existence i.e. the Southeast Asia. The world production of areca nut sums up to around 0.64 million tons, Asian contribution being the maximum. India is the leading country in context of production contributing to around 51% of world’s total production followed by China with 25% share. The following list depicts the major producers of the nut with their respective production figures for the year 2003
  • India (330000 metric tons)
  • China (162253 metric tons)
  • Myanmar (57000 metric tons)
  • Bangladesh (51000 metric tons)
  • Indonesia (41000 metric tons)
  • Thailand (26000 metric tons)
  • Malaysia (1300 metric tons

Regarding the area under the cultivation of betel nut, the world figures have reached an approximate of around 0.476 million hectares. India again, stands tall in the list of the countries having the maximum area under betel nut cultivation with around 60% of the total area covered around the world. The countries having a significant impact on the total area covered under areca nut cultivation are

  • India (290000 hectares)

  • Indonesia (88000 hectares)

  • Bangladesh (77296 hectares)

  • China (50700 hectares)

  • Myanmar (36000 hectares)

  • Thailand (17000 hectares)

  • Malaysia (800 hectares)

China producing its annual output with comparatively less area covered suggests that the country leads way ahead in context if productivity of nuts is considered and produces nuts @ 3.752 tons/hectare with world productivity of 1.287 tons/hectare.

Production of areca nut in India

India dominates the world production of areca nut producing almost half of the nuts produced in the world. It has also got the maximum area covered under the betel nut cultivation as compared to other nut producing countries of the world. India has an annual production figure of around 330000 metric tons and the plantation is cultivated over 290000 hectares in the country. Productivity wise, the country stands fourth in the world producing areca nut @ 1.189 tons per hectare. The states producing the maximum output of the areca nut plantation are

  • Karnataka

  • Kerala

  • Assam

  • Tamil Nadu

  • Maharashtra

  • Andhra Pradesh

  • West Bengal

  • Orissa

Karnataka is the leading betel nut producing state in India involved in the production approximately 40% of the country’s produce. Kerala follows the topper on the second place and Assam on the third place with one-fourth and one-fifth share in the total production respectively. Karnataka, Kerala and Assam are also the leaders if the area under the betel nut cultivation and productivity in India are considered. The states have area 0.88, 0.73, 0.74 lakh hectares respectively. The regions in Karnataka that hold the major share in the total state production are Dakshin Kannada, Shimoga, Chitradurga, Mysore Kolar, Tumkur, Chikmaglur and Dharwad.

Indian areca nut market

Betel nut had been linked with various ancient cultural practices most of them coming from India. Though areca nut didn’t originate in the country and was brought by the people from the Southeast Asia, India adopted the plantation well and made it an integral part of its culture. Currently, approximately ten million in the country are dependent on the betel nut industry for their earnings and livelihood.


India produces a quantity of around 330000 metric tons of nuts annually and hence it is the largest areca nut producing in the world. Karnataka is the largest nut producing state in the country producing 40% of the country’s produce. As mentioned earlier about the two varieties of betel nuts i.e. white and red varieties, the first one dominates the production in the country having a percentage share of 60%. Regarding the consumption scenario in India, the country is the largest consumer of areca nut in the world. The current consumption figures have mounted up to around 320000 metric tons. A large part of the production is consumed for chewing purposes and used in the industries that involve production of quids and other processed forms of nut.


Because of the fact that a large part of the areca nut is consumed within the country itself, the export potential of India is limited. India somewhat exports small quantities of the nut in its processed form to the neighboring countries. It does not have to import the commodity, as the production in the country seems to satisfy the domestic consumption demand. To take care of the procurement of the areca nut in India, an organization had been appointed since September 2002 with the name Central Areca nut and cocoa Marketing and Processing Co-operative (CAMPCO).


Market influencing factors

  • Weather conditions
  • Foreign demand for the nut
  • Import policies of the consumer countries
  • Government policies over the pricing of betel nut
  • Carryover stocks
  • Growth of the consumer industries
  • Government policies over the consumer industries
Major trading centers of areca nut

The major trading centers in India where Areca nut is traded are

  • Mumbai
  • Ahmedabad
  • Indore
  • Jaipur
  • Delhi
  • Nagpur
  • Patna
  • Calcutta
  • Cuttack
  • Banglore
  • Rajkot
  • Chennai
Also, areca nut is traded in Multi Commodity Exchange of India ltd.
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