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.
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.
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.
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.
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.