The Making of Arecanut Leaf Plates in Shimoga

The scenic beauty around Shimoga, a northern city of Karnataka, is breath taking! I discovered this during my road trip of Shimoga for 5 days. The city of course is a bit congested with buildings and roads criss crossing in a not so regular manner, but outskirts was soothing… lush green fields and dense rows of arecanut trees. During my road trip in and around the city I came across several patches of land neatly lined with arecanut trees.

Not only trees, I saw several houses running small scale units handling different parts of areca nut tree. This post is dedicated to this local product of Shimoga – Arecanut.

arecanut-cultivation

Arecanut Plantations

It is the arecanut farms which impressed me the most. Neat rows of arecanut trees, as if somebody had drawn a straight line and then planted the trees there. My guess was fairly correct but a slightly different process. Arecanut cultivation seems a little tedious in its initial years.

I was told by the young owner of one of the farms that the sprouts of arecanuts are grown in partial shade in small polythene bags for nearly 2 years. They are then transplanted to the fields/farms where they are meant to be grown. Here they are planted in rows with a minimum spacing of 2.75m between each tree. That explains the neat look of arecanut farms. Fruit bearing starts 5 years after planting them. And yearly there can be minimum 3 to maximum 5 harvests. 1 acre of arecanut farm land yields 14-15 gunny bags (each bag weighing 60kg) of the arecanut fruit. So farm owners do get decent income from their farms.

There are several household who are not involved in farming of these trees but earn their livelihood by processing the harvests. It is an interdependent existence of both growers and the processors of arecanuts.

arecanut-plantation

Areca Nut Processing

The nuts procured from farms are sun dried for around 2 months. After that they are dehusked. I saw several women involved in dehusking these dry nuts with just knives. Only the slightly better off among them have machines to dehusk these dry areca nuts. After peeling them, these nuts are boiled in some decoction for a minimum of 12 hours to give the deep red color. And then left out in open again to dry. At the end of the day, women are paid depending on the quantity they dehusked. It is a daily wage system.

arecanut-processing

arecanut-processing-shimoga

So how do they earn after all peeling is done? They get involved in cutting and slicing the boiled and dried nuts as per market requirements. In late December when I visited Shimoga the peeling and dehusking phase was on. They were sun drying the boiled and colored nuts. I could not see any cutting process.

Arecanut and its effects

If you have eaten arecanut you must have definitely experienced a ‘high’ of mild nature. This is caused by the ingredient Arcoline. Arecoline’s effect is comparable to nicotine. It is a mild stimulant and mood enhancer and also causes slight bronchial constriction.

Arecanut Leaf Plates

The benefit of farming these trees is just not the fruit but also the dry leaves the tree sheds. Today there is great demand for the dry leaves of arecanut trees in market. These leaves can be turned into bio degradable plates and bowls. At one little house, I saw how a whole family was involved in making arecanut leaf plates with machines. It is not whole leaves that is used for making plates but the sheath attached to leaf that covers the fruits. Raw material is sourced from the farms, cleaned and stocked in their house. These sheaths are left out on roofs to dry well. Cleaned leaves are then inserted between 2 hot plates. The shape of the hot plates form a kind of mould, and the damp leaf is heated to that shape.

arecanut leaf plates

arecanut-leaf-plates-making-process-shimoga

From what I saw, I felt it is a very slow process and consumes lot of energy per plate. In an hour the young boy could make less than 20 plates. They produce these plates in bulk which are then supplied to markets. So much effort for a one time use and throw plate. I am glad I saw this whole process and I am now able to appreciate the arecanut leaf plates more.

Some facts on Arecanut production in India

  • India is leading producer of Arecanut in the world.
  • In India Karnataka leads other states in production, which is at whopping 47%.
  • Again, in Karnataka, Shimoga ranks first in area and production, 23% and 21%, respectively.
  • The nut derived from dried arecanut fruit is called Arecanut, Supari, Betelnut.

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63 Responses

  1. This is informative. I never heard of Arecanuts in my entire life. The trees looks like coconut. Are they a family od coconut too? But they are small. Its very interesting how the leaves are made into plates. And those finished products i presume are nice and of good quality.. 🙂

  2. Totally agree with you, although cities in Shimoga are very congested, we love the small villages there! Especially the malnad region is very serene and full of wilderness!

  3. Michelle says:

    This is an eye-opener, thanks for sharing the experience. I see a lot of these disposable plates in Australia now. It seems to be the current trend for disposable dinnerware – it looks great but also biodegradable. However, seeing how manual the entire process is makes me feel a little sad at the product’s short life span 🙁

  4. Laura says:

    Wow so much effort to make those plates. Such an interesting read. I had never heard of these before!

  5. Stacey says:

    I had never heard of the arecanut tree, this is very interesting, and I am all in favor of biodegradable products from different sources.

  6. Mimi says:

    I never heard of these nuts nor have tried. It is quite an experience you went to visit the making of these – always great to see the behind the scenes of products we consume.

  7. Paola says:

    Very interesting product. I have never tried nor seen Arecanut. Do you find it everywhere in India or only in Karnataka?

  8. Interesting post. I am first time reading about Arecanut. I suppose the prices of Arecanut Leaf Plates are very low. Does that match with the labour hours consume to make them?

  9. I love venturing deeper into small villages where production and ways of life have barely changed in 30 years! It’s so extraordinary!

  10. Ajay Sood says:

    Interesting! Didn’t know those plates were made from arecanut leaves!

  11. suanlee says:

    Never ever have I heard of these trees before but i have seen these plates. What an unfortunately long process for something I am presuming has a very low cost. Very interesting and informative read.

  12. Yogi Saraswat says:

    Shimoga is popular as an established political leader belong from this place but you are showing its other face which is more beautiful . If I m right , they are using traditional machines for its production ?

  13. Mridula says:

    Saw a lot of trees at Wayanad too! Never knew the plates took so much time in the making@

  14. Rob Taylor says:

    I am always impressed with the many uses of EVERY part of almost every sort of palm tree. The plates are so cool and a wonderful sustainable product, which is always one of the wonders of places that haven’t been overrun with industry: they still create sustainable products without a second thought.

  15. Such an informative post … Really interesting and thanks for sharing such interesting facts about the making of Arecanut leaf plates

  16. This uses for the plant and seed/nut here seem innovative and creative, but I bet it is based on centuries of history. Love that they use leafs for the plates.

  17. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder says:

    The mild ‘high’ is best experienced with a kind of betel nuts produced in Assam.
    Didn’t know Kerala ranks first in its production…informative post… 🙂

  18. Mika says:

    This is very interesting! I had never heard of an Arecanut before! The process truly does sounds slow, but the finished product looks polished! The fact that eating it can get you “high,” though…yikes. LOL

  19. Soraya says:

    This is the first time I have ever heard for the arecanut – how interesting! I had no idea that it also could be used to create bio-degradable plates and bowls. Interesting that you can get ‘high’ when eating the dried nut.

  20. Shane says:

    Those trees look so beautiful! I would love to see this process in action up close and personal.

  21. ROBERT LEE says:

    I share the same sentiment, that it seems to take so much effort to make a disposable plate, but then again, that is local employment opportunity also. My instinct is that for all the hard work, the workers will not save money for their future. But having a job is better than nothing.

  22. Elena says:

    Very informative post! It’s really impressive how much effort some products require before they are ready for final use. Thanks for sharing!

    Elena |

  23. asha says:

    Informative post Indrani. I wonder if the whole process cannot be machinized so that volumes can be generated easily. These plates then would become cheaper to procure and use.

  24. Though I have never heard of the arecanut before now, I feel like I understand a lot about the farming process. I find it especially interesting that the arecanut has a similar effect as nicotine.

  25. Interesting read. I like that these are handmade even if the process seems to be slow, I think it’s a sign of authenticity unlike something that would be industrially made

  26. Super informative – I’d never even heard of arecanut before let alone know anything about the farming process – and what an amazing amount of effort it takes!

  27. Christina says:

    One of the great things about traveling is you learn so much about other cultures. It’s interesting to find out about how other people live too. This looks like an integral part of daily life for some people in Karnataka .

  28. These ‘how-they-do-it’ kind of informative tours are so interesting because they suddenly change your perception in a flash…suddenly that product becomes so much more complex in your eyes.

  29. Such an interesting post. I’ve never heard of the Arecanut before. I wonder what the closest relative is that we consume in the US. They are really big fruits. Your picture of the woman shelling them is perfect. I hope you enter it in a competition of some sorts.

  30. Jenn says:

    I’ve never hear about these nuts before! and they are definitely big! It’s interesting to see how there are places where the local product is mostly processed the same way that it was hundreds of years ago! Thanks for the informative post!

  31. I have never ever before heard of arecanut! But I’m sure I’ve seen them and simply considered it monkey food. Those plates look so great for green living! Off to google arecanut a bit more.

  32. It was an interesting read on Arecanut cultivation. I had witnessed this long back during school days in on a family trip to Sagar. But I did not know about the biodegradable plates good to know they make use of the dry leaves too

  33. Laveena Sengar says:

    I guess I have eaten a lot in these leaf made plates all my life but never thought of them anything other than banana leaves. These trees look similar to coconut trees though. Very informative.

  34. This place looks so beautiful and full of history. One of the best things about traveling is that you can learn several things about a culture, just like you did 🙂

  35. Nisha says:

    I did not know Betel nut was called Arecanut. It does look like betel nut. Very well written and informative. I love the “forest” of betel nut trees.

  36. Tom says:

    As with some other people, I had never heard of arecanuts before. I see many stories on travel blogs about one certain place, unheard of, that is dedicated to producing one certain thing, unheard of, and it reminds me that the world is big and there’s much to see and learn.

  37. Aga says:

    Fascinating process. I always enjoy reading articles that teach me something new. Thanks for sharing!

  38. Liz says:

    I’ve never heard of arecanuts before! This is why I love venturing into small villages – you get a closer look into local traditions and knowledge. Thanks for sharing this!

  39. Lillie says:

    This is absolutely fascinating. I’d never heard of arecanut before, but seems it has a lot to offer! Might it even be the next “hot new thing” stateside?

  40. Nancy says:

    To be honest I’ve never heard of Arecanut nuts before. Looking at the photos I would have thought they were coconut trees. I love that the leaves can be used for biodegradable plates and never would have guessed that the nuts themselves can give you a high. Very interesting article.

  41. It was really interesting to read your account of visiting the arcenut plantation. I (like many other people who commented on this post) had never heard of arecanuts, but I love that the leaves of the plant can be used to make biodegradable plates. It is a pity that the process of making the plates takes so long though.

  42. Cykaniki says:

    Wow, 5years for the plants to bear fruits, how patient are the farmers, but during the harvest time,indeed thepayback was Alsop huge, this is the first time I’ve heard about the plant, it’s really tall, I was amazed and it has a lot to offer

  43. blair villanueva says:

    Thank you for sharing us the important usage of Arecanuts. At first I though they are coconut tree!

    Oh hope that these livelihood will develop and give more jobs for locals.

  44. Carola says:

    Wow what an effort! The whole process takes a lot of time! I had never heard of the plant. But it’s so interesting to hear more about it here.

  45. Tae says:

    Oh wow, it does take such effort. I do have to say – these are way better than plastic or styrofoam, much worse for the environment. I love a look into how things are made 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  46. Ashok says:

    Interesting and informative, thanks Ind

  47. This is my very first time hearing about arecanut. But, as I love nuts in general, I’d love to try these. It was nice to see the entire process, from farming to processing in pictures, lovely post idea!

  48. I guess most of the Indians know arecanut as supari. It was nice to know about areca nut which is the main crop in my native but strange thing to many 🙂
    Great shots, Indrani 🙂 TC, keep smiling 🙂

  49. Just wished to add, areca nut is one of the main ingredients in the preparation of ‘Taamboola’ or ‘paan’ in the traditional way 🙂

  50. Rosemary says:

    Loved, loved reading this post. The timing is perfect. I am currently in Vietnam and just learned about Betelnut. Reading your post adds so much texture and information about the production process. I’d be curious to learn more about the uses in India. In Vietnam, the uses are around marriage and offering to Gods! Very informative.

  51. This is so cool! A very interesting and biofriendly product 😀 I have neversee or tried Arecanut let alone see the making of the plates.

  52. Carmy says:

    Oh wow. I didn’t even know there was so much behind this! I’m surprised that it takes nearly 2 years for the plant to grow before they plant it outside! Thank you for sharing such an informative post!

  53. Anindita says:

    Nice,informative post,love reading about different cottage industries,

  54. Ami says:

    Loved this post Indrani. I loved these plantations when I visited Shimoga but I did not know so much about Arecanut. Happy to read this one. 🙂

  55. Ana Ojha says:

    Never heard of or seen Arecanut Leaf Plates before but their processing and manufacturing looks quite fascinating. Thanks for sharing some great insights on the making of Arecanut Leaf Plates!

  56. Tamshuk says:

    This was a nice interesting read about Shimoga, an otherwise lesser known place. interesting facts about Arecanuts processing too. Have seen these trees in some other places in India but it’s always good to know more about them

  57. Gessa C says:

    it’s my first time to see such plates made of leaves. It’s my first time to hear about arecanut plant too. It’s quite interesting how you guys turn things from scratch. That really made me admire more of the people of India!

  58. Jeevan says:

    I have eaten from arecanut leaf plates and it gave a feel of natural eating

  59. Great post and so interesting, these areca nuts sound fascinating. A mild ‘high’from nuts who knew 😉 And bless these women, they must work so hard for I’m guessing little pay. Another reason to appreciate what we’ve got 😊 love Candace (www.360honeymoon.com)

  60. Sindhu says:

    I loved reading all the details in this post. I have been using the areca nut plates for many years and had always wondered how they are made. Now that I know how they are made, I m looking forward to visiting one of these villages in malnad to have a glimpse of the beautiful plantations

  61. Vyjay says:

    This is a very informative post about Arecanuts, obviously, you have done your research. It is wonderful trees like Coconuts and Arecanut are of such immense use to Mankind. They enrich life with almost every part of their existence, whether it be fruits or leaves or bark. And when they stand tall they provide a beautiful sight and a canopy of shade from the relentless sun.

  62. Divyakshi says:

    A very interesting and informative post. Always whizzed past these trees on various road trips. So good to read about them in detail.

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