What is Pan Masala? (with pictures)

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Pan masala is served after a meal to help freshen breath and aid in digestion.
Pan masala is served after a meal to help freshen breath and aid in digestion.

Pan masala is a mixture of nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices which is served after meals in India. Various versions are also served in the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia, where they are treated as mouth fresheners. Some households and restaurants make their own mixtures with special house ingredients, and it is also possible to purchase packaged pan masala from spice stores and many markets in India. Outside of India, it is available at Indian specialty stores and through importers.

Tobacco is sometimes added to pan masala.
Tobacco is sometimes added to pan masala.

The ingredients in pan masala vary widely, depending on personal taste and region. Fennel seeds are often a key ingredients, since they tend to leave the mouth with a fresh feeling, and it is also possible to find cinnamon, cardamom, lime, menthol, areca nuts, betel nuts, and various other ingredients. When chewed, the ingredients help to freshen the breath, and they are also said to aid digestion, which can be very useful after eating ferociously spicy food that might upset the stomach.

Cardamom is commonly used to season pan masala.
Cardamom is commonly used to season pan masala.

The tradition of chewing breath fresheners after meals is ancient, and it has a very long history in India in particular. In eras before regular dental hygiene, things like pan masala helped to keep the breath fresh and to support dental health. Some mixtures even have herbs and spices with antibacterial properties which benefit oral health, and it also sometimes includes stimulant herbs to give people energy after eating.

Betel nuts are often used to prepare pan masala.
Betel nuts are often used to prepare pan masala.

One version of pan masala, guthka, includes tobacco, which may be flavored or treated with various additives. This has led to concern in many communities, where people do not want children consuming tobacco. In addition, chewing tobacco has been linked with various cancers. As a result, sales are restricted or banned in some regions, and there is some confusion about pan masala, with some people dismissing all mixtures as unhealthy, while others distinguish between those with tobacco and without it.

Pan masala is served after meals in India.
Pan masala is served after meals in India.

It is a good idea to read the ingredient list in pan masala, not only to check for tobacco, but to look for other ingredients. For people with nut allergies or sensitivities to certain herbs and spices, the mix can be a minefield, as the ingredients are so varied. Some people prefer to make their own mixtures for this reason, ensuring that the product is safe and pleasant to chew.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon331100

How do you use this. Are you supposed to swallow it or spit like chewing tobacco?

anon263020

Personally I thoroughly enjoy the Pan Masala with tobacco in it. It provides a nice, uplifting experience as well as freshening the breath. Tobacco is a gift and it may as well be used in moderation.

anon182787

p.s. I believe the only use of betel nut (above 15 percent) and tobacco is for marketing based on addiction and has nothing to do with being useful physiologically or for taste.

anon182785

I've enjoyed having pan masala after meals since I was 13. most Indians know that the betel nut/Mg Carbonate/ tobacco containing pan masala have been associated with detrimental health issues. So now we simply make them at home!

Fennel, cardamon, watermelon seeds, spices, sugar and natural extract flavors make an awesome, exotic healthy pan masala. All dried ingredients used and properly powdered. mix this powder with some fennel seeds and serve!

anon169591

Paan is usually eaten with areca nuts (betel nuts), which is a proven carcinogen. They also add Calcium Hydroxide, slaked lime, to it. (I am not sure if the Ca(OH) is actually harmful, since it is used as a calcium supplement in baby formulas. Pan, without areca nuts, and tobacco along with pan masalas, that do not contain the above is both tasty and has digestive properties.

roxytalks

Other than tobacco, are there any ingredients that are used for pan masala that may be harmful -- aside from allergic reactions. I'm not allergic to anything that I know of.

I would definitely avoid buying pan masala with tobacco in it, but is there anything else that should generally be avoided?

heath925

I would love to try Pan masala, but there aren't any Indian specialty stores in my area. Is it ever available in a regular American grocery store?

I wouldn't mind trying my hand at making my own either. It sounds very interesting. Where can I find recipes for it?

elizabeth2

Pan masala sounds wonderful, and I wonder why it's use hasn't become more widespread. I am very interested in trying it, not only for the mouth freshening benefits, but also as a digestive aid.

I assume that if it's a digestive aid, it is meant to be swallowed after chewed. Is this true? I sure don't want to swallow something that I'm not supposed to.

anon17047

what do you mean the antibacterial effect of pan masala? is there any effect on our normal flora on mouth? a lot of normal flora in our mouth, after using this pan masala, what happens to the bacterium in our mouth?

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    • Pan masala is served after a meal to help freshen breath and aid in digestion.
      Pan masala is served after a meal to help freshen breath and aid in digestion.
    • Tobacco is sometimes added to pan masala.
      Tobacco is sometimes added to pan masala.
    • Cardamom is commonly used to season pan masala.
      Cardamom is commonly used to season pan masala.
    • Betel nuts are often used to prepare pan masala.
      Betel nuts are often used to prepare pan masala.
    • Pan masala is served after meals in India.
      Pan masala is served after meals in India.
    • Fennel seeds are an important ingredient in pan masala.
      Fennel seeds are an important ingredient in pan masala.