What is Pan Masala? All You Need to Know

What is Pan Masala


What is pan masala, you might wonder.

Well, it is an aromatic blend of ingredients popular in South Asia. But what exactly goes into this flavorful mixture, and why is it so beloved? Let’s dive into the fascinating world of pan masala without losing focus on its health impact.    

What is Pan Masala?

Pan masala is a culturally significant mouth freshener and digestion aid. The ingredients may vary by preference and region, but it typically contains areca nut, slaked lime, catechu, and various flavorings. Some types have tobacco. It is widely available, cheap, and refreshing, intended for chewing rather than swallowing. You intake a small amount (1-3 grams) to savor the gradually unfolding flavors. The ingredients stimulate saliva production, causing it to turn red.

Pan masala or paan masala is a spin-off of “pan” or “paan,” standing for betel leaf. Not your ordinary garden variety, this betel leaf is stuffed with areca nut, mint leaves, cardamom, powdered lime, menthol, catechu, sugar-coated fennel, sesame and coriander seeds, and other flavorings. Paan masala is a dehydrated version of pan available in sachets. It has similar ingredients but is convenient to carry and use, eliminating the need for assembly and preservation.

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What is Pan Masala Made of?

Paan Masala is a concoction of nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. Here’s your rundown.

1. Areca Nuts (Betel Nuts):


Areca nuts form the base of paan masala, providing a unique flavor profile. Chewing on them freshens breath and aids digestion, offering a dual benefit in one bite!

2. Slaked Lime (Chuna):


Slaked lime is the binding agent that brings all the flavors together. Plus, it helps release all those active compounds from the other ingredients to help you get the full paan masala experience.

3. Catechu (Katha):


Catechu adds that lovely reddish-brown hue while also lending the mix a hint of astringency. It’s like the artist behind the scenes, adding that extra touch of depth.

4. Fennel Seeds (Saunf):


Ever wonder why pan masala leaves your mouth feeling so fresh? Well, you can thank fennel seeds for that. These seeds pack a punch of mild sweetness and elevate the flavor profile.

5. Cinnamon (Dalchini):


If paan masala has that comforting depth and aroma that we all love, thank the cinnamon. 

6. Cardamom (Ilaayachee):


Cardamom brings a delightful fragrance to elevate the entire experience. It’s like a burst of freshness with every chew, leaving you feeling rejuvenated and invigorated.

7. Menthol (Pudina):


Menthol is like a breath of fresh air, offering a cool, minty sensation that awakens your senses, leaving you feeling cool and invigorated.

8. Other Flavoring Agents:

A variety of other flavoring agents like cloves, nutmeg, and saffron make it to the mix to add layers of complexity and depth to the flavor profile.

9. Tobacco:

Tobacco is the most dangerous ingredient present in some paan masala variants. While it does provide a stronger kick, tobacco is a health hazard linked to cancers, heart issues, and more.

Pan Masala: Purpose

People have varied motivations to chew paan masala. 

1. Palate Pleaser:

Pan masala is like a flavor adventure! The tantalizing mix of tastes and smells just hits you the moment you take it in your mouth. From the nutty crunch of beetle nuts to the sweet kick of fennel seeds and the cozy warmth of cinnamon, it’s like a party for your taste buds! And once you start, you can’t stop craving for more. Addictive? Yes, it is!

2. Breath Freshener:

Bad breath? Breathe easy! Just pop some paan masala to freshen up your breath in no time. Many folks enjoy paan masala to mask those lingering smells from smoking or drinking.

3. Digestion Aid

Ingredients like Fennel Seeds, Cardamom, Menthol, Clear Catechu, and Betel Nuts help keep your digestion alive and kicking. If your host serves you paan masala after a spicy meal, don’t be surprised.

4. Cultural Roots:

In India, it’s been a tradition for ages to chew breath fresheners after meals, not just for the flavor, but also for oral health. These little treats stimulate saliva production, which helps wash away food particles and reduce acidity in the mouth. So, it’s not just about the taste but also about keeping your pearly whites white.

5. Mood Enhancer:

Brands often promote pan masala as a mood enhancer and stress reliever due to ingredients like areca nuts, menthol, and cardamom. These ingredients can boost mood and calm senses, temporarily.

Pan Masala: Types

Any pan masala falls into one of the following categories, based on ingredients. 

1. Plain Pan Masala:

This one’s your classic mix, blending areca nuts, slaked lime, catechu, fennel seeds, and a medley of spices like cardamom and cloves. It’s got a bit of everything – sweet, spicy, and savory.

2. Mint Pan Masala:

Need a breath of fresh air? Mint-flavored paan masala is perfect for a quick pick-me-up. As the name says, this variety adds mint leaves or menthol alongside standard paan masala ingredients for that cool, refreshing kick.

3. Flavored Pan Masala:

Paan masala offers a plethora of flavors like saffron, chocolate, honey, mint, and orange to cater to diverse tastes. Brands enhance the basic recipe with flavorings and essences to mask the strong herbal notes and attract new users.

4. Mawa Pan Masala:

This variant offers a delightful twist to traditional blends with its inclusion of Mawa or Khoya, a sweet fudge-like substance made from dried milk solids. This addition brings a unique sweetness and creamy texture to the mix, complemented by the richness of nuts, spices, and saffron.

5. Tobacco Pan Masala:

It contains tobacco for that extra kick and strong flavor. Tobacco pan masala is a bold choice, given the health impact and addictive nature of nicotine present in tobacco. It stands out for its darker brownish-red color. Read More…

6. Meetha (Sweet) Pan Masala:

With candied fruit bits, sugar, or sweeteners, the paan masala adds a layer of sweetness to the mix. Stuffed with dates, cherry, pineapple, and papaya chunks, it balances spiciness and sweetness, with a fruity, sweet taste and chewy texture.

7. Betel Leaf Pan Masala:

A self-explanatory term, this one contains betel leaves for an authentic paan experience. Alongside areca nuts and slaked lime, it’s got a slightly earthy, bitter taste that’s uniquely satisfying.

Paan Masala Type  Description
Plain Paan Masala   Classic mix of areca nuts, slaked lime, catechu, fennel seeds, and spices for a sweet, spicy, and savory blend
Mint Paan Masala Refreshing blend with mint leaves or menthol for a cool kick
Flavored Paan Masala   Offers a variety of flavors like saffron, chocolate, honey, mint, and orange to suit diverse tastes
Mawa Paan Masala Sweet twist with Mawa or Khoya for a creamy texture, complemented by nuts, spices, and saffron
Tobacco Paan Masala  Contains tobacco for a strong flavor and darker color, with health impacts and nicotine addiction risks
Meetha Paan Masala Sweetened with candied fruit or sugar, balancing spiciness with fruity sweetness and chewy texture
Betel Leaf Paan Masala Authentic blend with betel leaves, areca nuts, and slaked lime for a slightly bitter, earthy taste

Pan Masala: Price

The paan masala prices depend on where you are, how big the pack is, and what brand and flavors you’re getting. For example, a paan masala with kesar costs more than the plain one. Prices can jump from one store to another, even in the same area. Likewise, top brands are costlier than run-off-the-mill ones. However, prices start at INR 5. Read More…

Pan Masala: Availability

  • India: Homemade mixtures and packaged pan masala are available in pan shops and markets across India.
  • Outside India: You can find it in the US, Europe, and beyond at Indian specialty stores and via importers.

Pan Masala: Health Concerns

Paan Masala packs a punch with around 4,000 chemicals, at least 40 of which can cause cancers. 

1. Magnesium Carbonate

Take, Magnesium Carbonate, for instance, used to create a uniform mixture of tobacco, katha, and supari, and render that characteristic soothing effect we associate with paan masala. Plus, it extends the packaged paan masala’s selfie life. The concerning part? It is carcinogenic. However, we lack enough medical studies to know its long-term effects.

2. Other Carcinogens

Magnesium carbonate might be the biggest cancer-causer in paan masala but it’s not the only one. The National Institute of Health and Family Welfare Report links pan masala and gutka to significant amounts of carcinogens like nitrosamines and benzo-a-pyrene. The report found that around 30% of pan-masala brands surpassed the FAO/WHO’s acceptable levels for heavy metals, such as lead and copper. That’s alarming.

3. Addictive:

Paan masala isn’t just about the flavors; it’s also got some addictive stuff packed in there, like nicotine. Worst still, it’s marketed attractively that even kids and teens get hooked without realizing it. So, before you know it, you’re stuck in the addictive loop.

What Does Research Tell Us About Ingredients?

According to “Alert for an epidemic of oral cancer due to the use of gutkha and pan masala,” certain ingredients have potential effects. 

  • Areca Nut:

Integral to all types of paan masalas, areca nut is a cancer-causer, especially when it teams up with other ingredients.

  • Slaked Lime:

Slaked lime may not be as dangerous individually, but if it gets cozy with areca nut, trouble brews. That combo can lead to a condition called oral submucous fibrosis, which leads to cancer.

  • Catechu:

Catechu adds flavor and color, but it’s got a dark side too with studies linking it to DNA damage and cancer.

  • Tobacco:

We all know tobacco’s rap sheet – it’s a leading cause of cancer, heart issues, and other deadly conditions, plain and simple.

  • Flavoring Agents and Sweeteners:

These additives may not be the main culprits, but they add to the overall harm, making this mix a health hazard.


So, that was my take on what is pan masala. Call it a delightful fusion of flavors and cultural significance, intertwining with daily life and rituals in India and beyond. However, it has its share of trade-offs, health concerns for one. As an ex-user, I recommend you to stay away from paan masala, especially the one with tobacco. Tobacco, as research tells us, is a health hazard, causing diseases and deaths. Remember, your health matters more than temporary indulgences.

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Feature Image Courtesy: Kamran Aydinov  on Freepik